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OPERATION DELTA SAFE and the quest for security in the Niger Delta

By Eziukwu Maduabuchi on 05/08/2018

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The dynamic security needs in the Niger Delta is the justification for various strategies adopted by the military to protect oil infrastructure in the region.

The Joint Task Force (JTF) deployed to the Niger Delta christened Operation Pulo Shield was terminated in June 2016 and renamed Operation Delta Safe.

The JTF hitherto headed by an Army commander was assigned to a Navy officer, invariably for better policing of the predominantly maritime terrain of the region.

According to pioneer Commander of Operation Delta Safe, Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, Operation Pulo Shield, whose mandate was to shield oil installations, was restructured to provide security for the entire region.

In his maiden interaction with the media at the Headquarters of the JTF, in Yenagoa, Okojie noted that the expanded mandate of the force across nine coastal states of the region required maritime expertise.

Then Acting Director, Defence Information, Brig-Gen Rabe Abubakar, on Nov 18, 2016 announced the appointment of Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman, as new commander of the JTF, to replace Okojie.

Abubakar had explained that the change became necessary to “inject new capability to contain the prevailing security threats and provide the much-needed stability in the region.

The joint military outfit was understandably re-organised in 2016 during the renewed agitation and insurgency occasioned by incessant attacks by Niger Delta Avengers.

Oil production figures had nosedived to about 900,000 barrels per day (bpd) from above 2 million bpd prior to 2016.

The reduced crude production volume and dwindling oil price at the international market triggered the recent recession and associated foreign exchange shortages.

Shortly after assumption of office, the newly-deployed Commander of the JTF, Suleiman, said new strategies were being introduced to improve the ongoing operations to contain attacks on oil facilities and troops. Suleiman had - on December 10, 2016 - said that the military was in the region to protect oil facilities and check criminality.

He said that some of the new strategies he introduced to strengthen the joint military operations against renewed militancy and agitations in the Niger Delta region were already yielding results.

“In my short time of assumption of duty on November 16, 2016, I have tried to sustain and improve on the pace, which has yielded some successes. Just a few days ago, troops in Cross River encountered militants in a gun duel around Ikang axis and arrested one of the militants and recovered large cache of arms and ammunition.
“I must commend the efforts of my predecessor, Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, and will fall back on my experiences as Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) at the Central Naval Command in Yenagoa,
 Suleiman said.

He said that the Operation under his command would not condone unprovoked attack on the military by communities under its area of responsibility.

“The last attack on the military men on duty, killing some in cold blood, is regrettable and condemnable; and when our men went after their killers there was public outcry. This is a note of warning that any community that attacks our soldiers should be ready for the consequences. We shall not tolerate any community that habours criminals - we are not here to invade any community - but we are after criminals.

“Any community that habours criminals have lost its immunity, any further unprovoked attack shall be resisted with every resource at our disposal and we shall remain within our mandate,” Suleiman warned.

As part of the wider operations to safeguard the region, Operation Delta Safe extended its activities beyond protecting oil installations and extended its operations to the nooks and crannies of the region.

The joint military outfit on July 3, 2017 subsequently raided a facility in the region where various calibres of light firearms were made.

The commander said that troops uncovered the arms manufacturing camp in Arhavwarien community in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State.

He said that in a sting operation to mop up arms and stem its proliferation, the troops approached the local arms makers and placed orders for some single barrel guns.

Briefing newsmen on raids, Col Al-Hassan Grema, Commander, Sector 1 of the JTF, said that three suspects were arrested after a shootout, during the raid on the local arms hideout.

“Three principal suspects were arrested following shootout with the suspects. Items recovered from them include 13 short-barrel locally-made guns, five double-barrel locally-made guns, 10 locally-made pistols. Others are three live cartridges, one empty cartridge and two rounds of 7.62 mm special ammunition,” Grema said.

Looking back, Brig-Gen John Agim, the Acting Director, Defence Information, recently said that oil production - according to Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) - has risen to an average of 2.5 million bpd.

The Defence Spokesman attributed the rise in oil output to the strategic approach of the joint military force deployed to the Niger Delta region.

He recalled that prior to the establishment of the outfit on June 24, 2016 oil production had dropped to 900,000 barrels daily.

He said that the joint force had pursued its mandate in line with the strategic directive of Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Gabriel Olonisakin, and made modest achievements in restoring peace to the hitherto restive region.

His words: Some of these achievements were enhanced safety of lives, rise in crude oil production, recovery of arms and ammunition, seizure of stolen crude, destruction of illegal refineries and arrest of oil thieves.

