BY EMEKA EJERE
A growing number of businesses and households benefiting from the proceeds of illegal oil bunkering in and around Rivers State is giving the practice a life that may not have an end, despite huge government investments and companies in the security of oil installations.
This is even truer with strong indications of direct and indirect involvement of security agents and government officials who allegedly collude with the regular oil thieves both onshore and offshore to suck the life out of the Nigerian economy. .
Nigeria was unable to meet its OPEC production quota of 1.84 million barrels per day as oil theft pegged domestic production at 1.2 mbpb, denying that the country needed income to increase its foreign exchange reserve and shore up the value of the naira.
Last week, the government, in an unwilling move, announced the award of a pipeline protection contract to a private company owned by former militant leader, the Tompolo government, at a price of N48 billion , which many say is an admission of failure by government security agencies saddled with duty.
A recent industry report noted that it is not hidden information that a sophisticated mafia of powerful Nigerians and foreigners including high profile military operators, government officials, industry personnel high-ranking and retired oil companies, politicians and businessmen are the big oil thieves and financiers. oil bunker syndicates.
According to the report, the oil bunkering cartel working with insiders steals crude directly from major crude oil pipelines in the Niger Delta, while officials pump crude to the various terminals. They know the time and duration of pumping and the exact lines.
“The damage inflicted by small oil bunkers in Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa and other states, which illegally refine crude oil in the Niger-Delta region, is child’s play compared to the havoc that the connected cartel that owns giant ships and equipment makes the economy,” the report says.
The results show that there are local thieves who also siphon off major pipelines and later sell their proceeds to big players, who use top quality tubing and experts to evacuate crude oil.
“The biggest advantage of the cartel is that it has security guards who provide security on instruction from senior officers for vessels loaded with stolen crude, who sail outside of the country’s waters to prep buyers with foreign collaborators. “, further reveals the report.
“Every security guard involved in the business is well ‘cared for’ and thus secrecy is maintained. Security guards who mount sentries on the waterways also collect fees from small bunkers and many want to serve in such a lucrative pace. They also provide feedback to senior officers.
Last week, the Rivers State government said no blackmail would deter it from suing the lawmaker representing Port Harcourt Federal Constituency II, the Hon. Chinyere Igwe, whose gas station was sealed off for alleged illegal oil bunkering activities.
Rivers State Governor’s Chief of Staff, Emeka Woke, who revealed this at an awareness and mobilization rally on the permanent electoral map, insisted that the state government has the constitutional obligation to deal decisively with anyone involved in acts harmful to the Nigerian economy.
He said: ‘Anyone who allows their business premises to be used for the illegal bunkering of oil, those premises will be shut down.
The Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) recently reported that the country’s oil production fell 12.5% to 1.4 million barrels per day, mb/d, including condensate, in the first half (January- June) of 2022, rising from 1.6 mb/d in the corresponding period of 2021. Industry reports indicate that oil thieves have stolen between 200,000 and 400,000 barrels of crude per day during the period.
In 2021 alone, oil thieves caused the country a loss of more than $4.01 billion, and according to NNPC statistics, regular production in 2020 was 1.77 mb/d, before dropping steadily to 1.6 mb/d and 1.4 mb/d in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Sound the alarm
Shell Petroleum Nigeria Limited, Chevron Nigeria Limited, then Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and others had been sounding the alarm over sustained and increased oil theft for some time now, but the big thieves continued with little or no actions by the competent authorities.
National Business Relations Chief, SPDC, Igo Weli, recently told reporters in Port Harcourt, Rivers State that the poor cannot afford the type of equipment deployed by the oil thieves in oil theft and vandalism of assets.
“The equipment needed to carry out oil theft is so expensive that the poor cannot afford to set up illegal oil theft and refining businesses. Only those with deep pockets can and they are killing you and me, destroying the economy,” he said.
“If we continue to destroy our environment, the type of business that would want to come to this country that will provide a value proposition to our children and positively contribute to our economy will not come. That is why I pay tribute to the Governor of the Rivers State because a few months ago he showed leadership.
United Bank for Africa chairman Tony Elumelu late last year tweeted that the country was losing more than 95% of its production to oil thieves, a concern he repeated in February.
In addition, former CEO of Seplat Energy and Executive Chairman of AA Holdings, Austin Avuru, has warned that Nigeria’s oil production has reached critical emergency status, recommending that the NNPC and regulators put in place a strategy. of “war room” to deal with the rising problem of oil theft in the country.
In 2019, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike fearlessly told Nigerians that senior military personnel were involved and were sponsoring oil bunkering in his state. He pointed to an unnamed General Officer Commanding (GOC), who he said had raised a team of soldiers to steal and sell petroleum products in the area.
Although Wike spoke about the information he had as chief of security in Rivers State, few people believed him because they thought he was playing politics,
The governor, however, did not substantiate his claim but argued that the big oil thieves have the support of high-level military generals, who order their subordinate commanders in the area of responsibility, AOR, not to disturb his “friends” and benefits go around .
Police officers and Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) officers reportedly clashed in Rivers State over the protection of a suspected oil bunkering site in the state, but the two security agencies have given different versions of their involvement in the episode.
Also in November 2021, Governor Wike reiterated that the fight against oil theft had continued to fail because senior military officers were deeply involved in it, saying it was time for the Nigerian state to consider the damage caused by crude oil activities. thieves to the economic support of the country and treat them as traitors.
Wike, who hosted Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao, who was on a courtesy visit to Government House, Port Harcourt, noted that it was not just the waste of the economy witnessed but the degradation that the environment also suffers from the theft of oil and also has a negative impact on the rural communities of Rivers State in particular.
He said, “You know this bunkering can’t stop; let’s be serious, everyone is involved. The army is involved. The police are involved. The Nigeria Civil Defense Corps is involved. Otherwise, there is no way the bunkering can continue. It’s a terrible thing.
“I don’t know if we should take the issue of bunkering as even more serious than treason. If you go around and see what has happened to our environment, you will pity us.
Just a few days ago, agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from Port Harcourt Area Command, in a joint operation with personnel from the 6th Division garrison of the Nigerian Army Port Harcourt, arrested 120 suspects on allegations of illegal oil bunkering.
They were arrested in Ndoni, Rivers State, where allegedly illegally refined stolen petroleum products were offloaded into waterfront vehicles for distribution in and out of state of Rivers.
EFCC spokesman Wilson Uwujaren said in a statement that the arrest of the suspects was made possible by intelligence of alleged illegal oil bunkering activities in the locality, adding that eight vehicles and machinery of pumping had been recovered during the arrest.
“The suspects will be brought to justice as soon as the investigation is completed,” Uwujaren said.