Recently, some youths from the Niger Delta region stormed the Defence Headquarters in Abuja to demand the removal of Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman as Commander of the Special Task Force (STF), the Operation Delta Safe in the Niger Delta region. The youths accused the STF commander of encouraging illegal bunkering by allegedly supplying boats and other equipment to facilitate the illicit activity in the region.
Oil theft became part of the resource base of terrorists long before the Amnesty Programme of the Federal government. With it was report of incidences of illegal oil bunkering and unauthorized local refineries in the Niger Delta. Nigerians thought that with Amnesty and the Federal Government’s efforts to integrate youths from the oil rich region into the main stream of economic activities through training and other activities, those acts of economic sabotage will end. That has turned out to be a seemingly unrealisable expectation as illegal oil bunkering remains a lucrative business.
A report by the Nigerian Navy, showed that the nation loses about $20 billion annually. In 2013 alone, oil thieves stole an estimated 55,210 barrels of oil per day, which translated to a monthly average of 1,656,281 barrels. Similarly, the United States Institute of Peace, in a report in 2009, revealed that between 30,000 and 300,000 barrels of oil per day is carted away by oil thieves who operate in Niger Delta. According to the report, an approximately US$100 billion was lost from illegal oil bunkering between 2003 and 2008.
No thanks to the economic sabotage of oil bunkering, humongous amount of money are put in the hands of criminals and non-state actors some of whom are believed to be amassing arms and ammunition so as to be able to perpetuate their illegal business with all the threat it poses to the nation’s security.
This newspaper is at a loss as to why the fight against oil theft is becoming a perennial problem even with the involvement of the nation’s armed forces. Worried that the nation is losing huge revenue to the activities of these criminals, an indigenous oil production company, is championing the call for increased security surveillance. The company is concerned at the upscale of security breach around the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL), a major evacuation channel which is one of the facilities worst affected by illegal oil bunkering. 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. A shutdown of such a strategic public infrastructure due to activities from illegal bunkering has an unimaginable effect on the commercial fortunes of these companies and a significant impact on the Nigerian economy from the ensuing loss of revenue.
There is no point reasserting the fact that illegal oil bunkering threatens the survival of the nation’s economy. We are, however, alarmed that the Igbomorotu corridor in the Southern Ijaw as well as the Akasa flank on the Atlantic fringe of Brass have continued to be a major hub of the illicit operation and is reportedly taken over by crude oil criminals. We see no reason why the situation cannot be tamed with the presence of security operatives.
It is sad to note, in our opinion, that Nigeria is the only oil-producing nation that though not at war, still grapples with the challenges of illegal bunkering. Government must overhaul the security operations in the region beginning with a change in the leadership structure of the STF and thoroughly search to establish whether or not evidence of collusion as alleged by residents exists. Furthermore, the military high command ought to see the justifiability of limiting the time frame of each contingent’s tour of duty as a way of eliminating the probability of collusion between the security operatives and the thieves they are out to catch.
But most importantly, we urge the government to intensify efforts to fish out the big players in the illegal trade. Considering the quantity of the product involved which requires a huge outlay of logistics, limiting the search to militants is counter-productive when the real terrorists are at large and prospering. They are the ones who must be arrested and prosecuted. This will serve as deterrent to others and reduce the incidences of oil theft to the barest minimum, if not totally eliminated.