19 September 2011, NAN- For over three years now, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) depot at Osisioma in Osisioma Local Government Area of Abia State has remained shut, due to the nefarious activities of vandals, who destroyed the pipeline feeding the facility.
Petroleum products’ consumers within the distribution zone of the depot have thus been adversely affected by the inadequate supply of the products. Even where they are available, they are often sold at higher costs, to the financial pains of the consumers.
Hitherto, the Osisioma depot received petroleum products from the Port Harcourt Refinery for further distribution to over 100 outlets in the Abia axis that extends from the Imo River to Osisioma — a spatial distance of about 50 kilometers.
Officials recall that until 2008, the depot operated efficiently and served its catchment area well before the activities of the pipeline vandals became unbearable.
Faced with the vandalism challenge, therefore, officials of the Products and Pipeline Marketing Company (PPMC) and the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), in collaboration with some local communities took measures to check the vandals but to no avail.
The depot was eventually shut down by the NNPC to stem financial loses to the organization. Since then, the consequences of the closure had been dire on consumers and the economy of the surrounding communities in Abia state.
Three years after the shut down, the Abia government, IPMAN and other stakeholders have asked the NNPC to re-open the depot and begin full operations so as to ameliorate the suffering of the people.
According to Mr Nkoro Akujuobi, the Abia Commissioner of Petroleum Resources, the depot’s operation is very vital to fast-tracking the development of the state besides creating opportunities for other businesses.
In furtherance of the objective, the Abia government recently convened a meeting of stakeholders, where practical measures were explored to get the facility functioning again.
In attendance were officials of the NNPC, PPMC, IPMAN, security personnel, traditional rulers and youth organizations of communities within the Abia axis.
Akujuobi described the outcome of the meeting as satisfactory, pointing out that officials at the NNPC headquarters in Abuja had been reached and were well disposed to re-opening the facility.
“We were assured that once adequate security is provided along the pipeline route, petroleum products will be pumped to the depot and that is what informed this stakeholders meeting.
“We are now to involve all communities where the pipeline passes in the security arrangement that has been evolved, so as to ensure that the depot comes back to life,” he said.
Akujuobi lamented the level of youth involvement in pipeline vandalism, assuring that government on its part will continue to pursue programmes that would make the youth more constructively engaged.
“Almost 100 per cent of the vandals are youths. I want them to assist us to succeed and once this is done, they will have a bright future.”
Mr Gilbert Ndukwe, Chairman of the depot’s branch of IPMAN lamented the level of youth criminality along the Abia axis of the pipeline’s route.
He said that while there was adequate security on the pipeline stretch from Eleme to Imo River on the Port Harcourt axis, the same could not be said of the Abia axis, which was porous and vulnerable to vandalism.
He said that IPMAN would do all within its powers to mobilize security for the pipeline, in collaboration with other stakeholders. He stressed that once security was assured, there would be no reasons again to keep the depot shut.
According to a top official of the NNPC, the Osisioma depot has 1003 outlets, which makes it the largest distribution network in the South-East and South-South geo-political zones.
“Its operation is vital to the sustenance of the Port Harcourt refinery as it is meant to evacuate products from the refinery to end users.
“It is a fact that facilities at the refinery can break down if products are stored beyond their capacity and the Osisioma depot provides the major leeway to achieve this,” the official said.
Nevertheless, the efforts of the stakeholders appear to be paying off already as the PPMC is currently test-running the pipeline by pumping water from the Port Harcourt refinery end to the Osisioma depot.
Officials pointed out that the exercise would clearly establish if all leakages along the pipeline’s route have been effectively sealed to make for actual pumping of petroleum products.
“Our concern now is how to safeguard the products because government cannot import petroleum products for use and they will be wasted in the pipeline by vandals.
“What we need is an assurance from all stakeholders that the pipeline will be protected, so as to deliver the products to the consumers,” said Mr Emmanuel Anam, the PPMC Deputy Manager for South-East.
While the stakeholders look forward to the re-opening of the depot with cautious optimism, they, however, continue to appraise their roles in circumstances that led to the closure in the first instance.
Some of them have traded blame over the problem, accusing the other of encouraging bunkering on the pipeline’s route for pecuniary gains.
While some traditional rulers in the host communities have been indicted, security operatives have also been fingered along with some unscrupulous officials of the NNPC and PPMC.
Against this backdrop, therefore, the integration of traditional rulers, community youth leaders, among others into the current plan of action to stem the trend of vandalism of pipeline in the area, has become apt.
The Commandant of the Abia command of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), Mr Nathaniel Ubong said that pipeline vandalism had been a major problem in the area but assured that the corps was rising to the challenge to stem it permanently.
“Due to the closure of the depot, illegal ‘refineries’ have sprung up in Osisioma, Ugwunagbo and Ukwa East and West local government areas of the state.
“The host communities have not been very helpful but as it is now, there seems to be a re-thinking on their part and this gives us hope that things will sort themselves out for better soon, to ensure the free flow of oil products to the depot.”
Eze John Ahuruonye, the traditional ruler of Umuaka in Asa South, said that his community had tried its best to protect the pipeline that passed through his area but bemoaned that “the arrangement collapsed because the people we thought we were protecting turned out to sabotage us”.
“Our past experience is bad because even the PPMC and security agents we were working with got involved in bunkering and we would want them to change their ways if they still want us to be involved in securing the pipeline”.
Mr Chibuike Nwokeukwu a legal adviser to the PPMC is, however, optimistic that things will change for the better with the new arrangement and the strict enforcement of laws guarding the nation’s economic facilities.
He expatiated that with strict application of the law; there cannot be “a passive look” over the perpetration of the crime of pipeline vandalism.
According to him, anybody who observes and does nothing while a pipeline is being broken will be liable.
“We need to use the instrumentality of the law to change the situation and by the time ten persons or more are jailed, arising from conviction over pipeline vandalism, the incidence will stop,” Nwokeukwu said.
Meanwhile, the economic strain arising from the depots’ closure has been excruciating for the people in the communities served by the depot’s outlets.
Citizens have continued to complain about the high costs of petroleum products, while the asking rates for a variety of products and services in the communities have also risen to astronomic levels.
Besides, many ancillary businesses that ran alongside the depot’s operation have ceased to function, thus leading to dearth of incomes for a variety of entrepreneurs.
While the citizens look forward to the depot’s re-opening with heightened enthusiasm, observers hope that the security measures subscribed to by the stakeholders will be faithfully implemented.
By so doing, life will surely be eased for the people, while economic activities in the area will pick up for the peoples’ empowerment.