The Nigerian Navy said it would investigate rather than gloss over allegations of military involvement in oil theft, noting that any personnel found culpable would be dismissed and prosecuted.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla, said this while fielding questions from newsmen in Port Harcourt on Thursday evening after a two-day tour of Naval formations and facilities in Rivers State.
Some of the places he visited were the Nigerian Navy Forward Operating Base, Bonny Island, Nigerian Navy Hydrographic School, Borikiri, Nigerian Naval Shipyard, Port Harcourt, Nigerian Navy Medical Centre, Borikiri, Nigerian Navy Basic Training School, Onne, Nigerian Naval College, Onne, the Nigerian Navy Ship, Pathfinder, Rumuolumeni, among others.
Ogalla pledged that the Navy will scale up waterways surveillance, especially in the creeks, and strike criminal elements to end the menace of illegal crude oil refining and illicit bunkering.
While noting that the Navy has recorded huge success in scuttling illegal oil bunkering activities across the maritime environment in the Niger Delta and beyond, he said the security agency would not rest on its laurels.
He however said most of the allegations against the military with respect to oil theft were false and unfounded.
Vice Admiral Ogalla stated: “The issue of involvement of our personnel in oil theft, you know this is the age of social media. And many people who do not even have the full details, they just put something up there.
“But if you go through some of those allegations and you investigate them, you find out that the basis of those allegations are unfounded.
“For instance, somebody will just see a vessel somewhere and he will say oh the military is involved. He doesn’t even know whether there is proper approval from the NNPCL for that vessel to load.”
Continuing, he said: “But he will put it on social media that he saw some military men onboard a vessel and that vessel is involved in oil bunkering without having the correct information.
“But whatever the case maybe anytime we receive such allegation we investigate it properly. So far, our investigations have been showing that most of the allegations are not true.
“But we still respond to them by investigating properly so that if there is element of truth in it, we hold the personnel responsible and we apply the law according to the Armed Forces Act.
“It has a very severe consequence ranging from imprisonment to dismissal. There has been such cases like that in the past and appropriate actions were taken.
“But I bet you over 90 of those allegations are just based on social media hype without proper background.”
On some of the long-term measures going forward, the CNS said, “We are going to improve surveillance capability because we want to be able to strike the criminals even before they go into the act.
“We want to arrest them while they are planning, while they are thinking about it. So, we don’t want to be on the defensive. We want to take the war to the criminals and get them even before they start the act.”
Ogalla emphasized that these efforts can be achieved through ‘proper human intelligence and the application of ‘technology’.
“And that is why we are trying to extend the coverage of our maritime domain awareness capability, the falcon eye to the back waters which is the creeks and the riverine areas which are where most of these activities takes place.
“We are going to do that and with that we believe we will achieve the desired objective, “Ogalla added.