Sunday, 6 April 2014

Oil theft: The untamed monster in Delta State

Security men at an illegal refineryEbenezer Adurokiya writes that criminality relating to crude oil in Delta State may not really be on the wane despite the efforts by security agencies and the government to stem the tide.
A local adage says that when a dog tastes human blood, it will be thirsty for more if not quickly shown the way to the grave. This perhaps explains the state of illegal oil business in the Niger Delta, particularly Delta State. Crude oil can be crude, but it is sweet. Its sweetness lies in the unquantifiable monetary gains it oozes out into the hands of its explorers and exploiters.
Interestingly, the army of aggrieved and greedy youths that have signed into the money-spinning cartel of oil bunkering, illegal refinery business, illegal ferrying and sale of crude oil to thieving
foreign and local ships owners and the like is daily on the increase despite relentless efforts being daily made by the Nigerian Navy and the Army to stem the tide.
Like the proverbial Aneke bird, which has learnt to fly without perching, the successes achieved by the security agencies cannot be compared with the rate at which many youths are still being enrolled into the illegal businesses and the level of determination and sophistication with which the illegal business is now being perpetrated. This is because it is seen as a better option than militancy.
Factors enhancing the illegal business
President Goodluck Jonathan, during his visit to Netherlands for the 2014 global Nuclear Security Summit, acknowledged the enormity of the effects of crude oil theft and its variants on the Nigerian and perhaps, global economy.
He said: “Oil theft is an aspect of global terrorism, which has become a big industry on its own. It has become a major threat to the Nigerian economy and we need to work with all stakeholders to curb it. The thieves must be traced, apprehended and prosecuted.”
However, the fangs of poverty, unemployment, neglect, leadership failure, environmental degradation and opulence of expatriates and non-expatriates alike, amid excruciating wretchedness and impoverishment of the natives, among others, keep biting hard and these have been advanced as the root causes of oil theft and its variants.
A Warri-based peace and conflict expert, Mr Robinson Ariyo, in a chat with InsideNigerDelta, also identified the involvement of low and top military and civilian personalities as beneficiaries and root causes of the persistent illegal oil business in the zone.
Ariyo, who is managing director of Robinson Ariyo & Co Law Firm located in Warri, also fingered the illegal international market and community leaders who are perpetual beneficiaries of the menace as parts of the contributing factors.
“It is a common but expensive joke in Delta State that when an officer of the Nigeria Navy, Nigeria Army, Nigeria Police and other security outfits is posted to the state, especially the oil-producing part, he or she goes for a thanksgiving even before resumption of duty! In a country where gratuity benefits are hard to come by after leaving service, many of such officers, after their stints in the state, are usually retired from the force because it is believed they have been “settled.” So, a transfer to the state is seen as a call to be “compensated” and relieved from the yoke of retiring to penury.
“So, while carrying out their responsibilities on waterways, very palpable among the three security agents, is cold rivalry and competition.”
Fruitless attempts by security agents to stamp out the menace
It is on record that between January and December last year alone, several million  litres of locally refined diesel were destroyed by men of the Nigeria Army and the Nigeria Navy at various points in oil-producing communities in Delta State alone. In the wake of these raids and destructions of illegal refineries in deep creeks, many suspects were arrested and handed over to relevant agencies for prosecution.  A good number of massive illegal refinery camps, several boats and tanks laden with millions of AGO were also destroyed in the said period.
An illegal refineryUnfortunately, the raids have been to no avail because the perpetrators keep returning or relocating to other areas in the creeks to continue the perpetration of their illegal acts. Mostly caught on these acts are youths, breast-feeding mothers and their children, acclaimed students of higher institutions or school certificate drop outs, hungry boys and girls who are struggling to make ends meet. When caught, most of them hinged their enrolling into the dangerous business on poverty, hunger, lack of jobs, the economic downturn in the country, and several other reasons.
“A beg, make una forgive me. Na hustle I dey hustle. I go chop, I go pay my pickin school money. A beg, make una forgive me, make una let me go,” was the plea of a nursing mother, Mama Destiny, who was caught by soldiers ferrying away  a boat loaded with locally-refined diesel recently.
The Nigeria Navy is at the forefront of the fight against various crimes related to oil bunkering as well as other illegalities on water ways in the Niger Delta. Each Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) posted to the Central Naval Command, Yenagoa as well as commanders to naval bases like the Nigeria Navy Ship (NNS) Delta, on assumption of office, usually goes through the ritual of boasting to root out the menace from their areas of responsibilities.
For instance, the immediate past FOC, Rear Admiral Sidi Alli and Commander, NNS Delta, Commodore Muhammed Garba, had a hectic time making life difficult for unrepentant oil  dealers to continue with their illegal business.
In October 2013, Rear Admiral Sid-Alli disclosed to journalists during his visit to Warri naval base that his command had evolved other non-military means of tackling crude oil theft in the Niger Delta.
He informed journalists that efforts were being made to reach out to coastal communities where crime and criminalities were being perpetrated as relating to crude oil theft, illegal bunkering, illegal oil refineries, oil pipeline vandalism and piracy and sea robbery.
According to him, “We’ve been trying as much as possible to get to every oil-bearing communities to make them very friendly with us and we have achieved some results in this regard. Today, they  know we are here to achieve something of interest to everyone, the communities inclusive.”
In his farewell parade a few weeks ago in Warri, Commodore Garba, on his part, revealed to journalists that his men destroyed no less than eight million litres of illegally refined petroleum products within just 13 months when he held sway as commander of NNS Delta.
