Stop The Bleeding

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The Buhari administration will do well to flush out the crude oil thieves and prosecute them
We cannot say we are fighting a war on corruption when a band of never-do-wells haemorrhage our boon daily, and we do nothing. Our first public hint came from the voice of the oil minister, Timipre Sylva, when he announced that Nigeria loses about 400,000 barrels of crude oil a day from theft.

It stunned the nation. From the alarm across the country and the social media, it would appear the massive theft is new crime. It is not. It has been with us for decades. We have been abiding a leaky regime of oil amidst poverty of mammoth dimensions.

The breakdown of the loot reached the ears of citizens from official quarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd. Here’s how it’s managing director, Mele Kyari, told the story.

We lose not 400,000 barrels of oil a day, but 437,000 a day, and this is the story from January to July this year alone. This amounted to $10 billion or N4.3 trillion if we reckon with the official exchange rate of N430 to a dollar.

If we lost N4.3 trillion for the first half of this year, it means we have lost an average of over N8 trillion a year in the past at least 40 years. We can imagine, how brazen this affair has been, both under the military and democratic governments.

Also Read: SERAP Drags Buhari’s Administration to Court Over Oil Theft

If we are looking for how generations of Nigerian elites have failed the citizens of this country, we can only look at the theft of crude oil as not only a metaphor but also as crude evidence; Metaphor because it tells the woe of impunity, and how top officers of state across branches of agencies and military cadres have canonised criminality.

It shows that if they can go the whole hog to steal in broad daylight with such liberality of evil, how easy has it been to plunder our resources by stealth, under the cover of sheltered offices and signatures?
We are still trying to imagine how one man can make away with N80 billion without going through the mechanics of illegal bunkering.

Why crude oil theft worries most Nigerians is because it is a crime committed without fear because favours are easy. How it occurs is just being unveiled by the announcement in the past few weeks exposing the illegal refineries. It baffles many to even hear of lifting the veil on refineries as though they are so clandestine that it takes special investigation to shine a light on them.

To tap crude oil needs machines. It needs personnel and it requires time. It is oil, so it gurgles. It therefore emits sound. For the seeing, the machines fill space. For those with human recognition, the personnel can be sighted and identified. Unless we are hard of hearing, we can hear the machines whir and oil rush.

To add to this, the big-time players who are responsible for the crime cruise into the Nigerian territorial waters with huge vessels. These vessels cannot enter our waters without the knowledge of our navy. They do not only splosh and splash the waters, they linger for long. They have to stay on the high seas and wait for pipes and barges to convey the crude to the huge vessels. This is not an operation for a few hours.

Also Read: Nigeria’s Oil Woes To Get Worse Before They Get Better

If we lose 437,000 vessels a day, it means that they are not working alone. Those who see them shut their eyes or look away. Those who hear, pretend not to hear. It is the Delta, and there are locals who work and live in the region. They know about this. Those who refine, also sell them before the eyes of the Nigerian officers and leaders, both military and civilian elite.

The secret has operatives in every local government in the country. The Delta is not immune. So, the Department of State Services (DSS) knows about it. It has therefore condoned it. Or is it that it knows and has reported the activities and no one has cared to do anything, including the president and commander-in-chief?

The news made the rounds that a militant known as Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo) snagged a contract of N40 billion to expose the thieves. The logic is that we can catch a thief by employing a thief.
This is a scandal on its own. It is pandering. It is also surrender or official collusion.  We do not need a contract with anyone to seek out the thieves. They are in plain sight. We just have to push them out.

There is self-deceit or deliberate defiance of fact by the government. If we have DSS, the Navy, the Nigerian police, the state governors and other law enforcement agencies, why do we need a special person to root them out? It is the same point this newspaper has made about fighting terror in the land. We have said the bandits are no spirits and they can always be rooted out with a force of will. We are beginning to see results as the Kaduna State Governor, Malam El Rufai, has noted recently.

Good that some oil rigs have been knocked out of business. But it is not enough. Who are the culprits? It is not just enough to stop their business, they have to face the outraged majesty of the law. They have to be prosecuted and punished. There is no deterrence if the criminals still roam among us. They will find their way back into the business again. It is like all labour’s lost.

Also Read: N/Delta: Tompolo Security Discovers 16 Illegal Tapped Points in Trans-Escravos Oil Pipeline

This year alone, we could not even meet the 1.73 million barrels a day quota from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Our production output fell to 1.1 million barrels per day. We had an opportunity to make a lot of profit from the Russian invasion of when the of oil rose to as high as $112 per barrel.

But we could not because we were also importing oil. The paradox hit us that we saw wealth but it would injure us. At first, we had a shortfall of 270 barrels a day when we produced 1.4 million barrels a day; the shortfall rose to about 600 barrels a day when production fell to 1.1 million barrels a day. At a shortfall of 270 barrels a day, we were losing $23 million a day.

This scandal needs to stop. The National Assembly needs to hold the executive to account. We need a ruthless clean-up of the region, flush out all those behind crude oil theft whether directly or indirectly, discontinue the N40 billion contract with Tompolo, and bring all culprits to face the law. This must be treated like an emergency.

We are not seeing any haste in the government in this matter. Already, our citizens believe the government is in cahoots with the hoodlums. The Buhari administration will do well to act with dispatch and add to a legacy of integrity by restoring our oil patrimony as it winds down. We cannot live in a country where a set of drones lap up our wealth while others starve, toil and die

Nation [Editorial] 

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