The oil theft conundrum

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President Muhammadu Buhari

The recent call by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, on President Muhammadu Buhari to treat the stealing of Nigeria’s crude oil as treasonable felony attracting death penalty could not have come at a better time. This is predicated on the fact that Nigeria’s socio-economic survival is almost wholly dependent on crude oil, which theft is adversely affecting the country’s revenue generation.

Speaking when President Buhari laid the N20.51 trillion proposed 2023 budget before a joint session of the National Assembly, Gbajabiamila said: “Mr President, permit me to convey the disquiet in the House of Representatives arising from the reports of a massive decline in the volume of crude oil exports due primarily to theft and diversion by criminal elements.

“It is the sense of the House of Representatives that those engaged in these activities are agents of economic sabotage determined to bring our country to its knees. Therefore, our position is that their actions constitute treason against our country, for which they and their enablers must be held accountable to the fullest extent permitted by law. Nigerians no longer want to hear about crude oil theft. The question has now become what are we doing about it?

“Therefore we are urging a swift and systemic overhaul of the systems in place to protect the country’s oil and gas resources. Evidently, the arrangements in place are no longer adequate. As such, there is an obvious need for improvements to stop the loss of income occasioned by this ongoing sabotage,” he stated.

Gbajabiamila’s advocacy came on the heels of the lamentation by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mela Kyari, that Nigeria is in calamitous situation over oil theft, pipeline vandalism with attendant low production.

Kyari who stated this before the Senate joint committees on Petroleum (Downstream), Petroleum (Upstream) and Gas, concurred with recommendation made by Senator Albert Bassey Akpan (PDP Akwa Ibom North East), that capital punishment should be put in place for offenders.

According to him, the crime on oil theft in Nigeria has been on for many years and specifically about 22 years ago but the dimension and rate it assumed in recent time, are unprecedented.

“As earlier stated as a result of the oil theft, Nigeria loses about 600,000 barrels per day which is not healthy for the nation’s economy and, in particular, the legal operators in the field which had led to close down of some of their operational facilities.

“But in rising up to the highly disturbing challenge, NNPCL has in recent time, in collaboration with relevant security agencies, clamped down on the economic saboteurs.

“In the course of the clamp down within the last six weeks, 395 illegal refineries have been de-activated, 274 reservoirs destroyed, 1,561 metal tanks destroyed, 49 trucks seized and the most striking of all, is the 4kilometeres illegal oil connection line from Forcados Terminal into the sea which had been in operation undetected for nine solid years“, he said.

He explained to the committee that in addressing the menace, NNPCL carried out aerial surveillance of the affected areas, and saw the economic saboteurs carrying out their activities unchallenged and unperturbed.

“The problem at hand is not only security but also social as locals in most areas where the illegal refiners operate, unknowingly, serve as their employees by mistaking them for operatives of licensed companies for oil exploration and production in the area,” he added.

He added that being a problem requiring urgent solution, the Cambodia and Mexico models of involvement of non-state actors is being adopted by NNPCL with involvement of three private security companies.

“It is not abnormal to involve non-state actors for protection of oil pipelines and other critical infrastructure as done in Cambodia and Mexico which produced desired results,” he said.

In his closing remarks, the Chairman of the joint committee, Senator Mohammed Sabo Nakudu (APC, Jigawa South West), told the NNPCL boss to get prepared for oversight functions on Port Harcourt and Warri Refineries claimed to have been rehabilitated.

It is sad that a nation whose economy is prone to recession could have its mainstay, crude oil, so wantonly stolen by over 600,000 barrels per day with virtual impunity. This undesirable situation is not only condemnable but also reprehensible as it is highly unpatriotic and satanic.

Therefore, on the backdrop its cataclysmic consequences on Nigeria’s survival, we endorse the calls by Gbajabiamila and his colleagues in the senate for Mr President to initiate the bill that will make the offence of oil theft treasonable, thus punishable by death.

This will, to a large extent, serve as deterrence to those desirous of inflicting hardship on hapless Nigerians through oil theft.