The Nigerian Navy in Port Harcourt says it has raided an illegal bunker site allegedly owned by a pastor of one of the popular Pentecostal churches in Bayelsa.
The Executive Officer of the Nigerian Navy Ship Pathfinder in Port Harcourt, Capt. Victor Choji, disclosed this when he presented to newsmen seven suspected illegal bunkers on Wednesday.
Choji said some of the suspects confessed during interrogation to have worked for the unnamed pastor and other sponsors whose identities were not revealed.
According to him, the navy made the finding after it deployed troops on fact finding mission to check the source of the resurging hydrocarbon pollution in Port Harcourt and environs.
He said: “To this end, on July 23, at about 1300 hours, troops located an area in Alakiri (Okirika local government area) which investigation revealed was recently built for illegal refining activities.
“Seven suspects were arrested on the scene while some quantities of crude oil and illegally refined diesel were seized by our personnel.”
Choji said the suspected illegal bunkers had been in naval custody and had provided useful information on the dynamics of their illegal refining operations in Rivers and Bayelsa.
He said: “This information is important because it has given us a lead on how to crack down on this organised criminal network that has been operating in these states.
“The suspects have also given us names of some of their sponsors; which among them is an acclaimed man of God and pastor, who owns a renowned church in Bayelsa.
“We sent a team to arrest one of the sponsors but unfortunately the suspect fled the area with his family before troops arrived at his house. We are still on his trail.”
The executive officer said that investigation was ongoing with a focus “to gather more resources” before launching a manhunt for the pastor and other sponsors.
He said that criminals had remained dogged in spite of efforts by the navy and other security agencies to halt illegal refining of crude oil in the Niger Delta.
He said the navy had, however, come up with an intelligence-driven strategy that entailed personnel monitoring certain activities at market places.
Choji said: “We tried to establish market places where illegal bunkers sell their product. We believe that when transaction between the seller and buyer is stopped that illicit activities would be frustrated.
“We adopted this comprehensive approach to ensure that criminals are stopped at the beginning; frustrate them from selling their product and arrest them where they succeeded.
“This strategy paid off on Tuesday with the discovery of another illegal refinery undergoing construction in the maritime environment.
“Our intelligence team trailed some suspects to the illegal refining site after they had purchased large quantity of equipment and spare parts at a market place.”
Choji said that the navy would not rest on its oars until it addressed the resurging soot pollution in the state.
One of the suspects, Tuboke Omoro, said he was paid N15,000 daily by one of the unnamed sponsors who was currently on the run.