Nigeria: Unrealistic Ultimatum

By Kunle Somorin

At a meeting held last Thursday in Abuja, critical ‘stakeholders’ vowed to stop illegal oil bunkering and theft in 10 days. This is a derisory proposition and it clearly shows the lightheartedness of the so-called “intense deliberation” that culminated in this farcical ultimatum.

Present at  the meeting, whose report had been submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan, were the Navy and the Joint (Military) Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta; Vice President  Namadi Sambo; Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio;  Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan; Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson; Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison Madueke; Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama; Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke; chief executives of major oil companies, the service chiefs, officials of the National Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) and the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC).

One wonders those who have been manning the oil sector all this while if not these key people that set a 10-day target for themselves to fashion a sustainable method of tackling the menace of oil theft. I question if these ordinarily respected ladies and gentlemen know what they are talking about. Can the task to clean the cesspit of corruption in that sector be done even in one year? Do they want to look at all the administrative panel reports that have been gathering dust in the archives for more than five decades of oil exploration and exploitation in Nigeria and implement them in less than two weeks?

I would want to believe that the attendants at last Thursday’s meeting were being poetic and not speaking literally. It must be a pun to, after their “intense deliberation”, have a 10-day solution to a 55-year-old problem. If they want to start working out the modalities for tackling the problem immediately by breaking into various committees to achieve the set goals, I can give them the benefit of the doubt. It simply means they have not been serious or had no action plan to stem the tide of oil theft, bunkering and other vices in that sector in the country all this while!

A critical sector of the economy and Nigeria’s livewire like oil and gas needs men of wisdom, vision and conviction, not jesters. For the record, we are rated as the highest in terms of oil theft and oil bunkering and we know most of these economic saboteurs are being protected. Pandering to sentiments on this all-important issue should not be a predilection of our leaders at this point of economic adversity.

We saw how bickering of key members of the Nuhu Ribadu’s panel on mega graft in the industry rubbished the investigative panel’s report last year. Besides daily news reportage of the despicable stealing and wanton destruction by the oil thieves, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) reported that “pirates have been increasingly attacking ships further and further from shore. They illegally siphon US$3billion yearly worth of crude oil and refined petroleum products between 100,000 and 130,000 barrels a day with an international market value of about US$3billion, equivalent of a large 95,000 metric tons crude oil tanker is being stolen from Nigeria without punishment”.

Current statistics show that Nigerians are aware that the country loses 600,000 barrels of crude oil daily to bunkering. Two of the vessels believed to have been used in this criminal act are said to be owned by some high ranking Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members and top officials of the NNPC, who were allegedly accused of stealing about 6.5 million barrels of Nigeria’s crude oil. The Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr Olusegun Aganga, recently blurted that some documents from his ministry were forged to perpetuate illegal oil theft which, according to him, made the country lose N775 billion annually over non-metering of oil wells and inaccurate ship-to-shore loading and offloading of vessels.

As rightly stated by Ngozi Okonjo Iweala in her book ‘Stopping The Unstoppable’, those that the EFCC had arraigned in connection with the fuel subsidy scam should be diligently prosecuted. What’s more, these scammers arm-twisted the House Committee and turned its report to a tool of political vendetta. Now, we have a stalled trial. We need to exhume all other reports and sieve through their recommendations, fully investigate and prosecute the indicted felons.

If the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo’s) company, engaged to carry surveillance in the swamps of the Niger Delta (where these oil thieves load crude oil or petroleum products into large barges) have failed, we need a new beginning. But a 10-day solution is a farce. Political will could help. But, ultimately, let’s have the Petroleum Industry Bill become an Act and scrupulously execute it.

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