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Oil theft and the agitation over Irabor’s remarks

By Abdulsalam Mahmud One of the security challenges Nigeria is battling to contain in recent times is the menace of oil theft, which is steadily…

By Abdulsalam Mahmud

One of the security challenges Nigeria is battling to contain in recent times is the menace of oil theft, which is steadily wreaking havoc on the nation’s economy. For the first time in a long period, oil production output has been on a rapid decline due to theft, and shut-ins, among others.

In its Commodity Markets Outlook report for March, this year, the World Bank said Nigeria had the largest shortfall among oil-producing countries during the first quarter, a development attributed to sabotage within the oil production system and other factors.

The global finance body put the shortfall then at 500,000 barrels per day, ahead of Angola and Russia both with a shortfall of 300,000 barrels per day. The volume of crude oil that is being stolen in Nigeria is one that is better left unsaid. Records and accounts given by international oil producing companies show over 400,000 barrels daily.

This figure has also been corroborated and attested to by Mr. Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), the leading oil producer in Nigeria, has threatened to halt its oil business in the country.

It has equally vowed to pull out its investments to other saner shores on account of the volume of oil it loses every day to oil theft, and the apparent acquiescence or helplessness feigned by relevant government agencies to stop or put an end to it.

The magnitude of the financial hurt to this country arising from oil theft is underlined by the fact that those drawing attention to this immoral, sordid and corrupt behaviour, are those well-established in the industry.

Among them include Shell and other international oil companies that have been here long enough to know the harm and damage oil theft, of the volume being reported, can do to the economy of this country if the vice continues.

Osagie Okunbor, the Managing Director of Shell, who out of concern for what the development portends for the country in general and the oil industry in particular, drew attention to this mess when he spoke at the Nigeria Oil and Gas Conference in Port Harcourt, not too long ago.

Okunbor said crude oil theft has resulted in the shutdown of two of Shell’s major pipelines. According to him, as a result, Nigeria could not meet its OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil production quota of 1.8 million barrels a day.

Nigeria, unfortunately, is the only OPEC member that is unable to refine its crude for domestic consumption. And this is despite the existence of four refineries, all that have remained moribund, but for which NNPC claimed it had committed over N100 billion in 2021 alone for their maintenance.

Amid the gloomy situation, it is instructive to note that security agencies, especially the Nigerian military, are assiduously tackling criminals and persons who aid and abet the siphoning of Nigeria’s liquid gold.

Aside from successfully arresting hundreds of pipeline vandals and razing illegal refinery camps in Niger Delta creeks in recent months, naval operatives, in executing the marching order of Gen. Leo Irabor, Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, destroyed a vessel transporting stolen crude, last week.

The illegal vessel, which was caught in the act was promptly set ablaze by the military to send a strong message to perpetrators of such an act of national sabotage. Irabor explained that the instrument of operation was caught and destroyed as a way of showing the resolve of the military in tackling the debilitating crime of oil theft.

Yet, some agents of darkness and backwardness, who apparently do not wish the country good, are up in arms against the military, and perhaps, Gen. Irabor, for scuttling their illicit business. They have started orchestrating a campaign of calumny against Irabor, calling for his sack over his attempt to clarify the action of the military.

Truly, the efforts by some persons and interest groups to stir up anti-military sentiment, using the reported burning of a vessel caught engaging in oil theft as a rallying point, are destined to hit the rock.

This writer is particularly glad that well-meaning groups such as the Citizens Initiative for Security awareness, CISA, appreciates what Irabor and the military are doing to tackle insecurity in the country, and are indeed proud of them. They have started matching the detractors of Irabor and the Nigerian military, might for might, word for word.

Condemning persons who are hell-bent on inciting anti-military sentiments following the destruction of the oil bunkering vessel, CISA, through its National Coordinator, Chidi Omeje, said that contrary to the claims by those canvassing the anti-military sentiment, the decision to promptly destroy the rogue vessel is borne out of the exigency of the time.

He said: “Even as CISA understands the niceties of legalism, it believes that an obvious attack on the economic livewire of the country demands the urgency of action that will send strong warning to economic saboteurs. Ironically, the arrow-head of the clamor for the sack of the CDS are those who usually hide under legal technicalities to delay or pervert justice which on many occasions have worked against the national security imperatives”.

Typical with the compromising attitude of law enforcement agencies in the country, cases abound where such illegal vessels caught in action are eventually released after unending legal tussle. And if we all believe that oil theft is an open war against the Nigerian State, then the military is right in handling the case with the dispatch it requires.

Like CISA, this writer believes that an expedient action needed to be taken in order to radically address the situation and send the right message to obstinate oil pipeline vandals and thieves in the Niger Delta, as is also being done to terrorists and bandits in the North East and North West.

One thing that Nigerians must be mindful of is the antics of conflict merchants and agent provocateurs. Without gainsaying, it is certainly not in national interest to call for the sack of Gen. Irabor for taking a bold step in the fight against oil theft.

Abdulsalam Mahmud, Deputy Editor of PRNigeria, writes from Wuye District Abuja.

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