Security in the Niger Delta – An Interview with Col. Rabe Abubakar

Rabe Abubakar, a lieutenant Colonel of the Nigerian Army is the coordinator of the newly created Joint Media Campaign Centre, JMCC, of the Joint Task Force, JTF, ‘Operation Restore Hope’, in Effurun Barracks, Delta State. Initially, the Colonel was unwilling to tackle issues that I put across to him concerning the vandalization of the Chanomi Creek. He wanted the interview to focus only on the activities of the JTF in nipping the ‘criminality’, of the illegal bunkering and militancy, in the bud. As things turned out however, the Colonel got down to the brass tacks and ‘spoke from his heart’, as this interview will reveal

Tell us about what you have been up to concerning illegal oil bunkering and militancy in the Niger Delta.

The issue of security in the Niger Delta is a collective responsibility for everybody. However, the JTF has been doing a lot to provide that sense of security. We have been able to minimize the illegal oil bunkering and the restiveness in the Niger Delta to its barest minimum. We have restored hope for peace and that is what we are doing. Our mandate is not to engage in war. We are involved in internal operations when there is a civil assault, like the police.

How have you engaged the militants and illegal oil bunkerers who you say are a threat to peace?

The illegal oil bunkerers and Niger Delta militants are our brothers. They are Nigerians. Even though they have taken the wrong means to express their agitations, you will be aware that the military has imbibed the peaceful methods introduced by the Federal government to resolve the problem. Right now, we have blocked all avenues where the militants used to scoop fuel. We are not going back on that. We are fighting the militants…not fighting per se but ensuring that peace returns to the Niger Delta through the use of minimum force on self defence.

But your people have replaced the illegal oil bunkerers that you dislodge.

Honestly speaking, you have the right to make allegations against the JTF. But realize that the JTF personnel operate on a code of ethics based on professional integrity, due process and the rule of law. Therefore, the issue of saying that we are involved in this kind of thing is part of the propaganda of those we are currently fighting. When you stop somebody from what he was used to get, definitely he would call you names, and we do not expect much from him or her apart from trying to paint us black. Our activities in the Niger Delta are confined to our constitutional duty to ensure peace and stability in the Niger Delta…

…so this is now an oil war, isn’t it?

No, no…! You see, everyone is very much aware that the land is no longer good for the MEND people, and that is because we have blocked all the exits from where they steal oil and our men are all over the place. For them, it is no longer business as usual. Most of the people who tell us about them said that they realize that the illegal oil bunkerers and militants are selfish people concerned only with their own pockets. How many of them have you heard used these monies to develop the communities they claim they are fighting for? How many? Their current fight in the Niger Delta is not the one we used to know and hear about but they are fighting for their own interests. As a responsible outfit, we cannot fold our hands and watch these people hold the nation to ransom.

How do you expect the militants to be able to build schools and hospitals when they are engaged in that kind of struggle?

I would not know…

Well, MEND said it has killed many of your people who are fighting against their struggle for the Niger Delta.

As I am talking to you right now, I speak from my heart. The last time MEND said it killed 29 soldiers, there was no engagement between them and us whatsoever. Therefore, the issue of killing does not even come up…

…or the capture of your men?

… or the capture of any of our men! However, you realize that a drowning man clings to anything to survive and I tell you, that is what MEND is doing to sell themselves to show that they are on top of the situation. But they are losing the fight.

Okay, is it true that you shut down certain ‘illegal’ refineries?

Sure, we did. Actually, 14 Philippinos were arrested by the JTF after allegedly loading about 150 metric tonnes of crude oil from AGIP pipeline in Imbgakiba Creek around Akassa in Brass. The foreigners were handed over to the SSS for prosecution. From May 1 to August 18 alone, about 291 illegal local refineries were destroyed by the JTF.

When you say ‘refineries’, what do you really mean?

A refinery is a place where these people refine products. They have their own way, and this is because they can no longer carry these things outside as they used to do. That is why they improvise other methods, just like the refining process of local gin, ogogogro. This not only affects the economy, but it equally affects those who buy these illicitly refined products because it can destroy their vehicles.

Is it from the Chanomi Creek that most of these people get the oil?

I hope that you are aware that there are two processes. There is legitimate bunkering and illegal bunkering. Those involved in the legal bunkering business dig their own well but other people that our commander described as the 67 percent of people involved in this other methods are the illegal bunkerers. It is impossible to arrest everyone involved and that is why we destroy everything they illegally bunk as soon as we lay hands on it.

How does illegal oil bunkering affect refineries in Nigeria?

Let me be very frank with you by saying that the output of many of the oil companies in the Niger Delta has increased tremendously because our own efforts. You can go and confirm from them. There has been an increase in the production level.

What is the relationship between the illegal oil bunker and the militant? Are they in any way related?

Yes. They are related. That is because, if one is not supporting the other, the other will not succeed, and that is because they use the oil bunkering to finance the proceeds of their militancy.

What in your opinion is the solution to the issue of illegal oil bunkering and militancy in the Niger Delta?

Everybody has a role to play, the community leaders, religious leaders parents and the press. The religious and community leaders know the people involved in this situation, and if you do not get information from them, there is nothing the soldier can do. That is why we keep appealing to everyone to everyone to help us with information. My appeal to the militants and oil bunkerers is that they are not doing anybody any good and must desist from what they are doing now. Moreover, the press must help too.

The Press? How does this concern the press?

The militants put so many things in the press. If the press wants the war to end today, they can do it…

How…?

Very good, but I have my own personal reasons anyway. If you are glorifying somebody for doing bad things, definitely it means that you are encouraging them to continue to do bad things. However, when you tell them the things they are doing is bad, and you would not publish it, nobody would know. The press plays a crucial role in conflict resolutions. In whatever endeavour one is involved, he should be able to be patriotic, and mindful of national security. That makes the press know what to report and what not to report.

How can reports be balanced if we report only the ‘good’ things?

But you should be patriotic. Not all journalists are patriotic. They just sit down somewhere without investigating and write all kinds of stories.

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