The Joint Task Force (JTF), charged with the protection of oil installations and preventing oil theft in the Niger Delta, says lack of diligent prosecution suspects undermines its efforts.
The spokesman of the task force, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, made the assertion in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Sunday in Yenagoa.
Nwachukwu said that the military outfit lacked powers to prosecute suspected oil thieves who capitalized on the slow dispensation of justice to perpetuate their act.
He said that the responsibility of the task force was to apprehend suspects and hand them over to other relevant bodies for prosecution.
The spokesperson said that many apprehended suspects who were granted bail in the past often returned to the nefarious act, pointing out that the trend was very disturbing.
He said that many of such suspects often got re-arrested by JTF troops for the same crime, noting that they had become familiar with the legal loopholes.
He said that the JTF had called for the establishment of special courts to ensure quick prosecution of the cases the penalties served as deterrent to others.
Nwachukwu said that the vandals were desperate and highly organized, and would go to any length to perpetrate their act.
According to him, a suspect attempted to bribe an official of the task force with N20 million on March 21.
“The oil theft syndicate offered the Operation Officer of JTF’s 3 Battalion an initial payment of $5,000 for ‘recharge card’ and $1,500 to fuel the gunboat that will escort the stolen crude.
“Two British nationals subsequently requested a meeting with the Brigade Commander of 4 Brigade.
At the meeting, the suspects expressed their desire to connect a hose to the SPDC’s pipeline along the Chanomi Creek in Delta State, to illegally siphon crude oil into their barges.
“The foreign nationals promised to bribe the brigade commander, Brig-Gen. Fidelis Azinta with N20 million and take care of officers and soldiers along the Chanomi creek.
“On March 21, 2014, one of the suspects brought $60,000 (N10.2 million) as part payment for the N20 million offer, and was immediately arrested.
Nwachukwu noted that one of the suspects, Joshua Orupere, was once arrested and handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for prosecution.
He said Orupere, a serial offender, currently on bail for an earlier offence, was apprehended last year when he tried to bribe the same Azinta with $30,000.
He appealed to relevant agencies of government to assist JTF in curbing the menace of oil theft.