● How air power is gradually neutralising oil thieves
By Ogbonna Nwuke
Across the world, huge fires are raging. They are fires set from the skies by nature, some scientists and environmentalists say.
Man’s actions are leading to climate changes that are impacting on the earth negatively and causing immense catastrophe.
The resultant consequences of man’s action, many experts reckon, can be seen in the fire outbreaks, rising sea levels and massive flooding, erosion, subsidence, deforestation and other tendencies that are wrecking havoc on the environment.
In the United States, Canada and Australia for example, huge fires which have broken out of late have consumed everything – forests, wildlife, properties and human lives.
While men fight the raging flames on land and in the air in advanced climes to save cities that are heavily under threat and emergency response units relocate humans in a hurry, Nigerians who are engaged in illegal bunkering activities and the illegal refining of petroleum products are having a different encounter from the skies.
Unlike the widespread fires attributable to nature that have been difficult to quell in the temperate region, men are fighting from the air in Nigeria to stop the advance of oil thieves and the danger that their actions pose to the environment and the national economy.
Sunday, August 27, 2023, a gunship belonging to the Nigerian Air Force circled above the Niger Delta sky on the orders of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the hunt for oil thieves in Nigeria intensifies.
The approaching craft which could be seen from the ground, it turned out, was part of the air component of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS).
The mission of the men on board of the vessel, from what is known, was absolutely clear.
They were under the instructions of their superiors to carry out tactical assaults on illegal refining sites located in Cawthorne Channel, Bille and Gogokori in the Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State.
As the gunship approached Gogokori, the target down there loomed into sight. A Cotonou boat as it is called loaded with illegally refined products, according to the Air Force, was heading for the open waters when it was sighted.
Overhead, the pilot sitting in the cockpit took his bearing, pointed the nose of the craft in the direction of the target and engaged.
Below, the boat burst into flames as it took a hit from the sky and a column of thick dark smoke spiralled upwards.
NAF spokesman, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet confirmed that the force has destroyed illegal refining points in Rivers State.
He said the development was part of moves to “continue denying non-state actors the freedom to perpetrate their nefarious acts at will”.
“In continuation of efforts aimed at containing the activities of terrorists, militants and other criminal elements bent on destabilizing the nation and making life unbearable”, Gabkwet explained, “the air component of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS) carried out air interdiction missions on some illegal refining sites located at Cawthorne Channels, Bille and Gogokori.”
The NAF spokesman who threw light on the operations within the Niger Delta admitted that intelligence reports were contributing to the success of the force.
He also explained how the Cawthorne Channel, Bille and Gogokori operations in the Degema Local Government Area went:
“Having observed the sites to consist of illegal refining sites, the areas were attacked and destroyed.
“Specifically, at Gogokori, a Cotonou boat observed to be loaded with illegal refined products and heading into open waters was also engaged and destroyed.
“Similar strikes were also extended to Idama in Akuku‐Toru Local Government Area and Omoma in Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State upon receipt of intelligence of refining activities at the two locations.
“Overhead both locations, active illegal refining sites with reservoirs suspected to contain illegally refined products were sighted. The reservoirs were subsequently engaged, destroyed, and engulfed in flames.”
The activity of the Air Force was not restricted to Rivers alone. The force also struck in Cross River State.
“On 25 August 2023, identified militants/pirates’ camps in Cross River State were also attacked by the air component of OPDS.
He revealed that various militant/pirates’ camps “identified as Big Joe’s Camp, Sunny’s Camp, Davids’ Camp in Bakassi Local Government Area”, and “Amos Camps in Calabar South Local Government Area”, air strikes were authorized after it was confirmed that the locations were “littered with these criminals and their activities.”
“Those who attempted to escape through their various escape routes were also attacked.
“In one of the suspected kidnappers’ camps, a lone structure suspected to be harbouring some kidnapped victims with armed men roaming around the structure was also attacked using guns on board the aircraft. The strikes led to pandemonium with several kidnapped victims seen escaping.”
Nigeria has been recording serious losses through oil theft. The trend has affected the nation’s ability to meet its production quota and impacted negatively on its foreign earnings.
The Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), a think tank on oil industry issues, revealed in a recent report that Nigeria lost 619.7 million barrels valued at N16.25trn to crude oil theft between 2009 and 2020.
According to studies, the activities of crude oil thieves are gradually causing serious environmental degradation, pollution, and air pollution in the Niger Delta.
Over 100 people, it will be recalled, were burnt alive recently while actively trying to scoop crude oil in Imo State.
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