An indigenous oil company, Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production, has called on the commander of ‘Operation Delta Safe’, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman, to respond to the question of the rising incidence of illegal oil bunkering around the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL), a major evacuation channel, despite the presence of the Joint Task Force (JTF).

The company also denied involvement in the recent youth agitation in the area during which they called for the removal of the JTF commander, Rear Admiral Suleiman.

Responding to comments attributed to Suleiman that the company and its chief executive, Benedict Peters, were the masterminds of the protests by youths following the obvious sabotage of the facility and continuous oil theft despite the presence of the JTF, Aiteo tasked the JTF boss to urgently address allegation of illegal bunkering by his men.

LEADERSHIP recalls that on June 1, 2018, hundreds of Niger Delta youths organised a world press conference in Abuja to draw public attention to the activities of Rear Admiral Suleiman in his role as the JTF boss.

The youths accused him of complicity in the growing menace of illegal bunkering and oil theft, and called for his immediate removal from office.

Aiteo, however, expressed regret that rather than address the key issues and the allegations against him, the JTF commander instead chose to make spurious allegations that the company’s chief executive was behind the protest because of his ownership of the facility.

The company’s management described Suleiman’s attempt to divert attention from himself as an ill-conceived, reckless and ineffectual response aimed at fabricating an excuse to cover up a personal liability.

“Clearly, the Admiral misguidedly considers that there is some form of wrongdoing around genuine agitation by a people to get protection for their land, property and assets from the vile criminality that oil theft has become. For one who professes to lead a security entity whose principal objective is to engender community safety and protection, this disposition suggests abject insensitivity and a total lack of responsibility, issues presumably at the top of the list of those seeking a change to JTF’s leadership”, Aiteo said.

The company said that it would continue in its determination to discharge its enormous responsibilities in the oil industry which, he said, required focused intensity and attention in the execution of its considerable commercial obligations.

With a daily production in the region of 90,000 barrels per day production, the company shoulders the huge responsibility of producing five per cent of the country’s daily oil production, employing several hundred direct employees and thousands of others indirectly through contractors and service suppliers.

Aiteo stated that this sense of responsibility remains the bedrock on which its commercial and other activities are founded, but regrets that these oil thefts have meant that the company has become one of the biggest victims of oil theft in the country.

Making clarification, the company denied that the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) belonged to Benedict Peters, but said it is a property of the federal government which the firm operates as partners, holding a minority interest.

“The NCTL is an asset owned by the NNPC/Aiteo Joint Venture in which Aiteo owns 45 per cent and the Nigerian government owns 55 per cent. There are several other oil majors whose crude is injected and transported by the NCTL, including Belema Oil Producing Ltd, Eroton Exploration and Production Company, Newcross Petroleum Ltd, and Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). The shutdown of such a strategic public infrastructure due to activities from illegal bunkering has a staggering effect on the commercial fortunes of these companies and a significant impact on the Nigerian economy from the ensuing loss of revenue to government”, Aiteo noted in a statement.

According to the oil company, as a result of recurrent thefts along the NCTL pipeline route resulting in significant pressure reductions on the trunk line, theft as well as illegal refineries, and corroborated by several joint Investigative visits constituted by various regulatory bodies and the applicable host community, Nigeria has experienced loss in production and revenue that should have accrued to the country.

Specifically, it said that in December 2016 alone, 45.46 per cent of the total net crude injected into the NCTL was lost on this basis, resulting in huge revenue loss to government from crude sales.

The company also observed that third party interference with the line had often resulted in oil leaks which ultimately culminate in shutting down the NCTL to undertake emergency repairs, and has further resulted in the NCTL being shut down for about 145 days and an approximate deferment of 50.386 million barrels of crude oil (net) for the six injections into the NCTL since Aiteo took over the operatorship of the trunk line in September 2015.

The company further noted that by May 1, 2018, there were a total of 24 illegal bunkering points identified along the NCTL, out of which it successfully repaired nine points at a huge cost. It added that these illegal bunkering points also contributed to the huge losses on the volumes injected across the NCTL by the six OMLs and the volumes actually received at Bonny Terminal.

The management recalled that due to the continued vandalisation of the NCTL and resulting oil theft, it wrote to government through the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai on two occasions (April 17 and 23, 2018), requesting the involvement of the Armed Forces in reinforcing existing security arrangements to the pipeline as the incessant security breaches were resulting in losses amounting to billions of Naira for the country. The firm made similar appeals to various arms of the security apparatus of the country.

“Aiteo is very concerned, not just about the effect of these disruptions on its bottom-line, but the health and livelihoods of people living in these areas. This tragic trajectory is not only condemnable, but inimical to human existence in the long term. It appears that this is a situation that is lost on the admiral.

“It is intriguing that the admiral, rather than address the allegations directed at him, opted, unwisely, to allege that Mr Peters supposedly supported the protest because he is ‘trying to hide something’. By these utterances, he personalises and trivialises a matter of grave national concern in an incomprehensibly absurd manner.

“Aiteo and others with proprietary interest in the pipeline are the hitherto unmitigated victims. As we have indicated, we have pressed relentlessly for the involvement of all arms of the security apparatus of the country to find an enduring solution to the problem, hardly the action of one with ‘something to hide’, the company said.

The company urged the admiral to focus on providing long-term solutions to issues captured in recurring questions articulated by those communities complaining about the JTF’s role.

According to it, such issues begging for answers include why the large-scale illegal oil bunkering and refining has assumed unprecedented dimensions in recent times; whether it is to be assumed that the security forces are now offering protection/escort services to those allegedly responsible for oil thefts, and how vessel movement of the oil thieves occurs unnoticed in the region despite security presence.

The company pointed out that government cannot afford to remain passive as the country’s sovereign wealth is being aggressively pilfered, aided by indifference on the part of relevant stakeholders, especially in country that is grappling with a shrinking economy.

“As a major indigenous producer, we identify with issues about which the communities rightly complain. Although – and again we make this abundantly clear – we have not instigated them to participate in any protest, we believe the object of their complaint about the persistence of illegal bunkering remains germane. All hands must be on deck to diminish and extinguish the theft of oil across the NCTL and other such national facilities and the attendant implications”, the statement said.

The management maintained that it did not mastermind any of the protests by Niger Delta communities. It, however, noted that as a socially responsible organisation, it understand that the community bears the brunt of illegal bunkering and refining activities, and that the natives of those communities remain morally and legally free to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed civic rights to peacefully protest against ills in their community till their voices are heard and desired corrective actions are taken.

The company also reiterated its long-standing commitment to due process and international best practices in the discharge of every aspect of its statutory mandate.