With the involvement of security agents, particularly the police in pipeline vandalism as revealed by the recent arrest of 50 vandals, including five policemen by the Nigerian Navy in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, Ejiofor Alike writes that the effort of the federal government to curb pipeline vandalism has received a big blow
Pipeline vandalism in Nigeria came into national limelight on October 18, 1998, when a vandalised pipeline in Jesse, Delta State, exploded, killing over 1,000 people.
Since this incident, thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives through pipeline fire and its attendant explosion, with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) recently disclosing that between 2008 and¬† December 2013, it lost about N376 billion to vandalism.
The federal government, through the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, had disclosed that the country was losing over 180,000 barrels per day of crude oil, valued at $7billion yearly to vandals, who rupture pipelines to siphon oil.
The Managing Director of Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the NNPC, Mr. Haruna Momoh, had told journalists at a recent capacity-building workshop for energy correspondents at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State that Nigeria lost N376 billion between 2008 and 2013 to pipeline vandalism.
Momoh said the activities of vandals had made it difficult for PPMC to meet up its obligation in delivering oil and gas products to their various destinations across the country.
‚ÄúPipeline vandalism has been a major challenge to downstream sector as it truncates effective product distribution within the network. The vision that drives PPMC is to provide petroleum products to the domestic market at affordable prices. But the activities of these unscrupulous elements have been a hindrance to achieving these objectives‚Äù, he said.
In August 2012, a pipeline fire caused by vandals at Arepo in Owode area of Ogun State disrupted the distribution of products in System 2B, which accounts for 80 per cent of petrol distributed daily across the South West part of the country.
The tension was heightened when the NNPC engineers sent to assess and repair the facility were killed by the vandals.
Under System 2B, which is the most active pipeline network in the country, petroleum products are pumped through pipelines from Atlas Cove Depot in Lagos to the NNPC depots in Ejigbo also in Lagos; Mosimi in Ogun State; Ore in Ondo State; Ibadan in Oyo State and Ilorin in Kwara State.
Apart from the Niger Delta areas, where pipelines are vandalised by crude oil thieves and Arepo in Ogun State, the pipelines in Ije-ododo community in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State and 7th Avenue Area of FESTAC also provide safe havens for vandals.
But the most recent incident, involving the arrest of 50 suspected pipeline vandals, including five policemen by the Nigerian Navy, occurred at Majidun, Ikorodu area of Lagos State.
Efforts to Check Vandalism
The first bold attempt by the federal government to address the issue of pipeline vandalism was the creation of the Joint Task Force (JTF) to police oil installations in the Niger Delta.
Established during the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the peak of militancy, kidnapping, oil theft and vandalism in the oil-rich region, the JTF, initially codenamed ‚ÄúOperation Restore Hope,‚Äù was in January 2012 restructured to ‚ÄúOperation Pulo Shield‚Äù.
Pulo is an Ijaw name for ‚Äúoil‚Äù, meaning that the security outfit is also codenamed ‘Operation Oil Shield.‚Äô
Following the restructuring, the composition of the outfit was also been expanded to include other agencies, apart from the Nigerian Navy, Army, Police and Air Force.
Under the new structure, other agencies such as the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS), Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) were included in the security outfit.
Others are the Presidential Committee on Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMSS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), NNPC and the oil producing companies.
The operational scope of the task force, which initially was limited to Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers, was also extended to cover all the nine oil producing states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.
The mandate of the outfit was also expanded to include elimination of pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, illegal oil refining, illegal oil bunkering, and elimination of piracy and all forms of sea robbery.
The efforts of government to curb vandalism in the country is not limited to the Niger Delta as the Nigeria Police also has a Special Task Force on Anti-Pipeline Vandalism led by Mr. Friday Ibadin, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), who assumed the position over six years ago when he was still a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP).
Ibadin‚Äôs team has been effectively policing the notorious areas in the south west parts of the country, where it has nabbed many vandals, including the gang that killed NNPC engineers at Arepo.
Operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), have also recorded giant strides in the efforts to curb pipeline vandalism in the country.
