BY TEMITAYO ODUNLAMI, VICTOR EDOZIE AND IBRAHEEM HAMZA
Nigeria Worse than Somalia on Global Piracy Report
The Nigeria Navy, an integral force in federal government’s battle against the increasing cases oil theft, may not be able to contain the scourge, Sunday Trust’s investigations have revealed.
Reliable naval sources confided in this publication last week in Port Harcourt that efforts of the Joint Task Force, comprising the Army, Navy and paramilitary agencies, in combing the creeks to arrest oil thieves have not been rewarded with prompt prosecution of the suspects. More significant, the sources added, the barons behind the crime are wealthy, influential and untouchable Nigerians whose continued engagement in the illegal trade would always make nonsense of the efforts of the task force.
“Apparently, government lacks the political will to take on the big men behind big-volume oil theft, hence, the continued perpetration of the crime. It is another aspect of monumental corruption that binds top political leaders, retired army generals and navy admirals, and their business cronies together,” a JTF major in the Niger Delta told Sunday Trust. “They operate, as they always do on big issues of corruption, like a cult. Only themselves can undo themselves,” he declared.
When our reporter contacted the Nigeria Navy headquarters, Abuja, to speak on record on why the security agency cannot stop oil theft, officials declined to give an formal response, but admitted that the navy alone cannot tackle oil theft scourge on and off Nigerian waters, and that it would take international collaboration among countries in the Gulf of Guinea to completely succeed in combating it.
The headquarters referred to a recent meeting in Cameroon along this line and forwarded to our reporter a statement by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon commending West and Central African leaders for coming together to fight maritime crimes. The UN scribe described piracy as remaining a “serious threat to the security and economic activities of the affected countries.”
The JTF and the paramilitary agencies, after enforcing arrests of oil crime suspects, are not empowered by law to prosecute them in court. Prosecution lies mostly with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Yesterday, the Commission quickly rose to its defence on the allegation that prosecution of oil thieves handed over to it has itself been suspect.
Responding via a text message to a question from Sunday Trust, EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, described the allegation as “frivolous”. Uwujaren pointed to an EFCC arraignment last Tuesday in a Federal High Court, Lagos, of 14 persons for offences bordering on oil theft.
The federal government, American government and oil multinationals operating in Nigeria have lately been expressing grave concerns over the extensive damage oil thieves are wreaking on the Nigerian economy. Two weeks ago, West and Central African heads of state met in Cameroun to deliberate on increasing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, the meeting Ban Ki-moon referred to. Maritime criminality (arising mostly from oil theft originating from Nigeria) in the Gulf of Guinea, which encompasses waters off Nigeria, is now understood to have overtaken the notoriously high piracy in Somalian waters. Last year, pirates were recorded to have attacked 966 sailors in the Gulf of Guinea and stolen oil originating from Nigeria worth $25 million and 75 million euros (N33 million and N100 million).
Managing Director and Country Chair, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, SPDC, Mr Mutiu Sunmonu last Wednesday in Port Harcourt put Nigeria’s annual loss to oil theft at $6 billion. To Sunmonu, the crime has assumed “a crisis situation.”