Crude Oil Theft: Why govt can’t stop Lagos, Abuja cartel — PANDEF, N-Delta leaders, activists

LEADERS and activists in the South-South region said the massive networks of the “big players”, who steal the nation’s crude oil in politics, and the oil industry have made the government, which lacked political will, powerless in halting their activities over the years

The stakeholders, speaking to Saturday Vanguard, on the backdrop of the recent claim by the former governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Seriake Dickson, that the “big players” behind crude oil theft reside in Abuja, Lagos, and other world cities, alleged that these big oil thieves enjoy protection from the government.

They interrogated the ill-starred partnership between the government and International Oil Companies, IOCs, stating that the cloudy arrangement constrains proper metering of the oil fields and crude oil exports.

Big oil thieves in govt, NNPCL, not N’Delta – PANDEF

The Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, which is the mouthpiece of the traditional rulers, leaders, and people of the Niger Delta said the government has been unable to win the war against oil theft because those involved were part of the government. The spokesman of PANDEF, Hon. Ken Robinson said: “This is the position that PANDEF has repeated severally. We have re-echoed it that highly placed Nigerians, elements in the military, and officials in the oil industry in collaboration with international syndicates were perpetrating the oil theft in the Niger Delta. What is involved in the process of crude oil theft is demanding for the ordinary Niger Delta people. What our young people do in terms of these local refining of crude is bucket thief.

They are bucket thieves. It is insignificant compared with what these people, who do not want Nigeria to prosper, and the Niger Delta people to benefit from their God- given resources, take out of the country. There are international connections with people highly- placed in this country. The former governor of Bayelsa State is right when he said these people reside in Lagos, Abuja and other world capitals. They also live in other parts of Northern, Southern and Eastern Nigeria and across the country. They are not people of Niger Delta.

They have reduced the Niger Delta to a state of struggle. Niger Delta people are struggling for survival while billions of dollars are being stolen from their land. Their environment is being devastated and our young people are resorting to criminality, which ordinarily is not part of us. It is the level of people involved that has made it difficult for the government to stop it.

For instance, there are interests in the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL). The oil theft is not just about those who siphon, there is also official theft. There is even under declaration of what is taken out of the country, because as we speak, with the level of technology, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should be in his office and have a system before him, indicating the amount of crude produced daily. He does not need someone in the NNPCL towers to tell him the daily produce. He should be seeing it. If it is loaded, there should be a tracking system. Those things are not being employed because even officials are under declaring what they make. Individuals make billions of dollars out of Niger Delta oil.”

Govt should question security agencies- Obiuwevbi, ex-DESOPADEC board member

A former commissioner on the board of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, Chief Ominimini Obiuwevbi, said: “There is nowhere in Nigeria that is not being policed. In the upland, we have the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Security Civil Defence Corps. In the coastal areas, we have the marine police, navy and army.

If there is oil theft, government should ask those in charge of policing the various areas. Oil cannot be stolen and taken away without passing through routes such as waterways and roads, so the government should look inwards and ask the appropriate authorities to do their job. Those stealing oil are not locals; locals cannot market crude oil. The multinationals buy crude oil and locals do not have contact with them.”

“Big players” enjoy levels of protection – Bassey, activist

According to renowned environmental activist and executive director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Dr Nnimmo Bassey, “It has always been known that oil is stolen in the Niger Delta at industrial scale, and that is possible because the thieves have deep connections in the industry, politics and enjoy levels of protection.

We recently heard of an oil company’s contractor implicated in oil theft and illegal refining. That was just a confirmation of what is common suspicion. Oil is stolen and exported through sea-going vessels. How do those ships enter and exit Nigerian waters? It has been impossible to stop the pillage because of the intricate power web of players in the criminal rings.

“Moreover, the regulatory environment is conflicted due to the joint venture arrangements where the government and the polluters are in partnership. That partnership could contribute to the lax security in the system. What do we mean by this? The partnership enthroned the oil companies as the operators, and they determined how much crude was extracted and exported. The opaque system disallows adequate metering of the oil fields and promotes deviant behavior from diverse actors. On the other hand, the government, which is the regulator, is interested only in oil rents, not the people or the environment.”

