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‘Oil theft, another leakage Tinubu must block’

By Olawunmi Ojo (News Editor), Odita Sunday (Head, Defence/ Security Affairs, Abuja) and Adaku Onyenucheya 
04 June 2023   |   3:57 am
As part of efforts to jump-start the ailing economy, shore up financial resources and revenue, concerned stakeholders have identified oil theft as another major leakage President Bola Ahmed Tinubu must block urgently.

Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun (left); Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume; President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila shortly after the presidential aides’ appointments were made public at the Aso Rock Villa on Friday

• High-profile arrests, prosecution will end cankerworm — Amachree
• Oil thieves known to govt —Ex-Naval Spokesman
• Says lack of will to punish culprits fuelling theft
• Nigeria has no framework to protect its waters – Agbakoba
• Experts advocate coast guard, central control unit to tackle menace

As part of efforts to jump-start the ailing economy, shore up financial resources and revenue, concerned stakeholders have identified oil theft as another major leakage President Bola Ahmed Tinubu must block urgently.

While receiving members of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) last Friday at the State House in Abuja, President Tinubu had stressed the imperative of strengthening the source and application of the nation’s revenue.

He noted that the move had become important, as improving livelihoods for Nigerians remains a top priority for his administration.
In recent time, Nigeria’s daily oil production has been on a sustained plunge, much so that a recent report revealed that the country had lost its leadership in oil production on the continent.

Key among the reasons adduced for the plunge is oil theft, a perennial challenge that seems to have defied solutions and is estimated to be costing the economy hundreds of billions of Naira in losses.

The immediate past administration of Muhammadu Buhari, in its bid to stem the decline, even awarded a N48bn pipeline surveillance contract to Tantita Security Service Nigeria Ltd, a company owned by a former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo.

The Managing Director, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Mohammed Koko, had in 2022, while fielding questions at the Ministerial Media Briefing in Abuja, revealed how vessels enter Nigerian water ways legally, but stylishly sneak out to steal crude oil in the Niger Delta before leaving the shores of the country.

Koko disclosed that operators of the vessels usually turn off their Automatic Identification System (AIS), which should ordinarily aid the agency track such stray and dubious ships in the Nigerian waters.

Specifically, the authorities said that several of the vessels engaged in crude oil theft on its deep waterways usually put off Automatic Identification System to avoid being tracked by maritime officials, with the country losing billions of dollars in revenue.

Koko’s revelations followed inquiries on why the NPA couldn’t arrest the situation, following the incident of an oil tanker evading arrest in Nigeria after it carted away illegal crude oil.

WHILE the federal government grapples with the challenge of inadequate financial resources to attend to its obligations, and often having to borrow externally to stay afloat, incidences of oil theft persist at alarming rate across board, with people in the corridors of power and military formations responsible for security, being alleged to be complicit in certain quarters.

According to former Director of State Services (DSS), Dennis Amachree, oil theft has significant negative impacts on our country’s oil production and overall economy.

He noted oil theft involves the illegal siphoning, smuggling, or sabotage of oil infrastructure, resulting in significant revenue losses for the country. He said that the loss of revenue has hampered investment in the oil sector, leading to decline in production levels over time, as well as environmental damage and hazardous conditions for workers.

To combat the menace, Amachree said Nigeria would require effective and modern security measures, including surveillance, patrols, and enforcement, warning that if the nation’s security apparatus is unable to effectively tackle oil theft, it could lead to greater problems, discouraging investors and reducing overall production.

Recall that President Tinubu had, in his first meeting with Service Chiefs, hinted of an impending reform of the country’s security doctrine and architecture.

He also said his administration would “invest more in security personnel, and this means more than an increase in number. We shall provide, better training, equipment, pay and firepower.”

Amachree observed that oil theft could be linked to wider social and political issues, such as corruption, economic inequality, and organised crime. Addressing these underlying factors, he noted, requires a multifaceted approach, including governance reforms, law enforcement efforts, and socio-economic development initiatives.

“To overcome the challenge of oil theft and regain leadership in oil production, Nigeria would likely need to implement a comprehensive strategy that addresses the root causes of the issue. This may involve improving security measures, investing in infrastructure protection, enhancing governance and transparency, promoting economic diversification, and fostering international collaborations to combat illicit oil trade.

“I also recommend a logical conclusion to cases of thefts arrests (if any) and diligent prosecution of culprits. There is also a need for high-profile arrests and prosecutions of oil thieves,” he added.

A former spokesman of the navy, Rear Admiral Henry Babalola (rtd.) noted that stemming oil theft in Nigeria will involve a multi-faceted approach like national rebirth, attitudinal change, and coming down hard on oil thieves, their collaborators in the security sector, the oil sector, the local community, ship owners and international collaborators.

Babalola noted that government’s lack of the will to punish the few caught in the nefarious act has also further emboldened others, adding that oil thieves were known to the government.

“Very strict laws must be emplaced to tackle this hydra-headed monster. The death penalty is highly recommended because oil theft will kill this country if we don’t kill it. Additionally, government must come down hard on traditional rulers of host communities and their collaborators. Security agencies like the Nigerian Army, Navy, DSS and the Joint Task Force DELTA SAFE must be repositioned for improved efficiency.

“Dismissal of personnel involved in oil theft is definitely not enough. They should forfeit ill-gotten money to government plus long-term imprisonment to deter others. Today, EFCC is mainly involved in the arrest of small fries like the so called ‘yahoo boys’ while economic saboteurs are walking free in the land. Oil thieves are not ghosts; they live among us and have become powerful and filthy rich while some have found their way to political offices,” he said.

