Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America have expressed their readiness to help Nigeria curb the menace of oil theft, according to a report credited to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke while in England recently.
Protracted oil theft has indeed become one of the major problems that appear to have overwhelmed the Federal Government. Recent official figures indicate that the country loses $6 billion (over a trillion naira) annually to oil thieves; and additional hundreds of billions of naira to the theft of refined petroleum products. Just last month, Nigeria‚Äôs oil behemoth, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said the country lost roughly N191 billion ($1.23 billion) to oil theft and pipeline vandalism in the first quarter of this year. The NNPC said daily crude oil production during the period fluctuated between 2.1 million and 2.3 million barrels per day compared with the projected estimate of 2.48mbpd. One report revealed that an estimated 60,000 barrels per day of crude oil is stolen at the Nembe Creek in Rivers State alone, for example.
Consequently, we think the gesture of the UK and the US to assist the country in tackling the age-long menace is a welcome development. The collaboration might be rewarding in terms of the acquisition of technology that can make the tracking of oil thieves in Nigeria easier, since the country probably cannot seek out the required gadgets on its own. Ordinarily, it would have been more rewarding for the country to acquire such a technology without having to depend on the assistance of the UK and the US for obvious reasons. It may only be hoped that the assistance does not don the toga of a Greek gift, considering the strategic interests of the two countries in the crude oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea. In fact, the Petroleum Minister‚Äôs remark in England seems a pointer to the fact that transnational oil cartels collude in hijacking Nigeria‚Äôs oil economy.
Unfortunately, the FG has recorded abysmal failure in being in full control of the country‚Äôs oil-dependent economy; as well as in sufficiently addressing the cancerous oil theft sore. Beyond the UK-US intervention plan, for instance, we recall that the Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, most recently advised the President Goodluck Jonathan government to move against what he called the ‚Äúprincipalities and powers in high places‚Äù, who are the sponsors of crude oil theft. He said though there would be no problem discussing with foreign countries suspected to be custodians of oil theft proceeds, the problem could easily be solved if the sponsors were caught and dealt with. ‚ÄúThe truth is that the small criminals in the creeks of Niger Delta bursting pipelines and stealing crude oil are not working for themselves. Like the drug cartels around the world, they are being sponsored by big principalities and powers in high places, which the government should go against if the fight against crude oil theft is to be won‚Äù, Sunmonu stated at a public function not long ago. He likewise advised that efforts be made by all stakeholders to tackle the problem of poverty among the people, stressing that doing so would help in taking care of the problem, as the perpetrators would not have any reason to allow themselves to be used to steal the country‚Äôs major income earner. It would seem, therefore, that despite the tough talks by officials about containing oil thieves, the political leadership is feverishly compromised and may be complicit in the theft of the country‚Äôs crude. Yet, the ongoing large scale stealing of crude oil, especially, poses a huge threat to Nigeria‚Äôs ‚Äòrentier‚Äô economy and endangers national security, all of which are undermining the nation‚Äôs fledgling democracy. Therefore, the FG should muster the political will to frontally confront the chronic threat by fishing out and punishing the eminent Nigerians suspected to be behind the monstrous theft, on the one hand, as well as rehabilitating their foot soldiers ‚Äì teeming, scarcely protected, unemployed and hungry youths ‚Äì whose services keep the crime alive and thriving, on the other.