Illegal oil bunkering seems to have become institutionalized in the oil producing states of Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa. Large volume of oil is siphoned from pipelines damaged by criminals and ferried into waiting ships on the high seas en-route Europe and North America. This is done with impunity. Periodic lamentation is all we get from the federal government even with its control of the army, navy, air force and the police. President Jonathan whimsical award of multi-billion dollar contract to Tompolo, General Boyloaf and other Niger Delta armed militants to secure our oil pipelines only led to the booming of illegal bunkering.
Reporting in the Financial Times issue of June 26, 2012, William Wallis claims ‘The Nigerian state and oil companies are losing a billion dollars or more a month to oil theft by criminal networks whose activities have expanded rapidly under the government of President Jonathan’. In 2013 during Spring meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the then Finance Minister and coordinating minister stated: “We estimate total loss at over 300,000 barrel per day,’’ valued at $1billion. The trade in stolen oil involves a sophisticated criminal network and international traders who provide oil at discounted prices to refineries in West Africa and in China and India”.
Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Task Force report on the oil and gas sector put daily crude oil theft at 250,000 barrels daily at a cost of $6.3bn (N1.2trn) a year. This according to the report puts the total amount lost through oil theft in the two years of Jonathan’s government at over $12.6bn (N2trn). Charles Soludo, one time CBN governor in his 2015 letter to Okonjo Iweala put the average loss figure at 400,000 barrels per day coming “to about $60 billion (12.6 trillion) ‘stolen’ in just four years” at a time of cessation of crisis in the Niger Delta, amnesty programme and huge amount paid for ‘protecting’ the pipelines and security of oil wells, asking if the ‘thieves’ were spirits”.
Sadly, nothing has changed under President Buhari’s government of change. Earlier this year, Rotimi Amaechi, the minister for transport alleged as much as $25 billion is lost to oil bunkerers annually. Edo State’s Godwin Obaseki, who doubles as chairman of the ad hoc committee of the National Economic Council on Crude Oil Theft recently revealed that about 22 million barrels of crude oil have been shipped away out of our shores by the vandals in the past six months. And only last Monday, September 9, SPDC’s General Manager, External Relations, Igo Weli, during a media workshop on pipelines vandalisation in Port Harcourt was lamenting that “SPDC JV is currently losing about 10,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil valued at N202 million and appealed to government, communities and other stakeholders to stem the incessant attack on our oil assets in the Niger Delta.”
The Nation newspaper editorial of September 8 titled “Flamboyant Vampires” however seems to have hit the nail on its head. The reason the business of illegal bunkering continues to boom according to the editorial is that “some of the security operatives assigned to protect the oil infrastructure have become the criminals-in- chief, not only aiding and abetting but also enabling, the army protects them on land and the navy at sea. Even members of the police force are also in on it. It is a massive mess”.
And involved in the massive mess are the governors of the crime infected Niger Delta states who many believe arm the rampaging Niger Delta militant groups the elite use as foot soldiers, the traditional rulers who the late Saro wiwa described as ‘vultures’ for sacrificing the well-being of their people by receiving blood money from multinationals that pollute their environment and the federal government that treat the oil rich Niger Delta as a conquered territory.
The nightmare of people in the Delta region started with the promulgation of the petroleum decree which wrested ownership of all land and any resource found in, under and upon the land, in the federal military government shortly before the outbreak of the civil war. Just like the foreign companies prospecting for oil in the region, the motive was greed. If consideration for the people and their environment came later, it was as an after-thought or as a result of pressure from the political elite from the area. And as it has sadly turned out, the leading light from the region including the governors ( Ibori, Igbinedion, Alamieyeseigha, already convicted for stealing their states blind and Odilli, shielded by the courts,) who took the federal government to court over on-shore and off-shore oil revenue, the vultures who live on the blood and sweat of their people and the creeks armed gangs who after securing multi-billion dollar contracts from Presidents Jonathan and Obasanjo and today live like kings serve none but themselves. The poor whose names were used in vain are left alone to cope with consequences of devastated farmlands and polluted streams.
Although it was the agitation by leading lights of the devastated Niger Delta area that led to the establishment of The Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) with Decree 23 of 1992, primarily to rehabilitate, develop and tackle the ecological problems through provision of infrastructures such as good roads, electricity, potable water, land reclamation, agriculture, fish business and transportation, but OMPADEC also collapsed under the weight of corruption perpetrated by the same Niger Delta political elite.
OMPADEC was succeeded by Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) empowered with 13 per cent derivation revenue. It was established to develop Niger Delta and end the restiveness among the youths in the affected oil producing communities. Again, NDDC failed to achieve its objectives. Many of the youths who received technical trainings abroad returned into the service of big time bunkerers who needed their newly acquired technical knowledge to damage pipelines in the creeks.
Criminality in the Niger Delta region, like the Middle Belt, Southern Kaduna, Zamfara, Southwest and elsewhere in the country as many have argued, is evidence of absence of governance in the country. Most of those regarded as leaders at all levels since the beginning of the fourth republic have turned out to be dealers. Both Obasanjo’s and the Niger Delta governors, that took him to court over resource control were neither sincere to Nigerians nor to the oil producing areas. One had eyes on a third term agenda while the other set out to further impoverish their people. President Jonathan as commander in chief handed over the protection of our oil pipelines to armed gangs who were in the employ of dealers as leaders. That served only the interest of the terror groups he and other Niger Delta dealers put in place for political survival.
It is not yet Uhuru. Beyond instutionalisation of criminality in the oil rich Niger Delta by successive Nigerian dealers, evidence of absence of governance today abounds everywhere. While soldiers, naval officers, air force men and the police are said to be aiding and abetting criminality in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the country, one encounters on the roads and at functions obscene scenes of two dozens of DSS men and as many policemen wielding guns and intimidating people because a minister’s convoys of several SUVs is passing by. (Ministers during the administration of President Shehu Shagari in the second republic only moved around with a police man while minister of states had none).
The country remains dysfunctional in the way those in Abuja today carry out the normal business of government.