Oil theft and Nigeria’s self-imposed poverty

Nigeria is wallowing in self-imposed poverty.  The situation would remain so for a pretty long time because no one in federal government has the political will power to confront the elements of backwardness in the land. Agriculture has remained in the hands of millions of peasant farmers who eke out a living through subsistent farming with primitive implements. Nigeria cannot feed its teeming population.

Nigeria is practically broke, but the federal government insists that what it is battling is sporadic cash flow problems rather than absolute cash crunch.

The 2020 Appropriation Bill is replete with signs that Nigeria is broke. A nation that spends 40 per cent of its revenue on debt servicing and chalks up a budget deficit of about 30 per cent of its revenue is heading down the financial precipice.

Nigeria’s revenue is diminishing by the day but the federal government knows next to nothing about beefing it up. The 50 per cent increase in value added tax (VAT) imposed on an impoverished populace and a reprehensible stamp duty of N50 per point of sales (PoS) transaction of N1, 000 and above  are mere fire brigade approach to revenue generation that cannot get to the root of the nation’s financial crisis. The stamp duty will stifle electronic transfers as a cheap medium of transaction.

Perhaps the most reprehensible posture of the federal government toward the country’s revenue crisis is the way successive governments have been writhing its hands in utter helplessness as notorious criminals ranging from operators of the international oil companies (IOCs), well-wired retired generals and top politicians steal crude oil from the oil fields and export terminals and rob Nigeria of trillions of naira annually.

Crude oil theft is a long standing crime that the rulers of Nigeria have ignored for years to the detriment of the country’s dwindling revenue. Former President Goodluck Jonathan repeatedly lamented the loss of revenue to crude oil theft but did practically nothing to stop the menace.

Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and perpetual contender for the country’s presidency complained bitterly about the level of oil theft in Nigeria.

During his 2014 bid for the presidential ticket on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC), he told editors at an interactive session in Eko Hotel on Sunday, September 21, 2014 that the quantity of crude oil stolen daily in Nigeria was more than Ghana’s daily oil output of about 100, 000 barrels per day.

The former vice president wondered why the federal government cannot stop the massive stealing of the nation’s crude oil. Ironically, there was crude oil theft during the eight years that Olusegun Obasanjo was president with Atiku Abubakar as vice-president.

Abubakar knows that the federal government can stop oil theft if it wants to.  As a former vice-president, Abubakar knows why the federal government looks the other way as mega criminals haul large quantities of crude oil to international waters for sale at a discount. Abubakar estimated oil theft in Nigeria at anything from 150, 000 bpd.  At the 2014 oil price of $98 per barrel Nigeria was losing close to $20 million per day.

The bad news in the nation’s oil fields and export terminals is worsening by the day as Nigeria’s level of poverty deteriorates. Last week, Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Edo State who doubled as chairman of the national economic council (NEC) committee on stolen crude oil, shocked an impoverished nation with news that 22 million barrels of crude oil was stolen in the first three months of 2019. The summary of the bad news from Obaseki is that an average of 244, 444.4 barrels of crude oil is stolen daily in Nigeria.  That is about twice the quantity estimated by Atiku Abubakar in 2014.

Obaseki put the monetary value of crude oil theft in the first three months of this year at $1.35 billion or N411.75 billion at the official exchange rate of N305 to the dollar.

At that rate, the well-wired criminals would steal N1.6 trillion worth of crude oil by the end of 2019. That is about the size of the budget deficit of the federal government in 2020. In other words, the federal government would have no budget deficit in 2020 if it stops oil theft.

No one in the federal government has lifted a finger against the big-time criminals stealing crude oil. All the fight against crude oil theft has been directed at the pocket-size criminals who hack into oil pipelines and steal a few barrels of crude oil for use in their rudimentary refineries strewn across the creeks of Niger Delta.

The navy is determined to crush the business of illegal refining in Niger Delta because it is regarded as the bedrock of the crude oil theft in the region. 

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources cannot feign ignorance of the big time criminals ruining Nigeria through crude oil theft.

From all indications, the criminals involved in illegal oil bunkering load crude oil in giant barges which cannot escape the prying eyes of the Nigerian Navy patrol boats.  The navy owes this nation an explanation on how barges hauling stolen crude oil to international waters escape their watchful eyes and sail to the rendezvous with international criminals who buy stolen crude at a discount.

The truth is that it takes two to tango. The rate at which crude oil theft thrives in Nigeria suggests that there is a measure of collaboration between the oil thieves and the security agencies policing the waters against the economic crime.

That probably explains the intensive lobbying by security personnel for posting to the beat involved in policing the nation’s waters against oil theft. Oil theft is a very simple crime to fight. The criminals are known and could be hacked down in a moment if the federal government has the political will power to step on the toes of powerful criminals. 

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