The elated naval boss also disclosed that to a very large extent during his 13 months in the saddle, the battle against kidnapping, sea piracy, pipeline vandalisation and other forms of criminality and illegality, drastically nosedived.
Without any doubt, since his assumption of office, the new commander, NNS Delta, Captain Musa Gemu, who took over from Commodore Garba barely a month ago, has risen to the occasion. In one fell swoop, his men, in collaboration with Delta State Waterway Security Services, on March 5 rescued three kidnapped Indians aboard a vessel, 70 nautical miles off Brass at Ajidaibo community near Ugborodo in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State.
The three Indians, who were abducted by pirates/kidnappers for monetary gain, were Messr Manuel Gahlawat (captain), Ratan Chandhra (chief engineer) and  Miyanak Caini (chief officer), employees of CS Offshore Nigeria Limited, owners of the vessel.  Similarly, a fortnight ago, men of the Warri naval base, under the watch of Captain Gemu, raided some creeks, arresting five oil thieves and destroying over 260 illegal refineries in the process.
The eight-hour operation inside Oteghele Phase One and Two forest in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta, saw the burning of over 100,000 metric tonnes of Automated Gas Oil (AGO) and seizure of some implements used by the perpetrators in carrying out their dirty but lucrative business.
InsideNigerDelta observed that the perpetrators of the crime had acquired more sophistication in the manner and technology deployed in carrying our their nefarious act. The raided camps were like a factory workshop where big time manufacturing work is being executed daily. Implements belonging to carpenters, plumbers, welders, bricklayers, among other artisans all littered the camps.
At some of the camps are items like different sizes of rolls of hoses, water pumping machines, huge GP plastic tanks and metal tanks constructed by welders at the camp, roofing sheets, trampoline, just name it all found their ways through waterways to these camps.
There are also tents built with iron roofing sheets. These home-away-from-home tents are well-equipped with beddings, kitchen utensils, cosmetics, detergents, generating sets, music gadgets, electric fans, insecticides, foodstuffs, hard drinks, condoms, etc that suggests to any good observer that the illegal business is for real and has come to stay. Perpetrators spend weeks and months in these camps with their lovers, plundering abandoned oil well heads and siphoning crude oil from them in a very large volume.  
Speaking on preventive security surveillance, Commanding  Officer of 3 Battalion, Nigerian Army, Effurun, in a chat with InsideNigerDelta some time ago, said the the Joint Task Force (JTF) saddled with the responsibility of tracking oil bunkering and other oil-related offences were studying how to identify and investigate sources of implements and items used by the criminals with a view to plugging the holes.
Effects of wrong approach in mitigating the menace
The declaration of war against crude oil theft and illegal refineries was a post-amnesty fall-out with the mandate from the presidency to arrest culprits and destroy vessels and products recovered from them. This came on the heels of dwindling proceeds from sale of crude oil at the international market due to stealing and selling of crude oil to illegal markets.
Experts believe that the approach is not only crude, but smacks of wastefulness of an already dwindling natural and national fortune. The worth of volumes of locally refined AGO and crude oil burnt in the last three years by soldiers and the navy in Delta State alone in camps and on rivers is unimaginable. Besides the environmental degradation that may result from this burning, material fortunes in form of vessels, plastic reservoirs are lost daily to a poor and crude way of discouraging or stamping out the vice.
Because the aftermath of arrested oil thieves suspects are hardly known, a source confided in InsideNigerDelta that their pay masters usually secure their release with their ill-gotten wealth.  But the security agents would be quick to inform the public that the culprits had been handed over to Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) for prosecution.
With the volume of locally-refined AGO, petrol and kerosene obtained from the stolen crude oil, is there no way the government can turn it over and make the product better refined for use instead of resorting to burning, thereby reaping the environment and it’s ecosystem bare? Is burning the solution to checkmating oil thieving? Can’t the crude oil seized from the thieves be returned to oil companies to refine it instead of setting it ablaze?
The fact remains that the hazards associated with the activities of burning of stolen crude oil and locally-refined AGO outweigh the hazards visited on the environment through so-called oil spillages by oil-multinational companies.
Way forward
How on earth could the  huge loss of millions of litres of crude oil and locally-refined products be viewed as a way to discourage perpetrators from the money-spinning illegal business? Or how can the N160 billion President Goodluck Jonathan said would be voted to curb crude oil theft, pipeline vandalism and apprehend and prosecute suspects  actually curb the menace? Since past strategies have not stopped the criminality, won’t it be better for the government to seek new ways out of the quagmire?
While speaking with InsideNigerDelta over the weekend on the issue, peace and resolution expert, Mr Ariyo, said, among others, that more stringent penalties and enforcement should be adopted to stem the menace.
“There should be a reward system for communities that discourage oil-stealing; there should be pacts with foreign destination countries; and involvement of communities in equity holdings in oil exploration,” Ariyo admonished.
With the reasonable success achieved in the Amnesty Programme, the Federal Government could seek similar training for suspects picked up from these local refinery camps and integrate them into the technical know how of refining crude oil in a cottage, but with a better technology while the government  imposes a tax regime on them.
This is because it is believed that the locally-refined products are usually substandard with much water still retained in them. Buyers, either local or international, of the ill-processed products, as gathered, usually do more work on it or mix them with quality ones and sell to unwary customers. Such fake AGO mixed with original one in fuel stations, it was gathered, usually wears out vehicles’ engines in no time.

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