Babalola noted that tackling crude oil theft will definitely involve the massive deployment of technology considering the labyrinth of pipelines crisscrossing very difficult swampy mangrove of the Niger Delta. He added that the oil companies and security agencies like the Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Navy Air Arm must also vigorously carry out regular overflight of these areas.

“Additionally, sophisticated drones and unmanned watercraft should be introduced with close circuit camera devices. Our oil must also be carbonised to make sale difficult. DSS must also be tasked to carry out surveillance to arrest thieves and nip the act in the bud before being carried out.

“The National Intelligence Agency should be specially tasked to unmask foreign collaborators. Above all, there should be improved sub-regional, regional and global collaboration,” he said.

Babalola, who was also the former Flag Officer Commanding, Eastern Naval Command, Calabar and One time Chief of Training and Operations, Naval Headquarters said: “The recent contracts given to ex-militants and agitators to monitor oil pipelines was a last gap decision of government to tackle oil theft. This method of using thieves to catch thieves, though looking effective, must be adhoc as this will just produce short-term successes.

“Deliberate efforts must be made to reposition security agencies through acquisition of modern and effective security and intelligence gathering assets. Heads of agencies must be held responsible for lapses and appropriate sanctions meted.

“The activities of Private Maritime Security Companies currently employed by oil companies should also be widened. Finally, the Nigerian Navy must be tasked with more aggressive patrol of our maritime environment, channels and sea approaches while Nigerian Army Amphibious elements must be equipped to effectively police the challenging swampy environment of the Niger Delta.”

According to a prolific lawyer, Barr M. A Animashaun, the origin of oil theft in Nigeria had been traced to years of neglect, degradation of the ecosystem and high unemployment rates in Niger Delta region.

“The lack of political will on part of successive governments to hold accountable the multi-national oil companies for pollution of land, streams and rivers, which are the main sources of farming and fishing for the inhabitants had aggravated not only the phenomenon of oil theft but also crime rates like kidnapping in the region.

“Every acts of oil theft are punishable under Section 2 of the Act either by death or 21 years imprisonment depending on gravity. Also, acts of blowing up oil pipelines are acts of sabotage punishable under the Act,” he said.

Animashaun suggested measures to be deployed for combating oil theft to include electronic cargo tracking system; introducing making the polluter pay policy; ensuring proper synergy among security agencies and embarking on environmental rehabilitation/sustainable development programme.
Former President of Private Security Practitioners, Dr Wilson Esangbedo, while contemplating the roles of security agencies in stopping crude oil theft, noted that most of them are not innocent, as some are involved in the crime.

“Asking militants to protect our oil infrastructure is a testimony to the fact that the security agencies have not done their work diligently. A total overhaul of the system will help. Too many agencies are involved in fighting crude oil theft, and that seems to be the challenge.

Pipeline vandalism

“Allow only one agency fight this crime. Give them equipment, fund them and motivate the personnel involved and this menace will stop. NSCDC can stop crude oil theft but unfortunately they are not properly funded and are at times intimidated by other security agencies.

“The new leadership will keep borrowing money to keep the country running until they decide to face this crime squarely. Almost everyone is involved in crude oil theft. The body language of the new President, the steps he takes and the appointments he makes will give us an idea of his readiness to fight this menace that has turned Nigeria almost into the poorest nation in the world in the midst of abundant natural resources.”

Meanwhile, maritime experts have advocated deployment of coastguard and central control unit to tackle oil theft, just as they allege that the menace has been on the increase because of highly-placed Nigerians and some personnel of the Nigerian Navy, who connive with foreign shipping companies to lift oil illegally on the waters.

According to them, technologies have successfully been adopted by developed countries to tackle the menace and piracy on territorial waters.
A United States-certified maritime anti-piracy security specialist, Captain Alfred Oniye, said the people involved are high-profile personalities, hence oil theft has become a political business.

“You cannot totally eradicate this menace because it is a business to some high-profile personalities. The security agencies only arrest the crew who carry out the operation, but nobody bothers to investigate who financed it or who owns and bunkers the vessels. It is an organised crime that involves some security personnel,” he said.

To address oil theft through Nigerian waters, Oniye said the nation needs to deploy technologies such as coastguard and central control unit to compliment the efforts of the Nigeria Navy.

He said the coastguard takes care of all the backwater and enforce the convention, saying, “If you beat the security at the territorial waters or at high sea, you won’t be able to beat the security at the backwater.”

Oniye said unfortunately, Nigeria finds it difficult to have a coast guard as there are some strong forces who are fighting against it because of their gains.

A Maritime lawyer and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba, said although the nation’s maritime laws are against vessels coming into the country to lift resources and go illegally, the country does not have a strong institutional framework to protect its waters, stretching from inland waterways right up to the exclusive economic zone.

He said oil theft and other maritime crimes are perpetrated in the country because it doesn’t not police its waters.

The maritime lawyer said Nigeria, in the past 20 years, had all kinds of maritime securities, none of which has been effective, noting that the failure is why stealing crude oil from Nigeria has been easy.

The National Coordinator, Policy and Practice Committee, Nigerian Ports Consultative Council, Ajanonwu Vincent, noted that the Nigerian Navy is solely responsible for the protection of the nation’s territorial waters, which stretches about 700 nautical miles into the ocean.

He said the responsibility also stretches to overseeing the inbound and outbound ships, whether oil tankers or general cargo vessels, as well as ensuring vessels do not enter Nigerian territorial waters illegally or without due clearance.

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