Unending battle with oil thieves

W

ith the situation of things today, it will not be out of place to describe Nigeria as a country that is simultaneously being consumed by both internal and external aggressors. While the battle to curtail insurgency is raging from one end, enemies within have resolved to bring the economy to a halt through years of attacks on the nation’s major revenue earner-oil.

 

 

The rate at which stories of oil theft resonate on a daily basis is taking an alarming dimension, especially for the fact that every mechanism put in place to check the menace only ends up painting a bigger picture of frustration and defeat.

 

 

Each time a feeling of respite is assumed to have pervaded the development, it only turns out worse when the next story about vandalism and theft is relayed by stakeholders including government that is in the best position to end the economic debauchery.

 

 

Awash in the news last week again was the report that Nigeria suffered another huge loss of $750 million (N270 billion) to oil theft in 2019.

 

 

From estimation, the loss surpassed total budget for capital expenditure of N229.15 billion ($636.53 million) by the Federal Government for health between 2015 and 2019.

 

 

Despite efforts put in place by government through increased security presence around oil installations, Nigeria ranked Number 1 in the top five countries with the highest oil theft in 2014. As much as 400,000 barrels of oil a day are stolen in Nigeria through pipeline or wellheads theft, illegal bunkering and overlifting.

 

 

Over the years, different figures of how much has been lost have been bandied by those concerned. Even if such figures appear not to tally, it is essentially important to note that the conveyors and every patriotic Nigerian are particularly concerned about the gradual damage the sabotage is doing to the economy.

 

 

 

While figures from government at a time put the loss at between 150,000 and 250,000 barrels per day, data from private studies estimate the figure to be between 200,000 and 400,000 barrels per day.

 

 

This implies that Nigeria may be losing up to a fifth of its daily crude oil production to oil thieves and pipeline vandals.

 

 

On comparative analysis of the size and implication of the losses to the country’s current revenue profile, Nigerian extractive industry watchdog, Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), in a policy document renewed its appeal to government to curb oil theft to reduce budget deficit and external borrowing.

 

 

It is instructive to acknowledge that in the last five years, Nigeria has been so lucky with crude oil production for the fact that the monstrous attacks by Niger Delta militants on facilities that brought production from over two million barrels per day to as low as 800,000 barrels per day have been largely contained.

 

 

While the opportunity provided by the smooth production process is also being misapplied by government itself through series of financial recklessness and misadventure, it has become more disturbing that criminal elements have also resolved to help themselves to the reserve. 

 

 

It is disheartening that while the country is currently wallowing in debt of over N26 trillion and still searching everywhere to borrow more, oil thieves are having a field day vandalising and scooping crude in tankers.

 

 

To understand the level of seriousness, even the ad-hoc committee set up by the Federal Government, and headed by Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, recently expressed surprise at the huge losses. In fact, the NNPC reported to the committee that 22.6 million barrels of crude oil valued at approximately $1.35 billion was lost during the first half of last year.

 

 

It is lamentable that despite the huge amount of money running into billions of naira for security and surveillance, theft of crude oil in the country has failed to abate.

 

For the first half of last year alone, losses that were recorded include those at Nembe creek trunk-line, which lost 9.2 million barrel; Trans-Niger pipeline, 8.6 million barrel; Trans-Focados Pipeline, 3.9 million barrel, and Trans-Escravos pipe, 877,000 barrel.

 

 

Already, the committee has recommended restructuring of the maintenance and ownership of oil pipelines as a way of tackling the perpetrators of crude and other products, having a legal framework that will ensure that criminals are duly prosecuted and imprisoned. It also suggested that assets of oil thieves are confiscated as well as having special courts to try offenders and also have a special legal task force to coordinate the prosecution of arrested offenders as well as trained special judges to handle cases of oil theft. However, it is only left to be imagined if that will take care of the situation, considering the fact that the system has never succeeded in dealing with highly sophisticated and organised criminals as they always have connections in government.

 

 

As the situation appears to have defied current logic to end it, we advise that a secondary approach, which should include special oil community policing be put in place to either eliminate or extensively curtail it.

 

 

It is also instructive to ensure the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) into law as a way of giving an opportunity to oil community indigenes the responsibility to jealously guard their resources.

 

 

As a matter of fact, we wholeheartedly agree with the Obaseki-led committee that indicted oil thieves and sponsors be prosecuted, jailed and their assets seized if only those to handle the process are not part of the syndicate.

 

 

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