25 February 2013, Sweetcrude, Warri – Soldiers, weekend, launched a fresh offensive against oil thieves in Delta State, setting ablaze a number of locally made Cotonou boats conveying alleged illegally refined diesel on Warri waterways.
Our source said the operations of soldiers, believed to be Joint Task Force, JTF, operatives on the Niger Delta, codenamed Operation Pulo Shield, paralysed commercial activities on the waterways for hours, as boat passengers jumped into the river, when soldiers fired gunshots sporadically.
However, a boat belonging to a woman, who denied she was engaged in illegal refining and transportation of petroleum products, was allegedly burnt by the soldiers.
Efforts to get confirmation from JTF was unsuccessful, as spokesperson, Lt. Col Onyema Nwachukwu, neither answered his call nor replied the text message by this reporter on the incident.
A source said, Sunday, that the woman was carrying six gallons of kerosene in a local transport boat bought the previous day in Warri, which the soldiers assumed to be illegally refined.
National Coordinator of Ijaw People’s Development Initiative, IPDI, Mr Austin Ozobo, who witnessed the incident, condemned the incessant burning of boats on waterways by the task force, saying: “They should arrest offenders and ensure they are prosecuted, rather than polluting the river by burning petroleum products on the waterways.
“She (the woman) explained that she did not use her boat for illegal activity. The military personnel, I assume, knew that the particular boat was not being used for illegal activity because they later dismantled the engine and handed it to her.”
“My worry is why they still went ahead to burn her boat,” he added.
He called on the Chief of Army Staff to probe the incident, saying some military operatives were overreaching their bound in the region