Still on vandalism of critical assets

President Muhammadu Buhari

Critical national assets are under threat of vandalism from criminals who are bent on running the government aground. ELEOJO IDACHABA in this piece takes a probing look at the scenario.

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, worried by the activities of vandals especially in the Niger Delta region, expressed concerns over the attacks on national assets like pipelines and other oil installations; a development he noted had posed a great setback to infrastructure progress of the country.

He was specifically speaking when leaders from Ogoni land paid him a visit at the Presidential Villa a fortnight ago.

The president said the wilful damage brought upon the country by unscrupulous elements “usually creates more havoc on the environment and hampers development in the areas affected.”

He, however, used the opportunity to state that the federal government was committed to the Ogoni clean-up exercise so that the indigenes could regain their lives, return to farms and re-activate economic activities.

“You would need to educate the people of Ogoni land and the region more that when pipelines are broken, the damage is more to the immediate environment and the people. The majority of farmers and fishermen struggle because the fishes now move to the deep sea,” he said.

He noted further that bad industry practices coupled with security challenges had resulted in massive spills with attendant environmental degradation of the region leading to agitations and strife, but said the government would bring to a close all pending issues on sons of Ogoni land.

“Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished representatives of the people of Ogoni land, I note the need to ensure the completion of a segment of the East-West road traversing Ogoni land and steps would be taken to ensure delivery under the Infrastructure Development Fund as earlier conceived. We intend to complete this vital artery of Nigeria.

“Furthermore, we are committed to ensuring clemency and national integration as part of this administration’s bid to lay the foundation for genuine reconciliation and bring closure to the issues of Ogoni land.

“The unfortunate incidents of the early 1990s leading to loss of lives of distinguished sons of Ogoni land and the collateral judicial processes are indelible in our memories.

“In spite of the grievous circumstances, the federal government would consider the request for grant of pardon to finally close the Ogoni saga.

“This administration has placed the rehabilitation of the Niger-Delta as a top priority and has committed a lot of resources to tackling existing problems, including launching a one-billion dollar oil clean-up exercise to reverse the terrible damage and restore the ecosystem.

“I am pleased that the restoration and amelioration activities under the auspices of the United Nations and the vehicle of Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, has commenced work since we assumed office as we promised.

“We would take further steps to ensure faithful and speedy execution of the project so as to restore the environment and enable farming and fishing activities to resume in the affected areas.”

In his remarks, the president of the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, King Godwin N.K. Giniwa, thanked President Buhari for the various interventions in the area, particularly on the clean-up of the environment.

He congratulated the president for achievements in critical infrastructure in the country, especially in railways and road constructions, urging more efforts in provision of potable water.

NSCDC’s regrets

As a confirmation of the level of vandalism of critical national assets which had always put the country at risk, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has declared that critical infrastructure cutting across almost all sectors like electricity, oil, water, transport, water, pipelines and telecommunications are constantly under attacks by vandals and violent groups.

An Assistant Commandant-General who is in charge of critical national assets and infrastructure, Mr. Benito Eze, stated this, adding that, “These threats can have devastating consequences and could threaten the national economy and entire communities.”

“Oil pipelines used to be the most threatened sector but in recent times, we are having more threats in the transportation sector. There is no country that can be stable if its infrastructure is not of use. They need to be protected for the smooth running of the government. Their collapse results in the collapse of the government. That is why we need to come together to ensure they are protected,” he said.

To that extent, he announced the launch of a security summit in partnership with relevant stakeholders on ‘Synergy: Panacea for effective Critical National Assets and Infrastructure Protection’ which was held recently.

While giving an insight into the summit, he said it introduced ways to safeguard infrastructure like public buildings, schools and others.

“The event provided an opportunity for participants to review the current security situation in the country, assess the level of risks to critical assets and infrastructure and evolve ways to actively promote synergy among all the stakeholders.”

He announced that the election management system and school educational facilities have been added to the initial 16 critical infrastructure sectors that the Corps handles.

Artificial intelligence?

In the meantime, as a way out of destruction to critical national assets, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isah Pantami, has advocated the use of artificial intelligence to protect critical infrastructure across the country.

He was speaking recently during a stakeholders’ summit on the protection of critical infrastructure organised by the NSCDC in Abuja.

Pantami commended the NSCDC for their efforts in the protection of lives and property across the country.

“This is another dimension that I feel this summit should look into. How can we come together to have a multi-sectoral approach in which we all have a role to play to ensure that we protect our critical infrastructure by deploying new technological gadgets that would make our work easier and be able to use remote surveillance to ensure that our infrastructure is safe,” he said.

