In a recent incident, the air component of Operation Delta Safe executed successful air strikes, decimating an operational Illegal Refining Site (IRS) and its associated equipment and reservoirs on Yellow Island near Bonny Island in Rivers State. The statement by Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, the Air Force Spokesperson, also revealed the obliteration of two Cotonou boats near Okrika’s Arugbana area in the oil-rich state.
While the operation is aimed at combating economic saboteurs and oil thieves, concerns arise regarding the safety of such airstrikes and the exploration of alternative approaches. It is undeniable that the eradication of illegal refineries is crucial for curbing illicit activities. However, considering the potential risks and environmental impact, it is essential to examine safer methods to achieve the same objectives.
The statement highlighted another set of airstrikes on November 27, 2023, targeting an active IRS location concealed with reservoirs and a storage tank suspected of containing illegally refined products in a southeastern area of Abisse, Rivers State. Additionally, a location northwest of Omama was struck due to suspicions of stolen crude oil being kept in objects tied in sacks. These operations demonstrate the persistent commitment to tackling the issue.
In support of their efforts, Gabkwet reported that subsequent reconnaissance flights over various regions, including Cawthorne Channel, Bille, Dariama, Okrika, Bonny Island, and Idama, exposed a series of illegal refining sites rendered inoperative and abandoned due to prior destruction by the Air Component. This suggests that the measures employed may be yielding positive results.
However, it is crucial to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of these operations and their impact on the environment and the well-being of local communities. The disruption caused by airstrikes might lead to the relocation of illegal refining activities to more inaccessible or sensitive areas, exacerbating the environmental damage.
Exploring alternative approaches could include comprehensive strategies such as increased surveillance, intelligence gathering, and law enforcement collaborations to identify and apprehend those involved in illegal refining operations. Additionally, investing in sustainable economic alternatives and providing support for local communities could help discourage participation in illegal activities.
It is commendable that Operation Delta Safe remains dedicated to its assigned duties with the goal of halting or minimizing the activities of economic saboteurs. Nevertheless, a balanced approach that prioritizes safety and the long-term well-being of communities and the environment is crucial to effectively combatting illegal refining in Nigeria.