By Stephen Ubanna
Penultimate week after, Mustapha Hassan, a Rear Admiral, and Flag office, FOC, Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy, under the close watch of Vice Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla, and Bashir Jamoh OFR, Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, had set set up the eight -member Committee of the blue economy, he has called for further deepening of information sharing between Naval Command and the NIMASA 4Ci centre, at Olodi Apapa, Lagos, the nation’s Commercial centre, there appears to be more troubles for smugglers and oil thieves.
Rear Admiral Hassan, who believes that the Western Naval Command could achieve all that much in dealing with the VIP, petrol smugglers in its areas of Jurisdiction due to the non- kinetic support given to them by the Maritime Regulatory agency, had requested the same support to be extended to the Command ‘’Operation Water Guard’, to effectively combat smuggling activities around the Badagry Channel.
The FOC, Western Naval Command, who may have gladdened the heart of the NIMASA Director General ,that smugglers operating between Nigeria, the most populous country in the African Continent and the neighbouring Benin Republic, via the tongeji border Island which is close to the ancient town of Badagry are in trouble as its maritime security assets operated and maintained by the Command since June , 2021, when former President Muhammadu Buhari , launched the Deep Blue project are still fully functional.
The Nigerian Navy operates and maintain the 17 Interception Boats, 16 armoured vehicles, used for coastal patrol and Two Special Mission Vessels while the Nigerian Air Force takes charge of the operation and maintenance of the agency two Special Mission aircrafts, three Special Mission Helicopters for Surveillance of Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ, and four Unmanned Aerial vehicles .
The maritime security assets had been procured by the Buhari’s Administration with the sum of the North American country of the United states,US, $195 million which was supplied by HLSI Security Systems and Technologies Limited, an Israeli firm, which had won the contract in 2017.
True to his words of going to deal decisively with the smugglers if NIMASA, could extend the same level of non-kinetic support to the Command to its revived Operation Water Guard, there would be no hiding place for the petrol smugglers along the Badagry Channel.
As a prelude to combat the activities of the water smugglers between the Tongeji Border Island and the Badagry axis, the Western Naval Command Operation Water Guard patrol Team were said’’ to have leveraged on the Command electro-optic facilities and air asset’’, to discover multiple depots where thousands of 25 litre jerrycans , both empty and filled with Premium Motor Spirit , PMS, popular, petrol, stockpiled, preparatory to shipping the filled jerry cans of petrol to the Tongeji Border Island and subsequently to the Benin Republic market.
Recall that Bello Muhammed Jibo, a former Area Controller of Seme Command and now an Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, overseeing Lagos Zonal office,A, and who was said to have worked closely with the Youths, and some paid informants had blocked the Badagry Creeks and watersides used by the VIP petrol smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities for the over two years he was at the Command.
This is evident going by the thousands of filled 25 litres jerrycans of petrol intercepted by the Command between December, 2020 and 2022. Take for instance in June, 2022, the Seme Customs Command had intercepted 10,865 filled 25 litres of Jerrycans filled with petrol with a Duty Paid Value of N66 million, DPV, meant for the Beninioa market. Again, in August, through intelligence reports, the Customs Command had intercepted another set of 3,998 of Jerrycans of 25 litres each filled with petrol with a DPV of N28,924,397.00, scheduled for the Beninoa market.
The feat was repeated in September, 2022, fueling speculations making the rounds that the Petrol smugglers have backing of security agencies personnel and informants from the border Communities to have encouraged them to continue with the illicit activities with impunity.
Compt. Dera Nnandi, who had replaced the then Compt. Jibo, who had got his ACG, posting to Customs Headquarters, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, at Seme Command , was said to have sustained the tempo of petrol seizures. The seizure of 1,364, litres of petrol with a DPV of N24,663,355 .00 in September 2022 and Compt. Timi Comodi, his successor, who had intercepted 1, 756 jerry cans of 25 litres of petrol each in the month of October within the Badagry axis clearly shows that the VIP , petrol smugglers have their backers in security circles.
The Western Command Operation Water Guard Team, may have known that the Badagry Inland and its adjoining Creeks and watersides along the Nigeria-Benin Republic boundary is the most notorious route used by the VIP, petrol smugglers that it had taken the battle to their illegal depots located in Iyaafin and Itsalu Communities, on Wednesday, November 15, 2023.
Rear Admiral Hassan, the FOC, Western Naval Command and who incidentally, was the Commander, of the Joint Task Operation, AWATSE, had said that ‘’ the swift and thorough action taken by the Operation Water Guard Team informed why they combed houses, schools and recreational centres in the Communities and discovered more illicitly filled jerry cans of 25 litres each stored in the Communities as well as empty jerrycans for future storage of petrol.
He had said that that the Western Naval Command Operation Water Guard intervention was necessary ‘’to preventing the nefarious activities of the VIP petrol smugglers and avoiding the risk of catastrophic fires that could have dire consequences on life and property in these border Communities.
The good news was that the Western Naval Command Flag Officer, Rear Admiral Hassan, had reassured residents of the Communities along the Badagry water Channel that there was no cause for alarm as the intervention efforts would be intensified to curtail the activities of the economic saboteurs.
Indeed, the discovery of the multiple petrol depots at the Communities along the Badagry water channel by the Operation Water Guard of the Western Naval Command may have emboldened the Management of the Western Marine Command, the service amphibious Command to wake up to their duties of patrolling the Badagry and Seme waters to checkmate what is happening at the Creeks and watersides.
In a related development, the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, which operates the NIMASA , Two Special Mission aircrafts, three Special Mission Helicopters and four Unmanned Aerial vehicles, had said recently that its Operation Delta Safe had destroyed five, Cotonou, Capital of Benin Republic, boats engaged in illicit Crude oil siphoning at Cawthorne Channel and Alakri in Rivers state.
Edward Gabkwet, a NAF, Commodore and Director of Public Relations and Information had revealed that six illegal refining sites in the Niger Delta state were also targeted to be bombed by the Operation Delta Safe between November 12 and 13, 2023 , based on intelligence reports to combat oil theft and checkmate the activities of the oil thieves and smugglers.
The NAF, spokesperson, noted that the Operation Delta Sa Safe air wing for much of last month and now has intensified its air operations in Rivers state as it had struck some refining sites at Dariama village in the oil Rivers state following intelligence reports. .
Th NAF Commodore had said that that on arrival at the location, three IRS tanks, pipes, and pumping machines as well as Cotonou boats loaded with suspected illegally refined products were sighted, engaged and subsequently destroyed.
Many believe that with what is happening in Nigerian waters in the recent time, it clearly shows that the Western Naval Command Operation Water Guard and Operation Delta Safe in the Niger Delta region are out for the petrol smuggles and oil thieves operating between Nigeria and Benin Republic.