“Others included successes achieved in prosecuting cases, profiling of suspects and persons of interest, and conduct of in-theatre operations. The hitherto incessant attack on oil and gas infrastructure has abated. Attacks on gas pipelines further reduced the nation’s power generating capacity. As at when the force was activated on June 24, 2016, oil output had dropped from 2.2 million barrels to 900,000 barrels per day.

“It is gratifying to note that as at May 2018, the production level is averaging 2.5 million per day, while NNPC management recently affirmed that pipeline vandalism had dropped significantly.”

He explained that the Joint Force had cleared the Niger Delta region of identified militants’ camps, whose activities threatened national security while the threats have been effectively neutralised.

Maj Ibrahim Abdullahi, JTF Spokesman said that from activation of Operation Delta Safe in June 2016 till July 2018, they had conducted 16,807 patrols, recovered 1,477 arms of various calibre and 23,483 ammunition.

Also seized were 24 ocean-going vessels; 1,601 boats, 198 barges, 258 outboard engines, 133 tanker-trucks, 349 vehicles, 95 generating sets, and some 6,958 sundry items facilitating illegal activities.

He added: A total of 1,819 illegal refineries, 6,027, 13,663 drums and 17,300 jerry-cans were destroyed during the period under review.

Abdullahi explained that the JTF recently introduced metallic operation, which he said involved the use of swamp buggies heavy equipment to destroy the oil distillation sites.

He said that the special equipment deployed by the troops crushed the items used at the camps, and made them economically not feasible for the illegal operators to restart operation.

 “The JTF has been carrying out massive metallic operations, using swamp buggies against illegal refineries all over the joint operation area. This new strategy was recently deployed by Commander of Operation Delta Safe, Rear Admiral Suleiman, in our operations in April 2018, and it makes it difficult for them to reassemble and resume operation after raids,” Abdullahi said.

Speaking on the effect of the repositioned military, a community-based group, Niger Delta Peace and Development, in June 2018, applauded the JTF for stability and addressing restiveness in the area.

James Julius, chairman of the group, said that the enhanced security in the region was responsible for a rebound in oil production. The community leader noted that the effective operations of the JTF had checked renewed agitations that reduced oil output before 2016.

“The present Commander of JTF, Suleiman, has been achieving results and has proved to be a round peg in a round hole; his deployment at a time there was renewed restiveness was apt and strategic. For the past eight months, for instance, there has been no reported incident in the region,” he affirmed.

He said that the Federal Government had shown commitment to repositioning the oil and gas hub of the nation, noting that insecurity scared investors from the region in the past.

Julius said there was an urgent need to change the perception of international investors that fled the region as a result of militancy, so as to sustain the interest of investors coming back due to the prevailing peace and security.

A District General Manager, Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) shared similar views with Julius. During a visit to JTF, on May 12, 2018, he commended the JTF for curbing restiveness and providing a peaceful atmosphere for uninterrupted oil production. The NAOC manager noted that the operations of troops against militancy and oil theft; stabilised operations of the oil firm and reduced incidents of oil theft across its operations in Rivers and Bayelsa states.

The company had on March 22, 2013 shut its operations at oil fields in Bayelsa, from which it produced about 40,000 barrels of crude oil daily, over high incidence of oil theft. NAOC added that it was losing about 7,000 barrels of crude production daily to oil thieves in Bayelsa, a development the firm described as unsustainable, necessitating the shut-down.

 A group of African university students on July 25 applauded the leadership of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta for providing security for increased oil production. The students, under the auspices of League of African Development Students (LEADS Africa), bestowed its African Patriotic Personalities Award on Commander of the JTF, Rear Admiral Suleiman.

 Speaking at the investiture in Yenagoa, leader of the group, Mr Morgan Gabriel, noted that the presence of the JTF was crucial to the economic growth and development of Nigeria and the African continent, adding:

The organisation traced recovery of the Nigerian economy from the recent recession to a conducive operational environment due to enhanced security leadership provided by Suleiman.

 Responding, Suleiman noted that the award coming less than two months when the JTF received a similar honour was a morale booster to him and the troops.

 “This is a call for greater commitment to duty, as the results of our operations are being noticed even though we work behind the scenes.  We shall remain dedicated and resolute in our fight against oil theft and criminality in our area of responsibility,” Suleiman said.

 Mr David Ebiya who resides in Southern Ijaw LGA of Bayelsa State said, after two years of activating Operation Delta Safe, residents in the region now feel safer. He urged the military to sustain the existing peace.

•Troops led by the Commander of the Joint Military Task Force, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman (L), inspecting the site during the operation

Source News Express

Posted 05/08/2018 08:00:16 AM


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