Oil Bunkering: Threat To National Security, Niger Delta Dev.

Crude Oil has remained the mainstay of the nation’s economy, while the Niger Delta region responsible for its production is bedeviled with many challenges. While many unemployed youths in the area have continued to find solace in oil theft, the Federal Government has continued to grapple with the loss of revenue due to illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism.

Surprisingly, no solution appears to work as oil thieves get bolder even when their colleagues are arrested and prosecuted, and engage different strategies to outsmart security personnel. In the Niger Delta, it is common to see thick smoke in the early hours of the day; an indication that oil theft through artisanal refining is going on.

More worrisome is the allegation that some security personnel, expected to fight illegal oil bunkering, are enmeshed in the act ostensibly for pecuniary gains. Findings also indicated that some communities where oil thieves carry out their nefarious activities give the perpetrators support by refusing to reveal their identities to security personnel who have the determination to work.

Stakeholders are of the view that the success in the ongoing fight against illegal oil bunkering depends on the willingness of the government to fish out collaborators in the Army, Police, Navy and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, who have the mandate of putting an end to the current onslaught against Nigeria’s critical assets.

Deputy National President, Trade Union Congress, Chika Onuegbu, speaking recently, noted that the nation loses between 200,000 and 300,000 barrels of oil per day to oil thieves, adding that a country that currently uses half of its revenue to service loans should not allow its crude oil to be stolen by greedy Nigerians.

Onuegbu, who is a former TUC chairman in Rivers State, said, “Oil theft/bunkering has three issues; first is the economic loss. The country loses a lot of money equivalent to between 200,000 and 300,000 barrels per day. If you multiply that by the oil price, you will see how much that translates to.

“The second is that illegal bunkering in Nigeria has now given rise to illegal refineries and we no longer hear about selling the crude. The oil thieves now refine them locally. Based on the way they are doing it, they are destroying the environment, including polluting the air. The Port Harcourt soot is an issue. This air pollution from illegal refining is traceable to the government’s inability to protect its critical assets.

The third one is that “anywhere there is illegal activity going on, it does not go on alone; it goes with other sophisticated crime like gun running and other crimes. If this continues, those making huge money from these activities will one day combine and overrun the country’s military. After all, our military is heavily underfunded. It is a major issue.”

As a do-or-die business, the masterminds are armed to the teeth. This is why 350 persons, comprising security personnel, NNPC workers, and host community members, have been killed in the last three years by organized syndicates associated with the mayhem in the oil sector.

In an interview with The Vortex, Comrade Fred George, a Niger Delta Rights Activist, noted that it would be difficult to stop illegal oil bunkering in the oil-rich region when the government has not been able to solve the problem of unemployment, adding that while the government is wavering on the establishment of modular refineries, the youth, who are aware that the crude oil in Niger Delta is being stolen, have joined in the act.

He said, “The people talking about oil theft are aware of how it started; it has been an age-long thing and from the days oil was found in the country. The Niger Delta youths have found out that Nigeria’s crude oil is stolen on the high sea when they entered the creeks. They noticed that the oil companies are also involved in the stealing of oil. Unfortunately, the government do not have the capacity to know the quantity of the oil that leaves the shores of the country and only relies on the figures given to it by such oil firms. My concern as a Niger Delta person is that I am sympathetic to the devastation done to our environment.”

“There is no way you can stop the Niger Delta youths from oil bunkering until the problem of unemployment is solved,” George cautioned.

Also, Dean of Student Affairs, International Institute of Journalism, Port Harcourt study centre, Mr. Tammy Ezekiel, suggested the rapid industrialization of the Niger Delta region as a solution to the massive involvement of youths in the area in oil theft.

He said since the Niger Delta youths are denied employment, it is not surprising that some of them have taken to illegal oil bunkering, not minding the devastating effect on the environment.

Ezekiel, however, urged the Federal Government to adopt new strategies to fight vandalism to get enough revenue to run the nation’s economy.

He said, “I am aware that in many Local Government Areas, you will see the ‘boys’ doing oil bunkering openly. The Federal Government should ensure the rapid industrialization of the Niger Delta. You cannot tell a child not to eat fish without providing an alternative for him. The economic situation has forced the youth to venture into enterprises that is criminal and leaves a devastating effect on the environment. Government can do more in ensuring that the youths are productively engaged to avoid the menace of illegal oil bunkering”

Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee of the National Economic Council on Crude Oil Theft, Prevention and Control, and Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has called on stakeholders to join forces and work towards tackling the menace of crude oil theft currently on the increase in Nigeria.

Obaseki stated that in the first six months of 2019, Nigeria lost about 22 million barrels of crude to oil theft, cautioning that if nothing was done to curtail the ugly trend, the figure could double by the end of the year.

He said oil theft and pipeline vandalism were beginning to pose a threat to the national economy.

In its June 2019 Monthly Financial and Operations Report, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation announced a staggering 77 per cent rise in cases of oil pipeline vandalism across its network of pipeline infrastructure. The report indicated that 106 pipeline points were breached, which was an increase from the 60 points vandalized in May 2019.

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, had accused the General Officer Commanding, 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Major General Jamil Sarham of running an oil bunkering team but the allegation was debunked by the Army.

Also, the spokesman for the Joint Task Force, Operation Delta Safe, Jonathan Eromosele, dismissed allegations from the Niger Delta environmental rights activists that the military was involved in oil theft.

Eromosele said there were rules and regulations guiding the operation of the military, adding that no officer had been caught in the act.

He added, “It is not possible for the military to be involved in illegal oil bunkering. There are laid-down rules and regulations guiding our operations and everybody is aware of these rules. If anybody is caught flouting the rules, he knows that there are sanctions. No military officer is involved in illegal oil bunkering.”

Illegal bunkering activities promote the violation of Nigeria’s territorial waters by ships, which enter without permit and are intercepted by the Navy. In March 2014, the Commander of the Nigerian Navy Ship Pathfinder, Godwin Ochai, reported the arrest of 22 Chinese and impounded four ships at Onne in Rivers State.

Ochai said, “When our troops went on board the alien ships, they discovered that the four ships had no immediate document, neither did the 22 crew members have passports.”

Sadly, it is the local environment that has created the fertile ground for this business to thrive. Transparency is lacking in the management of Nigeria’s oil resources. Some international oil companies doing business in Nigeria have exploited it in their operations. To contain illegal bunkering, experts suggest a survey of small and medium oil tankers that frequently anchor offshore the Niger Delta and mapping of the main illegal bunkering hotspots.

Ending illegal bunkering activities requires urgent action, not rhetoric. Countries with such a challenge and huge oil infrastructure have used technology to do the work as devices are deployed to pipelines to detect any form of breach. The Navy needs to be better equipped with more boats for effective patrol, just as the Nigeria Air Force requires more helicopters for aerial surveillance.

The full wrath of the law should be unleashed on the criminals by diligently prosecuting them. The country’s failure to demonstrate this power over the years is why these international rogues have taken it for a ride.

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