While the security agents always claim that pipeline vandalism is caused by vandals, who deliberately rupture the pipeline to siphon crude oil or petroleum products with the aid of the host communities, the communities allege that some security operatives aid vandals, while many pipelines also rupture due to aging and neglect.
Before the NNPC employed Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) technology to drill the pipelines around Arepo deeper into the ground so as to wade off vandals, the Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun had blamed the NNPC for the spate of pipeline fire incidents at Arepo.
‚ÄúI have to say it here, and am saying it with all sense of responsibility that NNPC by their inaction is aiding and abetting the vandals. Indeed, I want to believe that they are part of this pipeline vandalism with their inaction; because you can‚Äôt have somebody there as Group Managing Director, NNPC or what have you and they will allow this to be happening,‚Äù he said.
In another blame game, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Usman Jibrin, last month accused the International Oil Companies (IOCs) of aiding and abetting all forms of criminality in the nation’s maritime sector, especially crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and piracy.
At a meeting with chief executives of the IOCs at the naval headquarters, Jibrin had expressed anger and frustration over the failure of most oil companies to treat the meeting with the seriousness it deserved.
He stressed that the meeting was “conveyed to discuss some of the security challenges that we have in the maritime sector, particularly oil theft and illegal bunkering.
‚ÄúWhen a meeting of this nature is called, the IOCs must take it very seriously. After all, it took me almost seven-and-a-half months to call for this meeting and specifically, we said we were not going to accept representation, not that those of you representing your various companies are not competent enough to discuss the issue, but to drive home the point we wish to make today,‚Äù he said.
However, the host communities have also accused some operatives of the JTF and politicians of complicity in vandalism and crude oil theft.
It has also been alleged that soldiers and other security personnel lobby their superiors to be posted to the JTF because of the lucrative nature of the assignment.
The accusations and counter-accusations assumed an international dimension last week when Intelligence experts told a shipping conference in Copenhagen, Denmark that hijacking of tankers of crude oil and petroleum products or holding crew for ransom by pirates would increase in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, which is also a major commodity route, as Nigeria prepares for next year‚Äôs general elections.
The experts alleged that pirates use ransom money from ocean-going vessels to finance elections campaign, fueling concern that Nigerian politicians are behind piracy, crude oil theft and other maritime crimes.
The Managing Director of Risk Intelligence, Hans Tino Hansen was quoted as saying at a special session on ‚ÄúMaritime Crime and the Effects on Growth and Development in Africa Region‚Äù that ‚Äúahead of general elections, kidnap-for-ransom and attacks on offshore targets increase.”
‚ÄúThe ‘principal’ (protection money) system in Nigeria secures funding to political candidates, and because of that, we see an increase in offshore attacks,” he said.
President Goodluck Jonathan had earlier solicited for international efforts to curb crude oil theft and vandalism in Nigeria.
He noted that since Nigeria does not have local refining capacity, it is foreign countries, which buy stolen crude that encourage crude oil theft in the country.
The persistent clashes between the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and policemen in Lagos, over who should police the pipelines, are strong indications that security operatives have a hand in pipeline vandalism.
Analysts have argued that the action of the police towards the NSCDC was an indication that the policemen guarding pipelines derive some other pecuniary benefits, which they do not want the operatives of NSCDC to interfere with.
In one of the most recent clashes between the two agencies, some policemen allegedly killed two officers of NSCDC.
The clash, which took place around Arepo and Konu axis of Ikorodu area of Lagos led to the death of two Civil Defence officers – Adaji Gabriel, Assistant Inspector of Corps and Innocent Akegbe, an Inspector.
However, the NSCDC and the Police authorities gave different accounts of the incident.
The NSCDC said that the policemen, who were alleged to have collaborated with pipeline vandals, ambushed and opened fire on men of the anti-vandal squad of the Lagos State Command of the Civil Defence Corps killing two of its men on the spot while others escaped with gunshot wounds.
But the police said that they were on patrol when they heard gunshots, which they traced to a spot where they saw 13 members of NSCDC in two Hillux vans and confronted them as to what they were doing at the spot.
The police stated that the commander of the NSCDC ordered his men to arrest Inspector Gabriel, who led the Police team and was later handcuffed, adding that other policemen were able to get a call across to their commander, who sent for reinforcement which led to the clash.
