Speakers at the conference, with the theme, Oil theft and illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta, organised by the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Kingsley Kuku, said the oil companies were major perpetrators of the act.
They said lack of political will to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators, poor legislation, and the insensitivity of both the government and multinationals to the plight of the people of the region were some of the reasons behind the surge in the pilferage.
Participants who decried the non-availability of refined petroleum products in the region, stated that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has lost control of overseeing how oil and gas is produced.
They insisted that those who wreck the economy were not the petty thieves usually caught with kegs, but multinationals and businessmen who own tank farms and use ships and barges to steal products in large quantities, with the aid of various agencies.
The participants called for the removal of the five per cent charge at the export loading terminals, saying that international best practices should be adopted.
At the event were the Chief of Naval Staff, CNS, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba; Direcotor-General, Nigerian. Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi; Commander, Operation PULO SHIELD, Gen. Bata Debiro; panal chair, Prof. G.G. Darah; Commandant, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Dr. Ade Abolurin; Coordinator, Oil Watch International, Nnimmo Bassey and Kingsley Kuku.
Others include former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Timi Alaibe; Community leaders from the region, Che Ibegwura, T.K. Ogoriba, Prof. Kingsley Alagba and Chief Dan Ekpebedemi as well as General Secretary, PENGASSAN, Bayo Olusede.
Although Debiro in his presentation disclosed that a total of 13, 945 drums of illegal crude, 861 boats and 51 tankers, have been destroyed in the last quarter, with 1, 965 illegal refineries destroyed daily and 24 vessels arrested, participants faulted the Joint Task Force’s, JTF’s, destruction of the exhibits, describing the practice as dangerous to the environment.
They reiterated their call on the multinational oil firms to relocate their headquarters to the Niger Delta region, as well as ensure that youths are not only given scholarships, but given employment.
In his welcome address, Kuku said a report commissioned by his office indicated that oil theft and illegal artisanal refining of oil was so widespread that it stifles the traditional community life.
He said in some communities, oil theft has outstripped fishing and farming as a contributor to community Gross Domestic Product, adding that the illegal business was already undermining our social structures.`
He warned that if allowed to fester, the trade would turn the Niger Delta into gang land, saying that already, people in the chain of oil theft, are feared, revered or even admired as people who are doing well as prominent international oil traders by the unsuspecting public.
Kuku said the vicious cycle of vandalism, detection repair, and back to vandalism is what results into the estimated loss, adding that it is difficult to correctly estimate how much is actually stolen.
“This bleeding of our economy must stop so that we can earn more to fund development all over the country. This bleeding must stop so that the Niger Delta people can fulfil their full economic potential,” Kuku siad.
On his part, Ezeoba said it was time for the various stakeholders to come to equity with clean hands as posterity will judge all those engaging in criminality. He said the biggest theft occurs at the export loading terminals, noting that Nigeria was the only country where every vessel loads a caveat of +5 per cent.
The Naval chief blamed the oil companies for living pipelines unprotected and pushing the blames to the government and communities.
He said: “In this country, oil companies have provided enabling environment for criminality to thrive. They should as a matter of urgency, put in place structures that ensure proactivity and not reactionary measures.
“There is disconnect in the area of enforcement and prosecution. Until recently that the Minister for Justice rose to the occasion, there has been no sanity in the system as people are not properly sanctioned,” he said.
For a solution, Ezeoba called for reduction of capacity gap in the armed forces, saying the processes should be redefined beginning from oil companies to enthrone transparency and accountability.
“The companies should start putting in place the use of technology to ensure pipelines security and integrity. Also, they should clearly establish the right of way of pipelines, such that anyone caught trespassing will be held liable.
“It is their responsibility to ensure the needs of the people are met, as well as give them a sense of belonging; they should without delay, ensure the environmental resuscitation of the Niger Delta, while the oil majors should as a matter of urgency, review their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).”
Also, he said the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), should be passed without delay, as the proposed bill would restore hope to Nigerians.
He said government should ensure that the Mega Filling Stations in the Niger Delta are functional and that new ones should be built so that the people can have access to the product.
Dabiro who acknowledged that the burning of arrested illegal products constitute environmental pollution, noted that the JTF should ensure that destructions are carried out far from residential areas.
He said there is need to increase the 6, 102 personnel in the JTF to carryout its mandate in the Niger Delta as well as provide it with equipment to function effectively.
The NSCDC boss called for stiffer punishment to all offenders, saying Council has handed over 87 cases to the Attorney General for prosecution.
Akpobolokemi said it was insincerity, greed and lack of honesty by government officials, oil companies and communities that has brought the country to this level.
“Until we are prepared to change our attitudes, nothing will happen. Steadily, illegally sourced products are taken to the Lagos area and droped into tank farms. Are there no owners of these tank farms? Have we made efforts to arrest or prosecute them? he asked.
He said activities around the oil industry has brought mental laziness,but said he was pleased with the efforts of the President to bring sanity into the industry.
– Precious Igbonwelundu, The Nation