21st May, 2012
This is a season of barefaced thievery. While government officials and their collaborators in the downstream sector of the nation’s oil industry are stealing the subsidy on refined petroleum products, oil thieves in the upstream sector are also having a field day.
Recently, soldiers attached to 144 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, Asa, near Aba, Abia State, Southeast Nigeria, discovered 200 illegal refineries and seized 28 boats used for oil bunkering. 18 of the boats were destroyed last Saturday.
And the Federal Government has reportedly set up a new anti-bunkering task force to curb this trend.
The watch of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, has also raised the alarm about widespread crude oil theft in the Niger Delta region. She disclosed recently at a stakeholders’ meeting comprising oil company bosses and Service Chiefs that Nigeria loses $12 billion (about N1.9 trillion) yearly to the activities of criminal syndicates who steal and illegally export crude oil.
The whopping loss is attributed to actual theft of crude oil as well as the costs incurred in terms of damaged facilities and inability of oil companies to produce the usual output due to damaged facilities.
This revelation leaves much to be desired as it is coming on the heels of the report by the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on the management of petroleum subsidy that the fraud perpetrated through the subsidy regime “can hardly be rivalled in the history of a warped budget management of any nation anywhere in the world.”
Oil theft in the Niger Delta has become so alarming in the last six months that Diezani is just coming to terms with that reality. Long before now, a foreign news agency showed aerial photographs of illegal oil refineries in the Niger Delta. But the government failed to act on it.
It is mind-boggling that the nation is losing N1.9 trillion yearly, almost half of the equivalent of the Federal Government budget for the 2012 fiscal year, to oil thieves.
It is only recently that security forces have discovered dozens of illegal crude oil refineries in the Niger Delta which has become one huge playground for oil thieves. Oil theft has become so pervasive that even foreign vessels, including those from a neighbouring country such as Ghana, have joined the jamboree. What this means is that the security forces are not doing enough to check the activities of these armed gangs siphoning the nation’s crude oil through the creeks in barges to foreign vessels waiting on the high seas.
The Joint Military Task Force in the Niger Delta must intensify its raids on these criminal gangs whose activities are not only crippling the nation’s oil industry but also devastating the environment.
When we add the N3 trillion dubiously spent on the petroleum subsidy in 2011 alone to the N1.9 trillion lost to the crude oil thieves in the Niger Delta, then we have a huge loss of revenue that could have been used to improve dilapidated infrastructure.
The pillaging of the nation’s resources with impunity must stop and all those involved in the theft must be brought to book, including Diezani, who bears full responsibility for theft of the subsidy funds. She has even lost any moral authority to raise the alarm over crude oil theft in the creeks when she has not removed the log in her own eyes.
It is not for nothing that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC , which her ministry supervises, is now called the shrine of corruption in Nigeria. Indeed, that parastatal needs total cleansing.