Former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Diepreye Solomon Alamieyeseigha, last week, added his voice to the growing belief that what is described as oil theft in the Niger Delta is no more than an organised crime by some well-placed Nigerians. Testifying before members of the National Conference Committee on Public Finance and Revenue, Alamieyeseigha made disclosures of how when he was governor of Bayelsa State, some oil thieves were allowed to go scot- free because of high level conspiracy between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and state officials in Abuja.
Alamieyeiseigha who gave details to indicate that he indeed knows a lot about what has become the biggest economic crime in our nation today fell short of actually naming those involved in the crime. “I had one experience. Tankers were loaded in Bayelsa. I got the information and laid ambush for them and arrested them. About 14 big tankers and they were handed over to the police. They were charged to court and the judge ordered that the product should be tested to be sure if they were crude oil. NNPC was invited, they came, took the sample and after a week the result came out as agro chemical and before I know it, all of them had been released”, said Alamieyeseigha
Unfortunately, there is nothing that the former Bayelsa State Governor said that others have not said before. For instance, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Director General, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, disclosed in May last year that his agency had custody of some vessels seized from those perpetrating the illegality. “There are some big vessels under my custody belonging to organised piracy and crude oil thieves. Very soon, I will release all the big names in the syndicate. Once we do that, people should not come and say it is ethnic cleansing, it is 2015 or all these kinds of stories. That is why we want the media to stand by the truth and ask: ‘did you do the piracy? Even if it is political vendetta, at least you committed the crime. We will take it from that point. That is what I am particular about,” said Akpobolokemi exactly one year ago.
Several times on this page, we have highlighted the fact that a regime of massive crude oil theft poses a deleterious threat to the nation’s economy. Yet even as we lament this deplorable situation, it is also evident that the problem persists because there is some form of official complicity in what has become an organised crime. That is what the revelations first by the NIMASA boss and now by the former Bayelsa State Governor indicate. It is therefore time that the authorities took serious measures against these criminals.
With these criminal cartels getting more and more emboldened, they are investing in barges, canoes, speed boats and large wooden boats which they use in their illicit business. Instructively, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, had said last year: “It is not a surface issue that can be addressed with superficial projects; it is actually a very complex issue that has gone on for many, many years but it does have to be addressed from many angles at the same time as we go along. It has become necessary for stakeholders to come together and re-strategise on what to do so that we focus in a very robust and aggressive manner on this particular scourge that is directly affecting our economy in more ways than one”.
If any measures have been taken along that direction, Nigerians are yet to see the impact. With revelations now coming from those who should know that the inability to address the challenge may be due to the fact that those involved are powerful people within the society who seem above the law, the federal government can only allow the problem to fester at our collective peril.