Way out

“The solution includes rejecting the usual claims of sabotage, which allows the oil companies to be less proactive in securing their facilities or accounting for their ecological misbehavior. Secondly, there should be a focus on remediating the highly damaged environment and decommissioning abandoned oil wells, including the first oil wells drilled in the 1950s. Thirdly, there has to be a halt to opening up new oil fields as that expands the scope of oil theft. Finally, there must be a way to track oil that moves from Nigeria into the international markets. That way, the volumes of illegally shipped oil would be detected and the criminals would be apprehended and adequately sanctioned.”

Officials colluding with oil thieves – Okaba, INC president

Responding to why it was difficult for the government to prosecute the seeming oil gang sabotaging the nation’s national economy through existential oil theft, the President of Ijaw National Congress, INC, Professor Benjamin Okaba said, “The simple reason is that the leaders are benefiting from the big boys behind oil theft.

Besides the ineptitude of the government, corruption is systemic in Nigeria. It is endemic. The big boys are known by the government but they cannot be prosecuted. The leadership may be a beneficiary of these big boys in one way or the other. Who knows what role they play during elections, and this appears to be a way of compensating them.

The Bible says that the kingdom of darkness cannot fight itself. The government must take responsibility. And in taking responsibility, the president must go after whoever is behind oil theft in the Niger Delta. Taking responsibility means dealing with whoever is sabotaging the nation’s economy through oil theft without caring whose ox is gored. The Nigerian government must take priority over personal interest. Taking such a decision, the president must be able to sacrifice personal interest over national interest”.

Professor Okaba said he was shocked when the federal government urged Nigerians to make more sacrifices in the face of the present economic predicament, wondering, “What more sacrifice does this government want? How can a government that is spending billions to renovate a vice president’s house, planning billions to buy another presidential jet, and more billions to buy exotic cars for lawmakers, ask Nigerians to make more sacrifices? The INC president wondered why those big boys, arrested or fingered in the past for oil theft were not prosecuted. He urged the federal government to tender unreserved apologies to the Ijaw youths, who have been “erroneously” accused of being involved in oil theft.

“Oil theft is a big commercial business that involves billions of naira to buy vessels and barges. How can the poor village boys afford the money to get involved in such a capital-intensive business? We have called for apologies to the youths of the Ijaw ethnic extraction of the Niger Delta region. The accusation is misplaced. Go after the big boys and apologize to the Ijaw youths. That has been our call over the years”, he added.

The government lacks the political will to act (Nwoko, ex-A-Ibom A.G

A former Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Uwemedimo Nwoko, SAN, who accused the government of not having the political will to address oil theft, said the government would remain eternally blind to the issue because of interests and big people involved in the business. He told Saturday Vanguard at Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State that: “If the government decides today to stop crude oil theft, it will not continue.

Therefore, it requires political will, it requires strength of character on the part of the leadership of the government of Nigeria. Unfortunately, the government lacks the political will to do it, so we live with it. The issue of crude oil theft in Nigeria is a big business, and big people are involved.

The truth is that the government will remain blind forever because of the interests involved. The problem with Nigeria is that the government of Nigeria has developed the character over the years of seeing only what they wanted to see, and not being able to see what they do not want to see. So, what the distinguished Senator Seriake Dickson said is very true.

“It will be difficult to imagine that the Niger Delta youths are the ones behind the theft of oil with 30,000-ton vessels that come in from outside Africa. The vessels stand in the high sea, the same sea as the Nigerian Navy. The Customs and DSS intelligence teams are watching, and the Army Amphibious Battalions and Brigades are watching. With all these government agencies and apparatus watching over the sea, can some 30,000–40,000-size vessels come in, carry oil, and leave, and they cannot see it?

“And if you call the Army now that their men are involved, they will say, ‘No, do not mention us, it cannot be.’ If you call the Navy and the DSS, they will say the same thing. But what are the gate watchers doing? How come they cannot easily identify those who are behind oil theft?

