wpid-oil2.jpgThe frequent reports of arrest of crude oil thieves and discoveries of vandalized pipelines belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is taking a very scaring dimension.

On January 14, 2013, the Nigerian Navy arrested 23 people, including 10 Indians for stealing crude oil and handed them over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) also recently discovered a vandalized pipeline spot at Epe part of Lagos State and effected arrests, seizing gallons of stolen crude oil. This discovery was made barely 48 hours after a vandalized pipeline exploded, killing over 30 people at Arepo in Ogun State. The Joint Military Task Force also arrested some crude oil thieves at different parts of the Niger Delta area.

The list of discoveries of vandalized pipelines and arrest of crude oil thieves has continued to grow by the day. Within the last one month, Nigeria has recorded incidents of pipeline vandalism at Ijedodo, Ijegun area of Lagos; Arepo, Ogun State; Epe, Lagos State, among others. It is unfortunate that we can only wait for another discovery of a vandalized pipeline spot.

Between 180,000 to 200,000 barrels of crude oil, an equivalent of Gabon?s oil production, amounting to over $120 million, is reportedly stolen from Nigeria daily. According to the Managing Director of the?Pipelines And Products Marketing Company Limited (PPMC), Mr. Haruna Momoh, Nigeria lost over N160 billion to pipeline vandalism between 2009 and 2012. The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum, Mr. Peterside Dakuku, said the country has within the past three years spent billions of naira, rectifying damaged facilities.

The Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mr. Andrew Yakubu explained the enormity of the situation at the 3rd?Triennial Delegates Conference of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association held recently in Abuja. ?We had over 774 break points since August 2012 from Atlas Cove to Ilorin depot. Between Atlas Cove and Mosimi depot, we recorded 181 break points. From Mosimi to Ibadan, we had 421 ruptured points and from Mosimi to Ore, we recorded 50 vandalized points. Also between Ibadan and Ilorin, we had a total of 122 break points? stated Mr. Yakubu.

Apart from the fact that this trend is likely to distract the NNPC from concentrating on seeking ways out of its $1.5 billion debt to start considering budget for repairs of vandalized pipelines, the multi-dimensional negative implications of the situation to the nation?s oil industry is worrisome.

Under this kind of situation, it is convenient to suspect various categories of people as sponsors of this crime. First, all the suspects earlier arrested for receiving oil subsidy payments without supplying any products had lived on that scam for many years before the current administration exposed the criminal practice, which led to nationwide protests in January 2012 and a subsequent commencement of prosecution process for the suspects. Now that their ?illegal business empire? has been dismantled, could it not be that the subsidy thieves have opted for this option of sending young men and women to steal crude oil by vandalizing NNPC pipelines and scooping the oil to sell directly?

Another category of suspects in this pipeline vandalism scam is the traditional rulers and residents of the communities where these incidents occur. Who are the buyers of the crude oil stolen from the punctured pipelines? One of the challenges facing the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta and other security agencies in the war against pipeline vandalism is that vandals enjoy community protection.

It is important that the various security agencies intensify efforts to expose and arrest the sponsors of oil pipelines vandalism along with their agents or foot soldiers. As a matter of fact, all suspects of oil related crime in Nigeria must be prosecuted and convicted as a measure to stop this evil trend.

Community leaders and traditional rulers have a duty to protect government property in their domains. They should therefore, form part of suspects in any community where this crime occurs again. There is also a need to establish a special court to handle oil theft cases in order to ensure speedy prosecution processes.

In addition, enhanced advocacy programmes by the NNPC would be required to sensitize communities on the dangers of conniving with oil thieves to obstruct the nation economy and its development.

The recent security documentation and registration of vessels, barges and motorized boats operating in the Niger Delta by the Joint Task Force,?Operation Pulo Shield?is a step in the right direction.





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