By NBF News
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The adage, everyday for the thief, one day for the owner played itself out recently around the Mbiama River, bordering Rivers and Bayelsa states. That was when men of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) stormed the area to confront crude oil thieves in their own kingdom.

For travellers along the East/ West Road, the sight of crude oil thieves, otherwise known as illegal oil bunkerers with their jerry cans and rickety boats was common along the banks of the Mbiama River. Their trade which to them is fun and money spinning has continued to wreak havoc in many homes, turning wives into widows, husband into widowers, children into orphans, and rendering many homeless.

Right from its inception when it was given the mandate to secure peace in the Niger Delta region, the JTF had identified crude oil theft as the next menace to confront in the region after militancy would have died down and has since been devising ways to arrest the situation.

Daily Sun investigations revealed that the raid on the illegal refineries at Mbiama was provoked by the recent increasing wave of kerosene explosion in the region which was traced to the products being produced from the illegal refineries.

For months, the JTF through aerial surveillance was able to establish that the illegal refineries numbering about 500 in the area, posed serious danger to the people of the region and Nigerians. And on Saturday, March 5, Lt. Col Jafaru Ibrahim of the 5 Battalion, JTF command, rolled out the battle drums with 100 soldiers, two military helicopters, 97 Special operation group of the Nigeria, Air Force and a gunboat. The operation lasted six hours.

At the end, though the operators who had sensed danger escaped, illegal refineries equivalent of the size of five standard football fields were set on fire and destroyed by the JTF including petroleum products worth over N15 million. Ibrahim, after the operation, vowed that it would be a continuous exercise targeted at ending illegal oil bunkering.

Before the latest raid, the JTF had launched attacks in the Niger Delta communities, ridding it of illegal refineries and arresting the operators. Checks indicated that in Delta State, JTF had taken the war against crude oil thieves to the doorsteps of the operators. In Oginbo community, Ughelli South Local Government area, the JTF smashed 100 illegal refineries. In Egwa 1, Eweregene and Egwa 2, it destroyed six, while 12 was wiped out in Obi- Ayagha, Ojobo and Torubere communities.

In Rivers State, the 104 Battalion of Sector 3 identified and destroyed 600 illegal refineries in Wenol, Deyor, Kidere, Bidere, Boobobari, Bodo, Biara, Kpor waterside, Bomu, all in Gokana Local Government area of Rivers State.

The JTF had launched an investigation to reveal the three dimensions of illegal petroleum products. According to it, the petroleum products from the source do not meet the prescribed industry standards, making it dangerous for use by an engine. Not only that, its effect on the environment is enormous as its devastating effect has spread sorrow in areas where they are located.

Lastly the crude oil is stolen from sabotaged NNPC, Shell, Agip oil pipelines contributing to the economic loss for the country.

Little wonder the JTF media coordinator, Lt. Col Timothy Antigha said the JTF is devising strategies to ensure that it curbs it in the region, noting that its after-effects are not palatable.

Hear him: 'As a result of the scourge of illegal refineries, government at all levels suffers substantial loss of revenue through the theft of crude oil. Furthermore, the environment where these refineries are located is subjected to serious loss of vegetation and general degradation, on account of reckless handling and disposal of crude oil and poorly refined petroleum products. Additionally, the injection of these illegally refined products into the local supply chain has resulted in the recurring cases of fatal kerosene explosions, particularly in the core Niger Delta states. The human and material aggregate of these losses are enormous'

He continued: 'To fight this malaise, the JTF proposes a three-pronged attack, namely; advocacy, destruction of illegal refineries and diligent prosecution of the perpetrators when apprehended. Presently, the JTF embarks mainly on destruction of these illegal refineries. However, the JTF identifies advocacy as key element in this strategy because, the JTF has discovered that in certain communities, almost everyone is involved. Since it will be impossible to prosecute the entire community, it is believed that advocacy will help in raising awareness of the implications of illegal oil bunkering and related crimes and thereby reduce participation in illegal trade'

With its declaration to end illegal oil bunkering, the people of the Niger Delta are waiting to see if the JTF would indeed win the war against crude oil theft.