Legal practitioner and Co-Convener, Embassara Foundation, an Ijaw think-tank for good governance, Iniuro Wills, asserted: “Seriake Dickson has been in high echelons of the government for almost 20 years. He was a former attorney-general of Bayelsa State, then Member of the House of Representatives. Afterward, he was governor of Bayelsa State for eight years and has been a senator for four years.

If he cannot name names or could not apply the various official powers he has been vested with the power to combat the grand economic and environmental crime of oil theft, there is no need to play to the gallery over such a serious matter that has not only damaged the national economy, but has also joined to destroy the environment of Niger Delta communities and threatened in advance, the lives of entire generations still coming. Our privileged political class should get serious and stop playing games with our people’s lives”.

The government is hypocritical – Ekerefe, an ex-IYC spokesperson

Ex-spokesman of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) worldwide and national leader, Niger Delta Advocacy Group-New Era Movement, Ebilade Ekerefe, said: “It is no longer news that crude oil theft in commercial quantity is carried out by a network of organized international syndicate, in cohort with corrupt government officials, and security chiefs in the country.

This is an established fact that cannot be challenged. However, rather than go after this criminal network, the government is only diverting the attention of the public by accusing Niger Delta indigenes of economic sabotage.

To justify this claim, they kill and maim our people. They destroy our environment and ecosystems and ransack our communities in the guise of looking for oil thieves and suppressing our voice when the real thieves live in opulence in Abuja, Lagos, and other parts of the world. The government is not sincere about the war against crude oil theft. All the alleged apprehended culprits by the Tantita security outfit have not been prosecuted and found guilty.

This is so because those arrested in these vessels are mostly forerunners of syndicates, who milk our nation’s oil resources dry. It is a sad commentary, I must say. Therefore, seeing a state leader like Sen. Henry Seriake Dickson re-echo crude oil theft as carried out by “big players” is a vindication of my earlier position that the military, NNPCL, and multinational oil majors are all involved in this larceny of monumental proportions.”

A whole web of complications (Ovo, Warri resident)

A resident of Warri in Delta State, Mr Philip Ovo, however, declared, “To exonerate any ethnic group from illegal bunkering activities in the Niger Delta to me is out of place. Some security operatives, locals and influential Nigerians are in it.

The Senator has talked about branding stolen crude oil at the international market as a solution, there is nothing wrong with trying it. The government should be more assertive and enforce the law on anyone caught in illicit oil bunkering. It is not enough to destroy vessels arrested for stolen crude; there should also be thorough prosecution of those arrested.

Vessel owners could deny knowing that they were used for illegal bunkering activities. It is a whole web of complications. The whole thing rests with the government. If the government is decisive against illegal bunkering, it will stop.

I recall that the government of former Head of State General Sanni Abacha worked very hard on illegal bunkering operations. And his crusade recorded much success. President Bola Tinubu can use his approach as a guide.

No determination to go after the real oil thieves—Justus, UNICAL don

A University of Calabar professor, Eke Justus, told Saturday Vanguard, “The issue of oil theft is a long-standing one in our political history and economic narrative. The real oil thieves, like Dickson stated, which is not a revelation but a known issue, are the big fish in Abuja. Lagos and somewhere outside this country.

First, procuring the equipment and acquiring ships to siphon or drill oil are not carried out by the man-on-the-street but a mega-buck business by the so-called big men. We have heard stories of high-ranking military officers’ involvement, businessmen and top politicians colluding with foreigners to cart away millions of barrels of oil.

The government knows these people, but most times, political intricacies stop them from acting. Until there is the will to go after the real oil thieves, the situation will remain the same. As for culprits caught in the past, you can recall when they directed that any ship arrested with illegal oil should be set on fire. What happened when one of those ships was set on fire, hell was let loose.

Please, these issues are not hidden; it is a constant decimal and if nothing drastic is done by arresting the real perpetrators, the situation will go on.”

Source: The Vanguard


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