Mike Odiegwu, Port Harcourt
RESIDENTS, who saw two 14-feet haulage trucks along St. John Iwofe Road in Obio-Akpor Local Government Area, Rivers State recently, thought they were conveying crates of a popular brand of beer. But they were wrong.
The trailers were conveying suspected illegal products not included in their manifest.
In fact, operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Rivers State Command, unveiled a disturbing content of the trucks. The crates were simply a decoy to deceive members of the public.
The crates were used to conceal sacks of illegally-refined Automotive Gas Oil (AAGO), popularly known as diesel.
Investigations revealed that the crates were empty and they were used to surround the sacks creating an impression that the trucks were engaged in a legitimate business.
The sacks, containing about 46 drums, about 10,000 litres of adulterated diesel, were carefully packed at the middle of the trucks. Obviously, the haulage company knew nothing about the illicit trade as it involved the drivers of the trucks and suspected oil thieves. The drivers were to convey the stolen products to an undisclosed location in Owerri, Imo State.
One of the drivers of the trucks, Adebayo Monday, who hails from Edo State, feigned ignorance of the content of the sacks.
Adebayo said certain individuals approached him after offloading crates of beer to the brewery’s customers with the sacks and he reluctantly agreed to convey them.
He said: “I loaded the crates of beer from a brewery to Iwofe and after offloading the crates to the customers, they didn’t give all the empty crates that could fill the truck.
“So, someone approached me and asked me to help him carry the sacks down to Owerri. I initially rejected, but later asked them to load it. Shortly after that operatives of the NSCDC came and arrested all of us. They said we were carrying things against the law. I have never done it before”.
Investigations revealed that beyond the claims of Adebayo, oil thieves and illegal refiners of petroleum products were devising crafty means to move their products to various locations in the country. One of the most common strategies is to store stolen products in long cellophane bags and squeeze them into sacks making them look like bags of cassava flakes or rice.
In some cases, the bags of stolen petroleum products are further covered with bags of rice, salt and other legitimate items to hoodwink security operatives.
Some oil thieves in other instances deploy flashy vehicles, especially Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs), to move such products in order to beat checkpoints.
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But the NSCDC in Rivers under the command of Muktar Lawal has been intelligently decoding such moves.
Lawal said serious intelligence gathering played a key role in the arrest of the haulage trucks and the suspects.
He said the command arrested 16 suspected oil thieves in various sting operations that occurred at different parts of the state. He said three trucks, four buses, a car with vandalised electrical armoured cable, 27 jerricans filled with petroleum products, among other items, were seized during the operations.
He said the command also arrested a tanker conveying 48,000 litres of suspected crude oil, adding that conveyors of the product took to their heels on sighting a patrol team of NSCDC.
The commandant, who warned oil thieves to stay away from the state, further said a Highlander Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) carrying 27 jerricans of suspected illegally-refined AGO was handed over to NSCDC by the Nigeria Customs Service.
He noted that troops of 6 Division Nigeria Army arrested two suspects for illegal bunkering and recovered two Ford buses filled with suspected adulterated AGO and a Mercedes Benz car.
He said: “Items recovered from the suspects include constructed tanks for illegal refining of petroleum products, four pipes, two drums specially constructed for storing illegally-refined products and a motorbike”.
Lawal said one Promise Nnanta was arrested for impersonation, explaining that he was caught while parading himself as an operative of the NSCDC and attempting to obtain N120,000 under a false pretext at Eleme in Rivers State.
He said the anti-vandal unit of the command also intercepted a truck laden with suspected adulterated AGO and arrested two suspects along Ahoada, Omoku.
He said four of the suspects were already undergoing prosecution and vowed to arraign other suspects.