Sunday, July 14, 2024

A feud between an illegal oil bunker, Endurance Okodeh alias Amangbein and a sophisticated cartel of powerful illegal oil bunkers led to the killing of 17 soldiers in the Okuama community in Ughelli South LGA of Delta, investigations revealed.

Findings unmasked how the leader of the cartel, ex-militant leader Government Ekpemukpolo alias Tompolo who operates a private security company, in a bid for total control of the creeks of Niger Delta, earlier warned Amangbein, who is an ally of a sitting governor in one of the Niger-Delta States, to stay off illegal oil business, a development the latter saw as oppression.

Amangbein, a known ex-militant, hails from the Igbomotoru community in the Southern Ijaw Local Government Area (LGA) of Bayelsa state. He is also a leading voice against Tompolo and the ex- Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA) boss, Patrick Akpobolokemi, in both the creek business and the Okuama/Okoloba land dispute.

Investigations revealed that the military authorities zeroed in on Amangbein in search of the leader of the militant group that killed 17 officers and soldiers of the 181 Battalion of the Nigerian Army that went to Okuama community to free one Anthony Aboh, said to be an ally of Akpobolokemi.

The former NIMASA chief allegedly built a mansion in the disputed land between Okuama and Okoloba communities. The building of the house on the disputed land is said to be the genesis of the debacle that led to the killing of the soldiers.

Amangbein’s mother hailed from Okuama, an Urhobo community in Ughelli South LGA, in Delta state. He is now said to have fled to his paternal community in Bayelsa state, apparently informed of the military’s raid of the Igbomotoru community, which left several residents injured and properties destroyed.

A general and the chief of defence staff, Christopher Musa, had earlier said that the 17 military personnel, including four officers and 13 soldiers, were murdered in relation to illegal bunkering business. But Okuama community insisted that the soldiers stormed the community, accusing them of being in possession of one Anthony Aboh, whose lifeless body has since been recovered floating in Forcado River near Ayakoroma community.

Sources said the lifeless body of Anthony Aboh was recovered floating on River Forcados close to the Ayakoromo community in Delta state. One of the sources in Okoloba said, “We found the lifeless body of Mr. Anthony Aboh floating on River Forcados near Ayakoromo community.”

How the illegal oil cartel works

The illegal oil cartel in the Niger Delta comprises influential Nigerians and foreigners, including top military operators, government officials, highly-placed and retired oil industry players, politicians and business persons, and they are the financiers of oil bunkering syndicates, which over the years have plunged the country’s economy in the abyss of decline.

Their oil bunkering cartel, working with insiders, steals crude directly from major crude oil pipelines in the oil-rich region while officials pump crude to the different terminals. They know the time and duration of pumping and the exact pipelines.

The damage inflicted by small oil bunkers who illegally refine crude oil in the Niger Delta region is child’s play compared to the havoc the almighty cartel that owns giant vessels and equipment wreaks on the nation’s economy

Investigations revealed that the military authorities zeroed in on Amangbein in search of the leader of the militant group that killed 17 officers and soldiers of the 181 Battalion of the Nigerian Army that went to Okuama community to free one Anthony Aboh, said to be an ally of Akpobolokemi.

The former NIMASA chief allegedly built a mansion in the disputed land between Okuama and Okoloba communities. The building of the house on the disputed land is said to be the genesis of the debacle that led to the killing of the soldiers.

Amangbein’s mother hailed from Okuama, an Urhobo community in Ughelli South LGA, in Delta state. He is now said to have fled to his paternal community in Bayelsa state, apparently informed of the military’s raid of the Igbomotoru community, which left several residents injured and properties destroyed.

A general and the chief of defence staff, Christopher Musa, had earlier said that the 17 military personnel, including four officers and 13 soldiers, were murdered in relation to illegal bunkering business. But Okuama community insisted that the soldiers stormed the community, accusing them of being in possession of one Anthony Aboh, whose lifeless body has since been recovered floating in Forcado River near Ayakoroma community.

Sources said the lifeless body of Anthony Aboh was recovered floating on River Forcados close to the Ayakoromo community in Delta state. One of the sources in Okoloba said, “We found the lifeless body of Mr. Anthony Aboh floating on River Forcados near Ayakoromo community.”

How the illegal oil cartel works

The illegal oil cartel in the Niger Delta comprises influential Nigerians and foreigners, including top military operators, government officials, highly-placed and retired oil industry players, politicians and business persons, and they are the financiers of oil bunkering syndicates, which over the years have plunged the country’s economy in the abyss of decline.

Their oil bunkering cartel, working with insiders, steals crude directly from major crude oil pipelines in the oil-rich region while officials pump crude to the different terminals. They know the time and duration of pumping and the exact pipelines.

The damage inflicted by small oil bunkers who illegally refine crude oil in the Niger Delta region is child’s play compared to the havoc the almighty cartel that owns giant vessels and equipment wreaks on the nation’s economy

There are local oil mafias who also siphon from major pipelines and later sell their product to the big oil players, who use superior tubes and experts to drain off crude oil.

Every security officer involved in the business is well ‘taken care of’ and so, secrecy is maintained. Security operatives who mount sentry on waterways also collect levies from local oil bunkers, and many want to serve in such lucrative beat. They also make returns to superior officers, an insider told this reporter.

