John ODHE, Yenagoa
Contrary to the general notion that oil theft is mostly carried out by poor people from the oil rich Niger Delta region, concerned citizens have described the act as an organized crime against the Nigerian state.
Social analysts who spoke to TNN in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa state capital, asserted that all critical sectors that were supposed to be in better positions to fight the menace of oil theft were rather deeply involved in the national economic sabotage.
According to a recent investigation carried out by the Nigerian Senate, the country lost more than two billion dollar to oil theft between January and August, 2022.
The report of the Senate investigation further revealed that only sixty-seven per cent of oil produce goes to the government while the remaining thirty-three per cent is lost to oil theft and other sabotage.
It is on record that large-scale theft from Nigeria’s pipelines has throttled exports, forced some companies to shut in production, crippled the country’s finances and knocked the country off its position as Africa’s top oil producer.
Speaking to our correspondent in Yenagoa, a social commentator, Dr. Tokpo Coronation described oil theft as an organized crime involving local, national and international conspiracies.
His words: “The government itself through its agencies, the NNPC, the ministry of petroleum resources and even the multinational companies themselves have made revelations that some very powerful individuals and foreign counterparts are involved in oil theft in the Niger Delta.
“Hitherto, people were thinking that artisanal refining, bunkering by the locals was what it was but over time, it has become expediently clear that some powerful forces in the military, even the military themselves have made that revelation, top business people in the country and outside the country are coming into the Niger Niger, syphoning the oil from the pipes.
“We have seen in the creeks vessels that are taking the crude to the high seas and trans loading into other vessels and moving this product abroad for sales.
“We saw a few days ago a ship that was in the Nigerian waters was being chased by the Nigerian Naval authorities but it ran into the waters of the Equatorial Guinea and the Guinean authorities arrested the ship with all the crew and they are being prosecuted in Port Harcourt, Rivers state.
“So, this is the way the crime has been going on. Recently, the federal government engaged Tompolo for pipeline surveillance to stop oil theft and they discovered a pipeline that has been there, according to them, for nine years, taking crude from the SPDC pipeline.
“It runs over four kilometers into the sea and syphoning the oil into their vessels. So, there are very powerful interests who are not necessarily from the Niger Delta. I know Niger Deltans are also involved, and this organized crime has been going on over the years.
“When you go to the creeks, you see close to every flow station, military men on guard, yet they are still stealing the crude. It will not be possible if there is no connivance.”
On what the government should do to curb the economic sabotage, Coronation said “l think the current strategy of the federal government is going to be helpful because the Tantita security company (Tompolo’s surveillance contract) is involving the locals to police oil assets in their areas.
“Government should also include the communities. I know that the PIA has provided for a certain percentage of the production cost that should go to the communities. But it is also a law that if the communities allow people to come to their environment to steal the crude, part of the money will be deducted from the communities’ trust fund.
“So, if the government allows the people to help in policing the oil assets in their areas, the works of Tompolo and other surveillance contracts will help in no small way to reduce activities of oil theft in the Niger Delta.
Another social activist, Mr. Christopher Abarowei, in his submission said “it is unfortunate that there is this high level of conspiracy going on. If not this oil theft would have been brought to a stop.
“From the side of government, the security, the people, not just the Niger Delta, it is a high level organized criminal outfit.
“He posited that for oil theft to be properly contained, the nation must have on ground what he described as good institutions, pointing out that there were deficiencies in the institutions.
Speaking further, he said” there are forces that are still dictating how things should be done in this country. Minus that, I don’t see any reason why this thing (oil theft) should persist. If there is that will power, if there is the zeal to put a stop to any criminal act, we will do it.
“But from the look of things, the level of complicity is so alarming that there is no body in sight now who can say l will put a stop to it.
“Take for instance, the Navy are always in our waterways, the Army are always in our waterways, the police are always in our waterways, we have the local vigilante groups, without high level of cooperation, do you think they will succeed?
“So, for them to put a stop to it, there must be honesty of purpose, if not I don’t see anything good coming out of it.”
Recall that recently, during a radio interview in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa state capital, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, also alluded to the assertions that both the low and the high in society are involved in the illicit black gold business.
Sylva stated that President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to put a full stop to oil theft before exiting office next year.
“I can assure you that the president is ready to deal with anybody, no matter how highly placed, on this matter. And he has given us the mandate to ensure that this problem is solved once and for all because he said this is one of the legacies he wants to leave behind and he said no stone should be left unturned to solve this problem of oil stealing,” Sylva had said in the interview.