Speaking earlier, the Commandant General of NSCDC, Dr. Ahmed Abubakar Audi, called on Nigerians to partner with the Corps towards ensuring the protection of critical infrastructure across the country.

He was of the view that the summit was organised in view of the persistent rise in crimes inimical to national security through the activities of terrorists/insurgents, vandals, oil thieves, bandits, kidnappers, ethnic militias, border clashes/boundary disputes, communal clashes, farmers, herders’ clashes, ethnic agitators, and sometimes violent protests such as the #EndSARS protest that now pose a serious threat to critical national assets and infrastructure.

While making reference to an earlier statement by the Minister of Information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, he said, “Between January 2019 and September 2020, 1,161 pipeline points across the country were vandalised. The group managing director of NNPC, Mele Kyari, explained that the corporation lost about N51.207 billion between 2019 to May 2021. From January-May 2021, NNPC pipeline segments suffered 203 pipeline breaks with a total cumulative loss of 39 million litres amounting to N5.973 billion just as the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) disclosed that Nigeria has experienced significant economic loss due to pipeline vandalism. Nigeria has lost about $42 billion to crude theft as well as domestic and refined petroleum products losses between 2009 and 2018.″

Speaking further, he said, “We should also address the potential threats to such critical assets and likely consequences, should that potential threat materialise.

“We also need to develop systems and strategies to avert such potential threats, taking into account existing proactive measures and identifying security gaps which would need to be addressed through specific protective measures.

“It is no longer news that the frequency of crime commission and level of insecurity has exposed our infrastructure/assets to dangers of attacks by criminal elements and saboteurs who are bent on frustrating the government’s efforts to foster good governance in the nation.”

He added: “Power and telecommunication installations have been under constant threat and attacks in the North-east by terrorists’ groups while farmlands have been devastated by constant farmers, herders’ clashes, flood waters and oil spillage in different parts of the country.

“Also, the activities of vandals and illegal bunkerers have wreaked havoc on power and telecommunication installations/facilities, oil pipelines, railway tracks, bridge railings, critical aviation infrastructure, gas installations, among others. Most recently, INEC offices, security formations, correctional centres, etc, have either been attacked or under serious threat of attacks by hoodlums and criminal elements.”

While interacting with sister security agencies, Audi said,“Permit me to also state that the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps has continued to make tremendous efforts to fulfill its obligation as the lead agency in the protection of critical national assets and infrastructure through effective synergy with sister agencies and other critical stakeholders within available resources at its disposal.

“I have equally supervised the establishment of an all Female Squad purposely to secure our school environment in view of recent attacks on schools and kidnap of students by bandits.

“We can however perform better with additional funding and modern equipment support from the government and other critical stakeholders.

“Let us all stand and raise our voices in unison to fight this noble cause. We need to deal with these outlaws who may be executing a sinister agenda to make the country ungovernable.”

Zulum’s appeal

Lending his voice to the development, the Borno state governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, urged the federal government to consider the use of technology to protect power, communications and other critical infrastructure.

He made the call during a town hall meeting in Maiduguri where stakeholders gathered to take a second look at vandalism of power and telecommunications infrastructure in the region organised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.

He said President Buhari has given the assurances of the government’s support in that direction, even as he disclosed that the various levels of the governments were already working to establish a sustainable framework that would ensure proper handling of the process.

Speaking on how insurgents blew up high-tension wires that supply electricity into the state, Zulum said, “This culminated in the darkness being experienced in the past months and has been a harrowing situation especially for those who depend on constant electricity for their livelihoods. We mobilised resources to effect necessary repairs.

“After spending millions of naira, the excitement was short-lived as the insurgents, 24 hours later, destroyed the repaired lines along with others subjecting the people to despair and hopelessness.”

He said the time has come for the federal government to think of modern technology to protect physical infrastructure.

“Our citizens should also be sensitised so that they would have a moral obligation to protect all government infrastructure in their domain in view of the huge investment the federal government is making in rehabilitating neglected infrastructure and constructing new ones.”

Govt’s lamentations

The information and culture minister, on his part, said the destruction of public infrastructure “is terrible,” adding that it would cost the government N3.8 billion to repair four bridges damaged by vandals.

He noted that the huge amount could have been used to build new infrastructure. According to him, despite the drastic drop in revenue in the midst of competing priorities, the federal government, he said, has invested heavily in providing new infrastructure, reconstructing and rehabilitating existing ones.

From the foregoing, it is not clear how far NSCDC can go in carrying out its mandate of protecting critical infrastructure across the country in view of the insufficient personnel issues.

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