Niger Delta is safe for investors to do business, says Suleiman
Real Admiral Apochi Suleiman is the Commander of the joint military task force ‘Operation Delta Safe’ (OPDS) with the mandate to rid the creeks of the oil rich Niger Delta region of criminals, which include oil thieves, sea pirates, kidnappers etc. In this interview with JULIUS OSAHON at the headquarters of the OPDS in Yenegoa, he bares his mind of issues bothering on their operations in the region.
Let’s look at the war against oil thieves and kidnapppers in the creeks and waterways of Niger Delta, how has the operations been going?
Well, so far, so good, we are on top of issues, we have been doing a lot within our mandate, preventing the oil thieves and kidnappers from doing their illegal activities by way of robust patrol to deter them from contemplating on carrying out their nefarious activities.
Can you that the outfit is winning the war?
Yes, we are; war in the sense of this our operation. We are achieving the mandate of this operation. When you look at it, recently the oil production has risen, the Trans-Forcado pipelines is working on well and the creeks are now safe for legal activities.
Militants group recently gave out a warning they will be going after CEOs and top management of oil companies if some of their demands are not met, with this threat, do you still think that the region is safe for investors and investments?
You call it threats and not that they are actually going after the CEOs or the top management. It is just a threat, but my advice is for them to seek for illegitimate means of channeling their demands if they have any grievances with the oil companies rather than threats.
Are you saying the region is safe for investors now?
The region is very safe for investors to do business, it is very safe. It is the safest as far as the nation is concerned right now. The Niger Delta is safe for investment.
Has your second coming to the Niger Delta to head a major military formation helped you in the discharge of your responsibilities, considering the difficulty of the terrain?
It is not actually the second time that I have been on assignment in Niger Delta here, but if you say second time in command of major formation; Yes. And yes, of course, experience is the best teacher. I have been here and I have seen some of the activities and I have actually taken part in curbing some of the activities in my first appointment. Right now, I am consolidating on those things I have done why I was here before. The terrain is very familiar to me especially as a Naval officer my area of operation is the maritime domain and my knowledge of the terrain has actually assisted me for this operation.
There was an uproar among Nigerian populace during the recent operation in Ondo State when the notorious kidnap kingpin was killed by your men, how do you feel when you hear these negative uproar with no one taking into consideration that the soldiers that were killed in cold blood were also humans with families?
I want to thank you for this question, I am happy your are asking this question out of your own feeling that it is expected that the populace too should be sympathetic to the course of the soldiers that died in the course of serving their nation. But that was not the case, the case was that propagating was that we went to kill and invade innocent people in a community. What actually happened was that we didn’t invade the people or community. We were not the one that attacked them, they attacked and kill our soldiers in cold blood, and we were only repelling the attack. What we did was to identify the hideouts of these militants and their cohorts. So we went after them. Those places that were ransacked were actually havens, shrines used by the militants; they were not homes of people. Those who went carrying out negative press releases on our operations to the press were people who were among them, aiding and abetting them.
All this was to deter us from carrying out our operations, but we will not be deterred by these negative agenda. We have resolve that any body that touch our troops, anybody who is a criminal, that is conducting illegality within this our mandate areas, we shall not deter to look for him. What we did was not ransacking, it was not invading, and invasion is a very serious issue. We didn’t invade them, they attacked our troops, killed our soldiers in cold blood and we are repelling. We are expecting people to be sympathetic to these soldiers that died protecting the nation’s asset. They actually volunteered to join the Armed Forces of Nigeria, scarifying their life to protect the asset of this country when these criminals took away their lives in cold blood. They were expected to be sympathetic to these soldiers who also has families and defendants but because they are benefitting from the proceeds of the criminalities, which they wanted to continue, they came out to say we have invaded a community so as to deter us from carrying out our lawful activities. We didn’t invade, we have code of conducts in all out operations and we abide strictly by that code of conduct, which was promulgated by the Chief of Defence Staff, when operation Delta Safe was established.
Is there any particular packages, insurance or any form of compensations for the families of the slain soldiers that died on active duty?
We have everything put in place for any eventuality. So for anybody that dies, for anybody that retires, all arrangement has been put in place as far as the Nigerian Armed Forces is concern. Of course there is untimely death but everything here in the Nigerian Armed Forces, a harmonized status had has been put in place for the benefits for soldiers, whether untimely or died in action and it is expected that it should also include their families.
Apart from the difficulty terrains in the creeks, what other challenges do you think your men encounter in the Niger Delta?
For the purpose of this operation we don’t have challenges, anything we see we leverage on it to enhance our operations. We don’t have a challenge.
What are you doing to communities who you think still harbor criminals in abode?
We are into community liaison too. We talk to the elders in the oil-bearing communities on how to conduct their activities. If they have issues with oil companies we caution and advice on the best possible approach to resolve it peacefully. We actually have some people within the communities that inform us if there are criminals or if criminalities are being perpetrated in their communities.
Now, the rate of kidnapping has reduced drastically in recent time, so is criminality along the waterways since you arrival, what other strategies did you use in combating this criminals?
Our mandate is very clear and we are committed to this mandate. We have resolved to evolve this mandate and we have made sacrifices in carrying out the mandate. Nothing much had been added, it just that we are doing what we are supposed to do, no new strategies, we are simply doing what we are supposed to do. I believed that if we do what are supposed to do and sustained it; the thing will go down to its barest minimum.
What is your message to Niger Delta people who perhaps may still be angry with your activities here?
We been sending messages to them that we are here to essentially to protect the oil and gas infrastructures, save lives, provide the enabling environment for businesses to strive. And its all on their own interest so everybody should queue into what we are doing, look for legitimate way of doing business so that the place can be peaceful for investors to come and do business. I am also using this opportunity to call on investors to come and do business here in Niger Delta, the place is safe and peaceful for business activities.
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