They had almost turned Delta state into a no-go-zone and virtually converted the image of the ‘Heart Beat’ state to something of a heartache as the most common reports were of kidnapping and massive oil theft and unbridled attacks on national oil and gas assets. They were gradually tagging a strange identity on the state that naturally ought to have been identified as peaceful and progressive.
This ugly and heartbreaking trend was gaining concern from virtually every quarter, especially in government and this was why the Delta State House of Assembly’s Committee on Security, chaired by Hon Michael Diden, almost immediately after its inauguration in November 2015, constituted a special task force, comprising of men of the 19 Battalion, the state police command and community vigilante, to curb these dangerous criminal activities. This task force’s categorical terms of reference were to ensure the eventual eradication of kidnapping and oil bunkering activities across the state, working with all community and security stakeholders. The kidnap and killing of the Obi of Ubulu-Uku, Obi Edward Akaeze Ofulue II, in the earlier part of the year was a high point of the notoriety of the burgeoning criminal enclave in the state.
The challenges posed by hoodlums against innocent and unsuspecting citizens of the state in the first quarter of the year, particularly in Sapele, Jesse, Oghara and Mosogar, Effurun, Ughelli, and three other cases in the riverine communities of Omadino and Aja-Ogolo in Warri South council area, Oria-Abraka in Ethiope East, and Ebrumede in Uvwie council area, coupled with vandalism of oil facilities by criminals, alone, left nothing to be desired.
Swinging into action to fulfill its mandate to rid the state of the menace of crimes, tainting the image of the state in the consciousness of the wider-world, the task force went after some targets, recording huge successes. The successes recorded by the committee in the rescue of over 12 victims, including a teenage girl, Alima Rivina, Deacons of the Heaven on Earth and Mountain of Fire Churches, the wife of Committee’s chairman, Mrs. Light Diden and a host of others, were not without the prompt responses from men of the Nigerian Army, DSS, police and Anti-kidnapping committee, a sub-committee of peace and security committee.
Narrating the experience on the tedious task so far, the member representing Warri North Constituency in the state’s House of Assembly, who is also the brains behind the new security initiative, Hoourable Diden, who is popularly called Ejele, said the terrains where these criminal activities take place and the unusual brazenness of the criminal masterminds had posed serious challenges to the task force, he however noted that the challenges, breathtaking as they seem, have not deterred the committee and its task force from following the mandate to success.
“There were times we had to chase these vandals from one community to another. There were even cases of shoot-outs by these vandals to scare our men away from apprehending them. It was a tug of war at a point in February this year, at Aja-Osoro / Ubgoritseduwa communities in Warri South council area, when we went on a joint team with the 19 Battalion to raid the communities of illegal oil brunkerers, who were into local refining of petroleum products. They carry out the cooking of crude oil. Some of these camps were fortified against external invasion, they even have sophisticated arms with which they tried to fend us off, but if not that we went with well trained soldiers and superior weapons, we wouldn’t have been able to dislodge the hoodlums”, the chairman of the committee disclosed.
According to him, in that raid alone, more than five cooking camps were destroyed, even as adding that the task force was able to prevent the communities from further tampering with facilities or siphon crude oil from the wells at Okpomani Oil Field. Speaking further, he said four months after the successful operation, the task force, in collaboration with the local Conoil surveillance workers at Okogho/Ubaleme Field, oil thieves who were specialists in the siphoning of crude oil into waiting vessels for local refining, burst the hideouts of some sophisticated syndicates and brought their decades of oil theft activities to a halt. He said several of their operational tools were seized and destroyed.
Speaking further, Ejele said between July and September at Okwo-Oro, along Sapele-Warri Road, three petroleum tankers were intercepted by the Land Patrol Team of the House Committee and handed over to the police command in the state, adding that the task force recovered the ones that were illegally ferrying finished products (Kerosene/petrol) to the northern part of the country at Adeje/Okwo-Edjeba communities.
“With our early intervention, we were able to chase the vandals from this point (Adeje/Okwo-Edjeba) with the help of the Adeje local vigilantes. They were unable to load from the point. This same group of vandals two months ago relocated from there to break open another point along the same major trunk, but this time at Okwotolor. We were still able to forestall their activities. This time with the help of the military”, Hon. Diden disclosed.
Recounting the successes so far achieved by his committee in the fight against kidnapping across the state, Ejele said the people now breathe a bit easier. According to him, kidnappers had sneaked into the oil City of Warri, Ughelli, Sapele, Mosogar, Jesse and Orero-Okpe communities, making the months of April, May and June the most difficult and dreadful in the memories of several residents and families from these areas. Kidnapping syndicate held these communities like an evil hold throughout their reign. Travelers through these communities had their hearts in their mouths until they arrived at their irrespective destinations. Traders closed from market places early while shop owners locked-up before night.
They were armed to the teeth with various weapons ranging from pump action riffles, locally made pistols, shot guns to AK 47 riffles. Their ages ranged from 18 to 22 years, said Sinfianu, one of the suspects now in police custody. The list of casualties of this terror armed gangs is endless. It inflicted agony, tears and sorrows in many homes across the state. No day passed without any reported cases of kidnapping in these communities.
They were brutal, wicked and could rape their female victims with impunity, said a top police source. The activities of these terror armed gangs soon became a thing of the past. Like the saying goes that any episode that has a beginning must have an end. Residents of these communities can now sleep with two eyes closed as the hoodlums have been chased away through the combined efforts of anti-kidnapping committee and other security agents.
In the State capital, Asaba, for instance, kidnapping has become a forgotten occurrence as their last attempt to kidnap a female politician (name withheld) was foiled by a crack team from the anti- kidnapping committee.
“Both the general public and the business community are appreciative of this development in the state. The reason for this feat is the regular policing of the cities by special squad from the anti-kidnapping and other security agents operating within and around Asaba. Their regular presence on the streets must have given the criminals much cause for a rethink” said a resident of Warri, Eng. Tobore Kemute. Surveillance of known black spots has also helped in nipping the activities of these criminals in the bud.
According to Barrister John Ogbemi, a resident of Asaba who said he had lived in Asaba for over Twenty years. We have witnessed several years of kidnapping both at nights and broad day light. “They have inflicted pains, sorrow, agony and tears on residents. But recently, statistics in the state have shown that record of kidnapping and vandalism of oil facilities has changed. Social life, particularly night activities, have returned to Asaba. The committee which was set up to compliment the effort of other security operatives has made us proud”, said Barrister Ogbemi.
Some of the leaders of the kidnapping syndicate and vandals were recently swooped-on by a crack team from the state police command and surveillance squad from the anti-kidnapping committee led by Austin Opubor, Mabiaku Omassan and Abraham Obarume. The suspects were trailed by members of anti-kidnapping to their various hide-outs where they were arrested with mobile phones of the victims.
Giving graphic details of the arrest of one of the suspects (name withheld), Mr. Austin Opubor, Mabiaku Omassan and Abraham Obaruine said “immediately we got report of the kidnap of the victims, we mobilized our personnel to the field because we believe that the police cannot achieve it all alone without the support of other stake-holders. Making a major breakthrough in apprehending some of the suspects so far was quite tasking”.