BY DELE SOBOWALE
“Insanity has been described as doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.”
Nigerians have been treated to a theatre of the absurd in which those close to the oil scene and those who should be the prime suspects for the incessant theft of crude are the same people complaining about it and passing the buck among themselves. Jonathan’s government is obviously powerless to stop the grand larceny or is unwilling to do so. Meanwhile, we face real fiscal catastrophe this year and next year if the theft is not checked. Who are the culprits? Take your choice from the list below.
“Oil workers… … …
“Security agents… …
“NNPC officials… ..
“Top govt officials… .
“Militants… … .
As Nigeria lurches dangerously towards another debt trap; and as it will become increasingly difficult for the Federal and State governments to meet their financial obligations to a wide range of stakeholders, the most important item on the national agenda is to find out who are those stealing Nigerian crude oil. Next to that is to also find out who are the buyers of the stolen crude. But, let me pose a question to all Nigerians.
Supposing the members of a household engage security people to guard their residence and pay them extremely well. Yet, thieves break into the household every night and steal their most precious properties, what would the owners of the household do? Retain the security staff or sack them? If the answer that comes to your mind is “sack them”, then why do we continue to retain the security people, the oil workers, the NNPC and top government officials, as well as the militants who have collected fantastic salaries and huge contracts to protect our oil installations and are not doing it?
Ask anyone who had ever gone far into Nigeria’s territorial waters and you will be amazed how extremely difficult, if not impossible for any maritime vessel to enter our coastal waters to do any business. Last week, I talked to a former owner of a trawler about my experience aboard another trawler whose owner had asked me to go out to sea with his crew to find out from first hand experience what the security forces, pirates and militants do to fishing boats.
I went and to my utter surprise, the former owner, now in his late 70s told me his own experience when he went out in his boat with the men. There was no way of escaping from the Navy, the Marine Police, the militants and the pirates who board the boats and shake down the staff or get killed. To the best of my knowledge, no single trawler escapes the vigilant mafia consisting of officials and criminals on Nigerian waters.
The question is: if people engaging in lawful business cannot sail into Nigerian waters undetected, how is it possible on a daily basis for criminals to so without being apprehended? The answer is obvious, our security people, like the guards in the fictitious house above are the thieves. The story had been told about the man in rural Russia who could predict when a goat would be stolen – until people discovered that he was the thief.
The Ministers of Petroleum and Finance, as well as the President have told us that 400,000 barrels per day is being stolen with the calm assurance that another 400,000 barrels will disappear tomorrow and next week. They stay in Abuja mostly, but they have staff in the oil producing areas. The questions that arise are: how do they know it is 400,000 a day?
Whose oil is stolen and from which location and yet the owners have not been able to put a security blanket over the areas involved? Again, let us return to the analogy of the household. Is it possible that the home owner will continue to suffer the breaking and entry into his premises every night without taking measures to put a stop to it and to find out who is behind the relentless attack on his property? That is what the Federal Government will want us to believe.
A top official of the Directorate of Petroleum Resources, DPR, last week announced without embarrassment that “there is nothing” that can be done about it.
Nigeria must be the only oil producing nation in the world where the oil resourcesare being stolen and government proclaims that it is powerless to put a stop to the atrocity bordering on economic sabotage involved. The obvious question now is: if this government cannot stop the loss of close to one quarter of our annual budget, should’nt we look for a government which can do it?
The reason for that question should be clear. With Nigeria incurring more debts daily, and with our pledge to repay anchored on our crude shipments, nobody needs a doctorate in economics and finance to know that Nigeria might again be in default of repayment of external loans. In other words, we are again headed for the debt trap from which Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala released us in 2003-4.
The truth now confronting Nigerians is clear. The Federal Government either has no clue about how to stop this economically ruinous erosion of the national income or it has no intention to do so. There is no other alternative.
That again raises the question: if this government has no ideas or is not interested in solving this life-and-death problem for Nigeria, shouldn’t they admit it and allow Nigerians to find a solution?
The truth is, never in the history of Nigeria has any government admitted such a colossal loss of revenue due to the nation without at the same time setting out an action plan to bring an end to it. To that extent, this government is the first to achieve that degree of helplessness. A government which concedes one third to one quarter of its revenue to thieves might as well hand them the keys to the treasury. It is difficult to imagine what else could take priority over crude oil losses, on the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting, other than Boko Haram. Everything else, by comparison, pales into insignificance. Without security progress is stifled; without adequate funding development is arrested.
Crude oil theft represents another synonym for arrested development. At least, the Ministers of Finance, Agriculture, Education, Works, Trade and Investment, Heath etc should know that. Nothing will work until this government finds a solution to this problem – very soon.
One last question: why is it that now that we have a President from the Niger Delta that crude oil theft had risen so astronomically and with government wringing its hands helplessly?