This reporter gathered that even with the militarisation of the waterways and the award of security contracts to Tompolo to secure crude oil, the illegal oil business has continued to blossom in Niger Delta. A development the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) GMD, Mele Kyari ascribed to Nigerian professionals and elites as the brain behind oil theft in the region.

This claim was controverted by Niger Delta elder statesman Edwin Clarke, who fingered the NNPC and the military as the big-time oil thieves.

Crux of the killing

The incident leading to the current crisis is said to have started as unrest in January 2024, following an age-long land dispute between the people of Okoloba and Okuama, leading to a deadly conflict that has brought about loss of lives on both sides. Consequently, the military command unit of the JTF at Bomadi was invited to the scene. It was, however, said that the invitation of the military was at the behest of the ex-NIMASA boss, who had allegedly used his influence to skew the military intervention in favour of his community, Okoloba.

According to Okuama community president-general James Oghoroko, Akpobolokem is an ally of Tompolo, who works closely with the military to secure the creeks. The military’s involvement in the dispute has elicited great suspicion from the people of Okuama, who feel unfairly treated.

Consequently, the attempt by the military personnel to invite the leaders of Okuama was greatly resisted, as it was believed that it was merely an attempt to unduly victimise the people of the community. Until the military authorities can explain the exact nature of the ‘peace mission’ warranting the soldiers’ presence in the community, the street narrative of the military intervention of working under the dictates of Tompolo and Akpobolokem may become attractive and may snowball into a nationwide narrative.

The ICIR  also gathered that Akpobolokem, who is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for a N754 million fraud, built a white mansion on the disputed land, a development that Amangbein and Okuama community elders challenged. It was gathered that an ally of the ex-NIMASA boss, Anthony Aboh, was taken hostage by Okuama people rising from the house built on the disputed land. Residents said that it was this person’s abduction that the military had come to investigate and, perhaps, effect his release, not any peace mission as claimed by the military authorities.

Who killed the 17 soldiers?

Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the soldiers, according to Army sources, 17 military personnel, including a Commanding Officer, two Majors, one Captain and 12 soldiers were murdered by suspected youths of Okuama community. Insiders confided to The ICIR that the soldiers used a speed boat owned by Tantita security outfit, Tompolo’s private security outfit.

The soldiers: Cpl Yahaya Danbaba; Cpl Kabir Bashir; LCpl Bulus Haruna; LCpl Sole Opeyemi; LCpl Bello Anas; LCpl Hamman Peter; LCpl Ibrahim Abdullahi; Pte Alhaji Isah; Pte Clement Francis; Pte Abubakar Ali; Pte Ibrahim Adamu, and Pte Adamu Ibrahim. Others include, Lt. Col. AH Ali (Commanding Officer, 181 Amphibious Battalion); Major SD Shafa; Major DE Obi; Capt. U Zakari and Sgt. Yahaya Saidu were reportedly lured into the creek opposite Okuama community and were all killed but no one has questioned why trained soldiers were killed and those that conveyed them with speed boat survived. The question begging for an answer is, does Tantita security rent their speed boats? Does it mean that the 181 Amphibious Battalion has no speed boat they use for routine patrol?

Tompolo refuses to speak.
Since there were allegations that the speed boat used by the slain soldiers belonged to Tantita security firm, which Tompolo owns, The reporter went to Oporoza on Saturday, March 30, 2024, to obtain comments from the ex-militant leader but was told that all media activities of the ex-militant leader is being handled by his media consultant, Paul Bebenimibo.

The ICIR contacted Paul Bebenimibo on his known MTN cell phone number but he did not take his calls. Short message service (SMS) and WhatsApp messages were sent to him on March 31 and April 1, 2024, asking him to clarify his boss’ stance on the use of the Tantita speed boat by the soldiers and whether the firm rents out its speed boats and whether Tompolo was in cold war with Amangbein.  However, all attempts were unsuccessful, as he did not return calls or respond to the SMS or WhatsApp messages sent to his cell phone.

Who are the oil mafia?
According to a Port Harcourt environment activist, Imabong Cliff, the government has not demonstrated seriousness to fight the oil theft, and “whatever tough measures are said to have been adopted have not put off the cartel.”

An activist with Young Nigerian Rights Organisation based in Asaba, Delta state, Victor Ojei, also criticised government efforts at dealing with the issue of oil theft and illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta.

“The tenacious ascent in oil robbery despite significant interests in securing oil pipelines brings up issues about the adequacy of the public authority’s methodology. It is conceivable that the actions taken to this point by the federal government of Nigeria have not sufficiently tended to the main drivers of the issue or have been inadequate to counter [quote]the refined strategies utilised by the oil criminals.

A knowledgeable source said that the cartel, over the years, successfully sold a decoy, making successive governments believe that oil theft was being carried out by small-time oil bunkers and Niger Delta militants bent on destroying the country’s economy, and so they must be eliminated. The Presidency believed that the big-time oil thieves continued their brisk business with protection from security operatives.

How Tompolo was awarded a surveillance contract
But the real challenge is not the small-time oil thieves, it is the influential cartel that is strongly connected and has continued to operate with impunity despite the security measures in place.

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