However, the NSCDC challenged the police to inspect the bullets holes on the Toyota Hilux van at the NSCDC State Headquarters at Alausa and take samples of the expended bullet shells to ascertain the perpetrators of the act.
‚ÄúIf they (Police) had not come deliberately to aid the escape of the vandals, how come that none of the arrested vandals was shot and why did the officers disappear the moment those suspects escaped?‚Äù queried a spokesman of NSCDC.
Last month, a police inspector allegedly attacked a team of top officials of the NSCDC, led by the corps‚Äô Commandant-General, Ade Abolurin.
Abolurin was reportedly conducting anti-vandalism inspection in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, with officials from the Nigerian Army, EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and other related offences, (ICPC) and the Office of the Attorney-General, when they were confronted by a team of gun-wielding police officers, believed to have been invited by vandals.
It was at that point that police inspector allegedly threatened to open fire on the team for daring to conduct checks at the site, according to the NSCDC account of the incident.
Though a spokesman of the Lagos State Police Command, Lelme Kolle, reportedly denied that the inspector threatened to shoot Abolurin, the Nigeria Police spokesperson, Emmanuel Ojukwu, however promised an investigation.
It was not certain how a police inspector would accost a team that includes military personnel but from the previous clashes between the two agencies, the attitude of the police had always pointed to the fact that it would not welcome any other sister agencies to the spots notorious for vandalism.
The recent boom in the activities of vandals around the pipeline in 7th Avenue Area of FESTAC town, despite heavy police presence in the area, also fueled recent allegations that the police were providing cover for the vandals.
In one of the arrests made by the Special Task Force on Anti-Pipeline Vandalism led by¬† Ibadin, two suspects – Timi Koro and Wusaina Etipiewey allegedly confessed that they enjoyed the protection of security personnel.
As the blame game continued, last week‚Äôs arrest of 50 vandals, including five policemen by officers of the Western Naval Command (WNC) of the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Army in an ongoing major operation at Majidun, Ikorodu area has at least, confirmed the suspicion that the some bad elements in the force are indeed deeply involved in pipeline vandalism.
About 6,000 gallons of stolen products siphoned from several vandalised pipelines were also recovered from these vandals.
The products were stored in 25 and 50 litre kegs, which were covered with leaves and hidden in the belly of the swamp as well as in some houses of the residents living in the area.
The products, which were loaded in 10 trucks and moved to the jetty of the WNC, Apapa, were estimated to be worth over N30million.
Code-named Operation Awatse, an Hausa word for ‘scatter’, the ongoing operation saw military personnel drawn from the Navy and the Nigerian Army, storm the riverine community in a bid to stop the prolonged economic sabotage prevalent in the area.
The Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Samuel Alade said the suspects were in custody but would not be paraded so as not to jeopardise investigations.
He said the ongoing raid was in tandem with the determination of the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Usman Jibrin’s zero to halt illegal bunkering and pipeline vandalism.
‚ÄúAlso, products and wooden boats popularly called Cotonou boats were intercepted and destroyed by our personnel.
“I would want to appeal to the general public to provide useful information that would help us sustain this fight. We really need cooperation from members of the public. There is need for residents around Majidun, Arepo and Ogolonto to provide us with information,‚Äù he said.
Before the recent arrest of policemen by the Nigerian Navy, the Plateau State Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Vincent Bature and his men had in June this year arrested and paraded five vandals, including two policemen, with over 160 kegs of petrol.
The suspects were arrested in Tarya village of Bassa Local Government Area of the state.
It is disturbing that some bad elements in the police, who are charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order, as well as protecting national assets such as pipelines, would vandalise the assets they are meant to protect.
This development, which will erode the confidence of both the government and the people in the capacity of the police to protect such national infrastructure, is no doubt, a big blow to the government‚Äôs efforts to curb vandalism.
Though the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Alade had promised to handover the five policemen to the appropriate agencies for prosecution, these agencies should not include the police, so that the force would not turn out to the be a judge in its own case.
To ensure diligent prosecution, the accused policemen should be handed over to the EFCC or the NSCDC, so that the matter is not handled by police officers, who may be sympathetic to the cause of their colleagues.