Tackling the menace of oil theft

Nigeria is facing serious financial crisis with government revenue dwindling on daily basis. The high rate of debt running into trillions of naira incurred by government which exceeds its revenue states the obvious.

Though, the price of crude oil has risen in the international market, the country is yet to benefit from the largesse due to the twin evil of subsidy and oil theft. Nigerians were not surprised when recently, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, said that the country loses 400,000 barrels of crude oil daily through the unpatriotic activities of oil thieves.

He described the development as a “national emergency” just as he expressed regret that the nation had fallen short of OPEC daily quota – from 1.8 million barrels to 1.4 million barrels due that unwholesome behaviour. He, however, warned that such a huge economic loss was capable of crippling the nation’s economy, if not effectively checked.

Latest reports by industry experts state that with a barrel of crude oil containing 42 gallons, Nigeria is losing a whopping 6.132 billion gallons of crude annually to oil thieves. Similarly, the country is also losing to oil thieves, about 16.8 million gallons of crude oil, which is equivalent to 67 million liters of refined petroleum products.

The figures emanated from the summation using 400,000 barrels per day and 146 million barrels per year losses to oil thieves, a situation that has become a nightmare for oil companies, the government, and other concerned stakeholders. Recent reports also pointed out that the country lost not less than $3.5 billion in revenue to crude oil theft in 2021 alone, representing about 10 percent of the country’s foreign reserves.

Earlier report indicated that Nigeria lost almost 200 million barrels of crude oil in the first 11 months of the year, mainly due to oil theft. Available data also indicated that Nigeria lost 42.25 million barrels of crude oil in 2019 and 53.28 million barrels of crude oil in the year prior for the same nefarious reason. In a bid to stem the menace and contain the dastardly acts, measures were designed by federal government, in September last year.

The government set up a committee on the recovery of crude oil and illegally refined petroleum products. The group comprised the Department of Petroleum Resources, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, the Nigerian Army and Navy, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. In spite of this, and with the committee in place, Nigeria still experiences huge losses throughout the rest of the year.

While the blame for the crime is being apportioned to the host communities, many believe that oil theft is an organised crime involving some cartels in various government agencies, institutions and stakeholders. These cartels in collaboration with foreign partners have become a cog in the wheel of progress of our petroleum industry.

The recent award of pipeline surveillance contract to Government Tampolo, an ex-militant, at the cost of N42 billion has continued to generate mixed reactions across the country. While Nigerians can express their anger on the billions of naira budgeted for our security sector with little success to show for it, there is nothing wrong for government to devise other strategies to stop the menace of oil theft in the country.

Besides losing huge quantities of oil running into billions of dollars, other effects of oil theft are: pipeline vandalism, criminal sabotage, and illegal refineries in oil-producing communities, which threaten the safety and livelihoods of the environment where these illegal oil operations are carried out.

Amidst financial crunch, it has become imperative for government to wield the big stick. Security personnel, community, and political leaders involved in this act must be exposed and brought to book. Beyond that, government must prosecute the culprits to serve as deterrent to others. All that is required to stop this massive sleaze is the political will; the government must demonstrate it!

Ibrahim Mustapha,
Pambegua, Kaduna state

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