Yesterday the 31st of August 2023 the world woke up to a news story credited to the Commander, NNS BEECROFT of the Nigeria Navy, Commodore Kolawole Olumide Oguntuga, that the Nigerian Navy arrested four Tantita personnel for alleged crude oil theft. It would have been comedy, if it was not also tragedy. The Navy is a constitutional institution mandated to keep Nigeria’s seaward borders safe from invasion, criminality and free for economic activities.
Tantita respects the institution and its constitutional mandate. And it was out of that respect that a couple weeks ago when there was a face off between the service and Tantita over the MT Praisel, our organisation preferred to leave the Nigerian Navy to have the last word on the issue. It was our belief at the time that the matter was a misunderstanding which could have been better handled for the good of the nation and the common objective of Tantita and the Navy – the prevention of economic sabotage by oil thieves plying their nefarious trade on our nation’s waterways. However the present incident, coming barely three weeks after, does not seem to support that notion. What seems to be playing is a poorly written tragicomedy. The Nigerian Navy’s story is that in the early hours of August 29th 2023 there was an attempt by Tantita operatives to steal crude which they foiled.
They claim to have been responding to distress calls from youths in Itolou Community in the Lekki axis of Lagos, and “reviewing the information, Naval patrol teams immediately launched a response operation. Upon arrival at the scene, the Naval team met 4 individuals dressed in black polo shirts with TANTITA inscribed on the back, trying to recover a dismantled outboard engine from a local. The team recovered the engine and apprehended the 4 Tantita Employees.” According to the Nigerian Navy’s statement, “It was after this arrest that the patrol team realized that the 4 individuals are part of a movement of a large wooden boat laden with 11 x 1000L Geepee tanks with product suspected to be stolen crude oil.” So it would be seen that at the time of arrest, the only crime that the Tantita operatives were alleged to have committed was trying to recover a dismantled outboard engine. Thus, recovering outboard engines is now a crime. More interesting is the absence of a link between the outboard engine recovery story and the sudden epiphany – the realization by the navy patrol team that the four individuals they arrested are part of a movement of a large wooden boat at sea carrying stolen crude oil. The disjoint in the story is jarring.
On the other hand, this is what happened in fact.
On Monday the 28th of August 2023 at about 0130hours a Tantita Security Services Patrol team operating in the Ondo State area received credible intelligence that a motorised wooden boat was illegally loading crude oil from an Offshore Oil Well Jacket – in fact the same Well Jacket in OML 110 operated by Cavendish Petroleum Nigeria Limited, where the MT TURA II was caught stealing Crude Oil a few months ago. An advance team was dispatched to find the wooden boat while a back up team consisting of Nigeria Civil Defence and Security Corps (NSCDC) component of the Government Security Agencies (GSA) was assembled to follow through on the lead. While we cannot name the NSCDC personnel for obvious reasons, they were six in number and our personnel were eight not four in number. The advance team with the help of local fisherfolk was able to determine that the motorised wooden boat was heading in the direction of Lagos and gave hot pursuit. Upon noticing the approaching Tantita teams the crew of the motorised wooden boat abandoned the wooden boat for their speed boat. One team of Tantita and NSCDC personnel boarded the wooden boat to secure the evidence while another team gave hot pursuit. There is video evidence of the Tantita team together with NSCDC personnel coming alongside the wooden boat, boarding and attempting to secure the boat.
There is also evidence of the Tantita and GSA team giving chase to the crew of the boat. How then did the Nigerian Navy get involved in this operation?
The video also shows the Tantita crew trying to secure the wooden boat which was taking in water (this could have resulted from an attempt to scuttle the boat by the escaping crew; anyone who understands Yoruba can listen in on the conversations).
Surprisingly the escaping crew of the motorised wooden boat fled in the direction of the Nigerian Navy Forward Operation Base at Ibeju-Lekki, so the Tantita and NSCDC personnel followed in hot pursuit believing that the criminals would meet their Waterloo there. They were wrong. Instead of the fleeing crew being arrested, it was the Tantita personnel who came down to apprehend the fleeing crew that was arrested. After arresting Tantita personnel and freeing the crew, the Nigerian Navy personnel then went to the motorised wooden boat and drove out the combined Tantita/GSA team trying to keep the boat and the evidence afloat. The Nigerian Navy press release was nothing but a smear campaign, the Navy has been sharing pictures in social media of the Tantita staff in their custody in various shades of undress but kept silent about the names of the boat crew whom they were chasing? In short, where is the crew that the Tantita personnel chased into Ibeju Lekki? Most importantly, where is the boat now? You can clearly see the boat in the video provided below. Did the Nigerian Navy secure the boat? Can the Nigerian Navy explain the whereabouts of the motorised wooden boat? They were the last seen with the boat. Nigerians can see why we are forced to say that the Nigerian Navy’s press release was nothing but a smear campaign against Tantita and possibly a cover up. Is it possible that the Nigerian Navy deploys costly assets in these days of expensive petrol/diesel to respond communal distress calls involving commercial disputes as to ownership of outboard engines? Again, let us assume for the sake of argument that the distress call was with respect to shooting in Itolou community in Lekki area of Lagos State, what became of that investigation? Can the Navy tell the nation, after four days of investigation, who was shooting? The time frames here are important.
Tantita patrol team took off at 0130hrs (1:30 at night) on Monday 28th August 2023, and spotted the wooden boat at approximately 1400hours (2 in the afternoon) same Monday 28th August 2023 and were arrested by the Navy a few hours later on Monday 28th of August 2023. Why then did the Navy press release say it arrested Tantita personnel on Tuesday 29th August 2023? Why is the Navy saying it arrested 4 persons when in fact it arrested 5?
The Nigerian Navy is quite good at publicising videos of their personnel boarding vessels suspected of conveying illicit crude and refined products. Where is the Navy’s video of boarding this wooden boat and arresting the Tantita personnel? How do you arrest oil thieves you claimed were using a wooden boat to steal crude oil, on land? If indeed Tantita personnel were stealing crude with a boat, why did they need to abandon their wooden boat laden with crude oil, tens of nautical miles away from the crime scene to recover a dismantled outboard engine when the wooden boat had working engines? There are too many gaps in the Navy press release. In one breathe the Nigerian Navy is saying Tantita employees were caught trying to steal an outboard engine and in another breathe they are saying the Tantita operatives were arrested for trying to forcibly employ the owner of the boat to do their bidding. Quite interesting.
The arrest for four days and parade of Tantita staff by the Nigerian Navy as common criminals is to be deprecated by all right thinking members of society; at a time when our nation is in dire straits with the unparalleled loss of revenue from a monocultural export-based economy, these family men put their lives at risk for the good of the nation and are now being made to suffer ridicule for doing the right thing. It serves to demoralise good men everywhere who have sought and are seeking to do something to better our nation.
As soon as these men were arrested the management of Tantita reached out to the Nigerian Navy seeking clarification of the situation, for four days the Navy said they were investigating and that the men would be released. We now have the outcome of their investigation in that poorly digested press release.
There are even more damning revelations, which out of courtesy to the Navy hierarchy and the needs of national security we will not divulge on the pages of a newspaper.
The continued detention by the Nigerian Navy of these five brave, selfless Nigerians who risked their lives on the high seas to protect our commonwealth is a disservice to our nation.
Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited