The zeal Nigerian security agencies are now showing to stamp out the nefarious act of stealing the nation’s crude oil cannot be faulted, given the daily loss of public funds to theft. Unless strong measures are taken to deal with thieves, there will be no end to crime. Criminals are shy and brave and ready for the worst consequences. For them, the end justifies the means. However, the act of burning containers full of stolen oil may not be entirely healthy in the ultimate effort to bring the oil thieves to justice. Apart from the destruction of evidence caused by burning, a valid fact has been presented that this practice is destructive to the environment and thereby detrimental to the health of Nigerians. In addition, citizens need assurance that all those involved in oil theft, including masterminds who are not usually on board, have been adequately investigated to legally punish them. Security agencies have not yet given this assurance during clashes with oil thieves and before burning the stricken vessels.
For the second time in about two months, security operatives in the Niger Delta have blown up two cargo ships containing massive amounts of stolen crude, thereby causing huge economic losses to the country and massive environmental damage. Nigerians are calling on the government to end this wastage at a time when every penny is needed to address economic challenges.
On July 7, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) intercepted a ship loaded with 800,000 liters of stolen crude valued at $86.8 million by its private security contractor, Tanrita Security Services. It said the ship and its contents were destroyed.
The oil company’s Chief Communications Officer, Garba Deen Mohammed, said the vessel MT TURA II (IMO No: 6620462) owned by Nigerian registered company HOLAB MARITIME SERVICES Limited was brought on board following an intelligence operation with registration number RC813311. The MT TURA II was wrecked on Friday, July 7, 2023 in Escravos River, Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State.
Earlier, in May this year, the military, in partnership with Tantita Security Services, announced the seizure of a barge loaded with over 600 barrels of crude oil from illegal bunkering in Warri, Delta State.
The barge, which was reported to be carrying crude oil to the jetty, was found 20 miles off the coast of Warri, where it wrecked. The perpetrators of the theft were linked to a corporate organization certified by the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA).
Crude oil theft in the Niger Delta has long gone unchecked, leading to huge losses in the country’s due revenue. The Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) said in December 2022 that 619.7 million barrels of crude oil worth N16.25 trillion ($46.16 billion) to the country were stolen between 2009 and 2020.
NEITI Executive Secretary Orji Ogbonnaya said the amount of crude oil stolen represented a loss of 140,000 barrels per day. He added that between 2009 and 2018, the country lost 4.2 billion liters of petroleum products from refineries worth $1.84 billion.
Interestingly, all this happened despite the presence of military and security forces in the crude-producing coastal waters, leading to accusations that some military chiefs and other high-ranking officials were either involved in crude oil theft or condoned it for monetary gain. Apart from the Nigerian Navy, the country’s Territorial Water Police, Marine Police, Joint Military Task Force, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and other private security organizations are all vying for space to offer services paid for by the government, oil companies and the NNPC. Yet, the criminal enterprise of crude theft has not abated.
According to the NNPCL in 2022, criminals steal 437,000 barrels of oil per day in Nigeria, calculated at $100 per barrel, amounting to over $43.7 million per day.
In order to curb crude oil counterfeiting, the Federal Government, through the NNPC Limited, awarded a N4.5 billion monthly pipeline monitoring contract to the former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND), Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, and other contractors in Niger.
While the arrest and destruction of two vessels in May and July is evidence of continued action, the large-scale theft of crude oil in the Niger Delta is alarming. Among oil producing countries, Nigeria has the unenviable record of being the only producer unable to secure its crude. Given that crude from each region has its own identity and is jealously guarded by its owners.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Nigerian crude. Who are the buyers of Nigeria’s stolen crude; Who help sponsor thieves; Who are the accused for handling the pump head that discharges the crude into the vessels? Nigerians are demanding answers to these questions from NNPCL, the body entrusted with managing Nigeria’s crude deposits. With the identity of the ships known and the captains and crew apprehended, prosecution should no longer be a quiet affair. Let there be revelations.
Therefore, Nigerians hope that the steps taken by the security agencies so far are genuine and not just a stunt. The undetected entry of ships into Nigeria’s maritime borders is worrisome. The situation suggests that there are some elite syndicates involved and the government cannot reasonably claim what is happening. The Tinubu administration should do things differently, set up a committee to investigate, unravel the mystery; And punish all criminals.
Equally troubling are the callous tactics adopted by NNPCL and Tantita Security Services in processing the stolen crude. Both incidents of crude and container explosions have little regard for the environment and the impact on flora and fauna. The JTF claimed it was a way to send “warning signals” to would-be oil thieves. Former Chief of Defense Staff, Lucky Irabor, once claimed that such practice was in accordance with the “rules of engagement” and that no investigation was required to take such action. Similarly, the NNPCL issued a statement saying, “Destroying vessels involved in transporting stolen crude oil is of paramount importance,” adding that it will intensify the war against crude oil theft until it stops.
However, at a time when the country is looking for money to meet its health, education, transport and infrastructure needs, burning large amounts of crude indiscriminately seems wasteful. Security agencies should look for more acceptable ways to punish criminals without allowing them to criminalize the country and the environment.
The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) condemned the burning of containers with stolen crude oil; The House of Representatives has warned security agencies to further desist from destroying containers containing stolen crude oil, saying the practice is adversely affecting the environment. HOMEF said the manner in which the vessels were destroyed was wrong and harmful to the environment and human life. We couldn’t agree more.
It is time to expose all those who collaborated with criminals to steal crude in the Niger Delta. Unless revenue leakage like crude oil theft is stopped, no economic plan for the country as announced by President Bola Tinubu is possible. In this era of climate change, it is equally important for the government to pay attention to the environment. There are safe and secure ways to punish crimes.