President Muhammadu Buhari, last week rattled the global community when he disclosed his readiness to go after those he called “oil thieves” in Nigeria. Buhari said documents at his disposal indicted some former ministers and other top government officials who served under former President Goodluck Jonathan of massive fraud, including oil theft.
Speaking at an interactive session with Nigerians in Diaspora at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC, United States of America, as part of his four-day official visit to the country, the president vowed that the ex-ministers would be prosecuted based on available documents while the proceeds of their fraud would be repatriated to government coffers from their multiple foreign accounts, which he said were opened for the purpose of laundering money.
According to Buhari, “Some former ministers were selling about one million barrels per day. I assure you that we will trace and repatriate such money and use the documents to prosecute them. A lot of damage has been done to the integrity of Nigeria with individuals and institutions already compromised,” the President said.
Crude Oil theft, touted to be the biggest problem facing Nigeria’s oil and gas industry is an age-long issue and pre-dates the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Indeed, several administrations before now had adopted one method or the other to check this illegal act but to no avail.
For instance, the late president Musa Yar’Adua thought it was caused by activities of Niger Delta militants and quickly came up with the Amnesty Programme. His successor, Goodluck Jonathan awarded pipeline security surveillance contracts estimated at about N17billion to leaders of ex-militant groups and the Oodua People’s Congress in the South-West to protect the country’s pipelines against vandalisation and oil thieves.
Curiously, rather than the situation abating, it assumed astronomical dimension, calling to question the real characters behind the theft. Previously, the dominant thinking was that militants and other miscreants were largely behind the pipeline vandalisation and oil theft.
However, a closer evaluation of the situation has shown that beyond pipeline vandalisation, several methods are adopted to cart away crude oil which are later disposed of at the high sea, and going by the sophistication and the professionalism required to engage in the illegal trade, it is obvious that this illegal oil act is perpetuated by highly placed individuals with some international business clouts and machinery.
Of course, it could only be the privileged elite of the society with influence in the corridors of power, who in collaboration with security personnel would easily beat off efforts to checkmate their nefarious deeds. True, there are security surveillance of oil installations, but the elements are often at the beck and call of these influential persons who command enough political clout to determine who gets posted where and when.
It is a sad commentary that every year, Nigeria’s foreign reserve keeps depleting due to shortfall in oil production caused primarily by unwholesome acts of criminals operating under different names and disguising as patriotic human beings.
Right now, there are many illegal oil refineries dotting the Niger Delta region and the south-west region especially Lagos, Ondo and Ogun states where stolen crude are being refined locally. This economic sabotage has adversely affected virtually all aspects of the economy. The revenue accruing to the three tiers of government from the federation account keeps shrinking. No thanks to activities of these oil thieves and the wobbling global oil market. The result is that states and the federal government now embark on external borrowing to execute major projects. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s external borrowing as at April 2015 stood at N12 trillion.
The rate at which oil pipelines are being vandalized on daily basis is condemnable. These economic saboteurs have continued to pillage Nigeria’s commonwealth by breaking oil pipelines, thus pilfering the people’s collective patrimony.
No doubt, oil is the mainstay and live-wire of Nigeria’s economy. But it is indeed a sad commentary that the country loses billions of dollars yearly to oil theft. The sector accounts for about 90 percent of the nation’s overall revenue. Oil theft is certainly assuming a debilitating dimension and posing a real threat to the socio-economic wellbeing of Nigerians. The sum of N921billion estimated to be lost to oil theft annually alone, can solve some of the infrastructural problems in the country.
In 2013, Nigeria lost about 300,000 barrels per day to oil thieves, which translates to over $1bn (more than N160bn) per month.
And last year, Nigeria lost a whopping N1.29tn in revenue to large scale theft of crude oil and production shut-downs. The colossal loss was based on the average daily volume of 215,000 barrels estimated at $21.5m (about N1.3bn) at $100 barrel.
The unanswered questions are: why has oil theft remained rife in Nigeria? Who are the influential people bankrolling the oil thieves? Are there no punitive measures on ground to discourage the illicit business? What is the fate of those caught vandalizing oil pipelines?
To answer these questions, President Buhari need not look far to know those behind the oil theft. But he will do himself no good if he decides to limit his searchlight on immediate past Jonathan administration. If he looks closely, he would realize that the real oil thieves include those that funded his campaign and those in his military profession. On closer observation, he would realize that the real oil thieves include both those that funded his presidential campaign and those in his profession;-serving and retired military top brass (Generals), senior police officers, oil barons, multinational corporations, ex-militants, former ministers, former state governors and top politicians (many of these people are presently lurking around Buhari looking for appointments).
It is quite unfortunate that the country keeps losing so much revenue to system leakages and deferred productions, largely due to pipeline vandalism. Perhaps, this is why Nigeria was recently listed as a leading country in oil theft among oil producing nations in the world. It is disheartening that oil theft has become a thriving and well organized crime that has continued unabated.
Besides losing millions of dollars to these unwholesome acts, illegal oil refineries have caused serious health implications to the local inhabitants. Consequently, pollution, gas flaring and fire outbreaks have combined to devastate the Ecosystem.
It is about time government came up with drastic measures against oil thieves and those sabotaging the main stay of our economy. The measures should aim at safeguarding oil pipelines and other government installations nationwide.
It has come to a point where government should boldly step in and end this brazen illegal act once and for all. The Buhari administration should summon the political will to deal with this matter squarely. In addition, government should install protective devices around oil pipelines that could cause electrocution.
As oil theft has become a global phenomenon, it is imperative for Nigeria to seek foreign assistance in fighting the oil barons sponsoring the illicit business. The problems of oil theft, illegal oil bunkering and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea are matters that deserve the collaboration of West African countries and the international community to tackle headlong.


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