ABUJA, Nigeria, June 5 (UPI) -- The Nigerian government takes the mission of curbing oil theft in the Niger Delta very seriously, a spokesman for a military joint task force said.
Oil theft in the Niger Delta region declined in 2011 when the government set up a surveillance team to monitor the activity. Theft resumed in September when a former militant recruited to direct the team was fired for incompetence.
Isitoah Ozoemene, a political science professor at the State College of Education in the Niger Delta, told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks the surveillance team was handicapped at the onset because it recruited former militants.
"We have a government that compensates criminals, so more criminals come forward," he was quoted as saying in an interview published Tuesday.
The program was part of an amnesty initiative offered to Niger Delta rebels by the Nigerian government in 2009. Lt. Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, a spokesman for a military task force monitoring the region, told the humanitarian news service more than 490 people were arrested in connection with oil theft this year.
"These arrests reflect our unrelenting effort to eradicate oil theft while making the illegal business increasingly unrewarding and frustrating for perpetrators by scuttling their apparatus," he said.
Nigeria is the No. 7 oil producer among the 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.