Crude oil theft has risen to such a worrisome dimension in the country that something drastic has to be done to curb it. Recent statistics on the phenomenon indicate a staggering loss of revenue to oil thieves who have become a veritable threat to the nation‚Äôs economy.
For instance, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) recently raised an alert on Nigeria‚Äôs loss of $6.1 billion (N965 billion) to this nefarious activity, annually. The company rightly observed that pipeline vandalisation, oil theft and illegal refineries have become detrimental to the nation‚Äôs economy and environment.
In the same vein, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said that Nigeria loses over 300,000 barrels of per day (bpd), which accounts for a drop of $1 billion (N160 billion) in oil revenue per month. Similarly, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) revealed that the nation lost about $1.23 billion (N190 billion) in the first quarter of this year alone.
This ugly development probably prompted Senate President, David Mark, to recommend death penalty for oil thieves. Mark anchored his suggestion on the premise that oil theft would devastate the economy, if not checked.
It is incontrovertible that oil theft has been increasing in leaps and bounds in recent years. It is much worse today than ever, and the amount of money lost to the nefarious activity is mind-boggling. It is important, therefore, that all those draining the Nigerian economy through this unbridled criminal activity¬† should be apprehended and severely punished.
However, the recommendation of death penalty for convicted oil thieves by David Mark is uncalled for. Death penalty has never deterred people from committing heinous crimes. Apart from the fact that it is not a corrective measure, Mark‚Äôs suggestion is coming at a time when there is global clamour by human rights groups for its abolition. Many countries have abolished death penalty, while others have suspended it.
Besides this controversial punishment, we believe that there are other ways of punishing oil thieves. Government should enforce extant laws against the crime. Oil theft thrives in the country because government has not been bringing those involved in it to justice. It may be necessary to enact fresh laws to provide for more stringent penalties such as long prison terms or even life imprisonment, but the death penalty should not be considered as an option.
Vandalisation and stealing of oil is a serious economic crime and it should be treated as such to deter others from it. In addition, there should be adequate policing of oil pipelines by security agents as part of measures to rein in this crime. Government should also ensure taking of correct inventory of oil production and exports. We say this because some of the oil theft in the country might also occur during loading. Loss of oil does not occur through bunkering and pipeline vandalisation alone. There might be official corruption along the production and export chains. Let government get more interested in what happens during the oil production and accounting system, and weed out all unscrupulous elements, including corrupt officials and expatriates that might be complicit in defrauding the nation of oil revenue.
It is interesting that the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) have indicated interest in assisting the country to curb crude oil theft. This offer is welcome. Government should not hesitate in enlisting their support and cooperation in the battle against oil thieves. Let government demonstrate the strong will required to confront this menace now.