Oil theft: Tinubu’s lifeline and Asari Dokubo’s outburst

The revelation by former Niger Delta militant leader, Asari Dokubo, that 99 percent of oil theft and bunkering in the Niger Delta is done by the Nigerian military, especially the Army and the Navy, added a twist to the ongoing plunder and sabotage of the Nigerian State.

Every day, Nigeria loses between 300,000 and 400,000 barrels of oil to theft, vandalism and bunkering. Theft accounts for roughly 15 percent of Nigeria’s 2.4 million barrels per day production. Oil export revenue accounts for 70 percent of Nigeria’s total government revenue and 95 percent of the country’s export income. A loss of 300,000 barrels a day costs the government roughly $1.7 billion a month.

In comparison, only 5,000 to 10,000 barrels are stolen per day in Mexico, which produces a comparable amount of oil. Despite efforts by the Nigerian government to curtail bunkering by increasing security, theft and pipeline vandalism continues.

Since Nigeria joined the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, Austria, on July 12, 1971, as its 11th member of OPEC, the Giant of Africa has wielded significant influence. However, over the last decade, Nigeria’s influence has continued to dwindle. Crude oil theft has crippled our Nigeria’s economy, as almost about 97percent of the Nigeria output are stollen in a country that depends mainly on crude oil to finance our economy.

This has been blamed on massive oil theft. Last year, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd announced to the consternation of traumatised Nigerians that it has detected an illegal connection on the Trans Escravos pipeline looped to the four-kilometre Afremo test line.

How do you expect Dokubo not to be fume when Oil theft has crippled our economy. I think that’s why economic plans is not working in this country – no money to service our debt. It is difficult to run the government without money. All these are happening because some few dishonest citizens are stealing our crude oil and diverting the funds to their private accounts.

The oil and gas industry is very strategic to the economic survival of Nigeria. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu must, therefore, surround himself with egg heads in the energy sector, as his administration prepares to be firm in dealing with offenders. This is not time to look at faces. irrespective of whose ox is gored, the president must wield the big stick. There’s sufficient powers at the disposal of the president to hire and fire. Except the president use some oil thieves as scapegoat, the country’s economy is heading for the rocks.

Recently, at the 2023 Nigerian International Energy Summit, the Chairman of Shell Companies in Nigeria, Dr Osagie Okubor, revealed that Nigeria lost N2.3trillion revenue to oil theft in 12 months due to oil theft and vandalism. Also, the Managing Director of Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, Philip Mshelbila, pointed out that 40 percent of globally renowned gas firms’ capacity had been lying fallow due to theft.

The foregoing indicates that Oil theft and vandalism is a direct affront on Nigeria’s national security. Oil theft and vandalism should be treated as treasonable offence.

Dokubo’s revelation that even if one billion pipeline protection contracts are awarded to everybody in the Niger Delta to stop the oil theft and bunkering, it will not work because of kingpins fully armed from the Army and the Navy is a mission statement for the Tinubu-led administration.

Dokubo did not make blanket statement; his explanation is very clear. He said the Army and the Navy intimidate the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps which is by status the security agency that is supposed to guard these pipelines. They receive a lot of money from NNPCL, PCL and the IOCs and just across the corner, you will see a houseboat and a few meters from the House boat, you will see an oil bunkering refinery tapping directly from oil well ends. It is very pathetic now.

While oil bunkering has developed into a sophisticated and far-reaching industry that thrives because of high-level collusion among many of those responsible for ensuring Nigeria’s oil production. What is happening in the nation’s oil industry is unprecedented in the history of oil production anywhere in the world.

Oil bunkering poses an acute economic and national security crisis for Nigeria. Estimates of the oil that is lost to theft and pipeline vandalism vary from 200,000 to 700,000 barrels a day — essentially anywhere between 10 percent and one-third of Nigeria’s total production. Except no one seems to know how much oil the country actually produces anymore for this precise reason, so estimates are of limited use.

Beyond the physical theft itself, the general environment of insecurity in the Niger Delta deters companies from investing in exploration and new licenses or even making basic repairs to existing facilities. Three of Nigeria’s largest terminals were shut down for several months (or more) in 2022, in a troubling sign of the state of the country’s oil industry.

Some have called for Dokubo’s head but those who mean well for a Nigeria that works for all have urged President Tinubu to act fast on Dokubo’s revelation by ensuring the restoration of sanity in the nation’s oil industry. When evil is not punished, it will embolden others who intend to commit it. Hence, as a security expert, I recommend that Asari Dokubo’s revelation should be treated with the heavy hand it deserves.

If anything, the former Niger Delta militant leader deserves accolades for his courage. His outburst is against the backdrop of the shame oil bunkering, theft and vandalism has subjected Nigeria to. Because of the nefarious activities of these few greedy elements, Nigeria has had to borrow heavily to make up for the shortfall. President Tinubu should convene a meeting of strategic stakeholders like Asari Dokubo to chat a definite way to put an end to the activities of oil thieves.

Until theft is reigned in, the Nigerian economy will suffer the loss of revenue from thousands of barrels of oil every day. Perhaps more importantly and too often overlooked, the Nigerian people will continue to cope with the consequences of their destroyed environment.

Asari Dokubo is a patriotic Nigerian. If there’s anyone to be punished, it is those people who are accusing him. What are we punishing him for? That he spoke up as a courageous citizen?

On a final note, it is heartening to know President Tinubu is aware of the extent to which oil theft has crippled our economy. While some of the beneficiaries of ill-gotten oil money are now busy devicing ways of fomenting trouble amongst citizens to cover their nefarious activities,the president should act fast before they change tactics.

Ibrahim is Director, Communications and Strategic Planning, Presidential Support Committee.