Governor Nyesom Wike has accused the Nigerian Army of running illegal bunkering in Rivers State.
The governor accused Jamil Sarham, the general officer commanding the Army’s 6 Division in Port Harcourt, of raising a team of soldiers to steal and sell petroleum products in the region.
“The GOC has his own team now doing oil bunkering for him because he wants to be chief of army staff,” Mr Wike said while receiving a team of military personnel from ‘Operation Delta Safe’ on Wednesday. “If you give that kind of person chief of army staff, what kind of security would we have in this country?”
“He cannot be removed here because they know the role he is playing for them: sabotaging our security architecture,” the governor added.
Mr Wike said Mr Sarham, a major-general, regularly divulges confidential security briefings to criminals, and the military leadership’s reluctance in removing him was deliberate.
“We would have security meeting, he will release it to criminals,” Mr Wike said. “And chief of army staff will leave the man here because he is playing their role.”
Mr Wike said he has been leading security efforts to “reduce crime to the barest minimum,” in Rivers, which ranks amongst Nigeria’s most volatile states. But the army constitutes an obstacle for success, he alleged.
The ‘Operation Delta Safe’ is a joint-security patrol of the Niger Delta region, where cases of oil theft and disruption of oil installations are regularly reported. The courtesy visit to Mr Wike was led by Akinjide Akinrinade, a naval rear admiral and overall head of the operation.
Mr Wike said it would be difficult for ‘Operation Delta Safe’ to arrest military personnel sent on oil bunkering mission if they encountered one another in the creeks.
The governor did not provide any evidence to substantiate his allegations. His media adviser, Oraye Franklin, told PREMIUM TIMES he has nothing to add to the governor’s comments.
Mr Wike, a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, has made unsubstantiated allegations in the past against Buhari administration officials and security chiefs. Following the discovery of a cash haul in Ikoyi in April 2017, Mr Wike claimed the money belonged to Rivers State, having allegedly been plundered by his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi.
But when asked to provide evidence during forfeiture hearings, the governor failed to make any submission to the court. The money was later claimed by the Nigeria Intelligence Agency and forfeited to the Nigerian government.
Mr Wike has also regularly accused the government and security agencies, including the police, of plotting to assassinate him without corroboration.
Mr Sarham declined comments to PREMIUM TIMES about the allegations on Sunday morning. He admitted the allegations were “grievous,” but said he had not received clearance to make a public statement as of 9:20 a.m. on Sunday.
The Army spokesperson, Sagir Musa, told PREMIUM TIMES he could not comment on the allegations Sunday morning.
He asked that enquiries should be directed to Aminu Ilyasu, a spokesperson for the 6 Division. But Mr Ilyasu, a colonel, also declined comments, saying he was at a function and could not immediately say when it would be a good time for him to speak.
Messrs Wike and Sarham have clashed repeatedly since the army chief was appointed as the GOC of 6 Division in August 2018.
During the elections, the governor accused the army of undermining democracy in Rivers, after a series of deadly shootings forced the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to suspend results collation.
At least two soldiers were killed in the state during the elections between February and March. About a dozen people were killed across the state during the elections.
The electoral body, INEC, also criticised the Army’s conduct during the elections.
Days before the governorship election on March 9, Mr Sarham accused Mr Wike of offering bribes to military officers. The governor denied the allegations, dragging Nigerian Army to the International Criminal Court over the killings, injuries and destruction of properties recorded across the state during the elections.