Recently, the President of the Senate, David Mark, while inaugurating the Senate Joint Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) called for a death penalty for those found guilty of stealing the country’s oil. This tough stand was apparently informed by the impunity with which oil thieves now operate in the country.

Apart from Senator Mark, several Nigerians, especially in the oil industry, had at one time or the other voiced concern over the massive stealing of the country’s oil by thieves. Even the government acknowledged this when the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, lamented last year that the country loses five billion dollars annually to oil thieves.

During his presentation before his colleagues, the Senate President aptly identified rich and influential Nigerians as being behind the illegal business.

While we share the concern of Senator Mark on the need to check theft of Nigeria’s crude oil, we are not comfortable with his recommendation that oil thieves should face the death penalty. It is our opinion that the existing punishment for convicted thieves in our criminal laws are enough to take care of the illegal business. Death penalty for those found guilty of oil theft will not necessarily deter others from continuing the illegal business. This is because without a strong political will, the government may find it difficult to implement the law against the big guns involved in the illegal trade.

Moreover, death penalty is a grievous punishment that does not permit mistakes as is commonplace here with those charged with the administration of justice. A miscarriage of justice discovered after execution cannot be easily redressed.

We are of the opinion that applying the death penalty for an offence like oil theft is like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly. Death penalty to punish oil thieves will amount to an overkill.

What is needed is for the government to develop the necessary political will to fight the pervasive corruption in the land. Oil theft is an offshoot of the massive corruption in the country. If the government can muster the necessary strength to fight the cankerworm, oil theft will reduce to the barest minimum.

We are also not happy with the fact that over the years the government has not been able to identify the influential people behind oil theft in the country. Those stealing the country’s crude and refined oil are not ghosts, they are human beings and everything must be done to identify them and bring them to book.

Also, the penalty stipulated in our statute books for oil pilfering should be made stiffer, to serve as a deterrent to those who have their sight on stealing the country’s wealth.

Government should also make it difficult for illegal oil bunkerers and those vandalising the country’s pipeline to steal oil by increasing its patrols of the areas where there is pipeline.

We had, in an earlier editorial, charged the government to move fast to contain the massive oil theft going on in the country but we are sad to observe that stealing has  continued unabated. This has led to one of the oil majors, ENI (formerly Agip) suspending operations in the country.

Rather than advocating a death penalty for oil thieves, a measure that is at variance with global trends, we urge Senator Mark to use his privileged position in the Senate to contribute to finding solution to the pervasive corruption in the land.