Pipelines' security and the imperative of federalism
Tompolo

BY EMEKA EJERE

Increasing number of businesses and households benefitting from proceeds of illegal oil bunkering across Rivers State and its environs is giving the practice a life that may not have possible end, despite huge investment by the government and companies in the security of oil installations.

It is even more so with strong indications of direct and indirect involvement of security agents and government officials who allegedly connive with the regular oil thieves both onshore and offshore to suck the life out of Nigeria’s economy.

Nigeria has been unable to meet it’s OPEC production quota now at 1.84 million barrels per day, as oil theft has pegged the nation’s output at 1.2mbpb denying the country needed revenue to boost it’s foreign reserve and shore up the value of the naira.

Last week, government, in a despite move announced the award of contract for pipelines protection to a private company owned by ex militant leader, Government Tompolo at the cost of N48 billion, which many people say is an admission of failure by government security agencies saddled with the assignment.

A recent industry report noted that it is not hidden information that a sophisticated mafia of powerful Nigerians and foreigners, including top military operators, government officials, highly-placed and retired oil industry personnel, politicians and businessmen are the big-time oil thieves and financiers of oil bunkering syndicates.

According to the report, the oil bunkering cartel working with insiders steal crude directly from major crude oil pipelines in the Niger Delta, while officials pump crude to the different Terminals. They know the time and duration of pumping and exact pipelines.

“The damage inflicted by small-time oil bunkers in Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa and other states, who illegitimately refine crude oil in the Niger-Delta region is a child’s play compared to the havoc the connected cartel that owns giant vessels and equipment wreak on the economy”, the report said.

Findings show that there are local thieves who also siphon from major pipelines and later sell their product to the big players, who use superior tubes and experts to drain off crude oil.

“The biggest advantage of the cartel is that they have security operatives that provide security on the instruction of top officers for vessels laden with stolen crude, which sail outside the country’s waters to ready buyers with foreign collaborators”, the report further revealed.

“Every security officer involved in the business is well ‘taken care of’ and so, secrecy is maintained. Security operatives who mount sentry on waterways also collect levy from small–time bunkerers and many want to serve in such lucrative beat. They also make returns to superior officers.”

Last week, the Rivers State Government said no amount of blackmail would deter it from prosecuting the lawmaker representing Port Harcourt Federal Constituency II, Hon. Chinyere Igwe, whose filling station was sealed for alleged illegal oil bunkering activities.

The Chief of Staff to Rivers State Governor, Emeka Woke, who disclosed this during a Permanent Voters Card sensitisation and mobilisation rally, insisted that the state government has constitutional obligation to decisively deal with anyone involved in acts inimical to the Nigerian economy.

He said, “Anybody who allows his business premises to be used for illegal oil bunkering, that premises will be shut down.”

The Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), reported recently that the nation’s oil output dropped by 12.5 per cent to 1.4 million barrels per day, mb/d, including condensate, in the first half (January – June) of 2022, from 1.6 mb/d in the corresponding period of 2021. Industry reports say oil thieves stole between 200,000 and 400,000 barrels of crude daily during the period.

In 2021 alone, oil thieves caused the country a loss of over $4.01 billion and by NNPC statistics, regular production in 2020 stood at 1.77mb/d, before sliding consistently to 1.6 mb/d and 1.4 mb/d in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

Raising the alarm

Shell Petroleum Nigeria Limited, Chevron Nigeria Limited, the then Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and others had raised the alarm about sustained and increased oil theft for some period now, but the big-time thieves continued with little or no actions by the appropriate authorities.

Country Head, Corporate Relations, SPDC, Igo Weli, told newsmen recently in Port Harcourt, Rivers State that underprivileged people could not afford the kind of equipment deployed by oil thieves in unabated oil theft and assets vandalism.

”Equipment required to carry out oil theft are so expensive, poor people cannot afford to set up oil theft and illegal refining businesses. Only those with deep pockets can and they are killing you and I, destroying the economy”, he said.

“If we keep destroying our environment, the type of company that would want to come to this country that will give our children value proposition and contribute positively to our economy will not come. That is why I give credit to the Rivers State governor because some months ago, he showed leadership.”

Chairman, United Bank for Africa, Tony Elumelu, late last year, tweeted that the country was losing over 95 percent of its production to oil thieves, a concern he repeated in February.
Also, former Chief Executive Officer of Seplat Energy and Executive Chairman, AA Holdings, Austin Avuru, forewarned that Nigeria’s oil production had reached an emergency critical status, recommending that NNPC and regulators should set up a “war room” strategy to deal with the rising issue of oil theft in the country.

Wike’s revelations

In 2019, the governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, fearlessly told Nigerians that top military men were involved and sponsoring oil bunkering in his state. He fingered an unnamed General Officer Commanding (GOC), who he alerted, had raised a team of soldiers to steal and sell petroleum products in the region.

Although Wike spoke from information available to him as the chief security officer of Rivers State, not many believed him because they thought he was playing politics,
The governor, however, did not substantiate his allegation but maintained that the big oil thieves have the support of top military generals, who instruct their subordinate commanders in the area of responsibility, AOR, not to disturb his “friends” and the benefits go round.

Policemen and operatives of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, (NSCDC), reportedly clashed in Rivers state over protection of an alleged oil bunkering site in the state, but both security agencies gave different versions of their involvement in the episode.

Also in November 2021, Governor Wike reiterated that the fight to stop oil theft had continued to fail because top-ranking officers of the military were deeply involved in it, saying that it was time the Nigerian State considered the damage caused by activities of crude oil thieves to the economic mainstay of the country and treat them as treasonable offenders.

Wike, who played host to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Isiaka Oladayo Amao who was on courtesy visit at Government House, Port Harcourt, noted that it was not only the wastage of the economy that is witnessed, but the degradation that the environment also suffers as a result of oil theft also impacts negatively on rural communities in Rivers State in particular.

He said: “You know this bunkering cannot stop; let’s be serious about it, everybody is involved. The military is involved. Police are involved. The Nigeria Civil Defence Corps is involved. If not, there is no way bunkering can continue. It’s a terrible thing.

“I don’t know, whether we should take the issue of bunkering to even be more serious than treason. If you go around and see what has happened to our environment, you’ll have pity on us.”

Just a couple of days ago, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Port Harcourt Zonal Command, in a joint operation with personnel of the 6 Division Garrison, Nigerian Army Port Harcourt, arrested 120 suspects for alleged illegal oil bunkering.
They were arrested at Ndoni, Rivers State, where suspected illegally refined stolen petroleum products were off-loaded into vehicles at the waterfronts for distribution within and outside Rivers State.

EFCC’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, in a statement said the arrest of the suspects was made possible by intelligence on the alleged illegal oil bunkering activities in the locality, adding that eight vehicles and pumping machines were recovered in the course of the arrest.

“The suspects will be charged to court as soon as investigation is concluded,” Uwujaren said.

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