Criminals are increasingly crippling the operations of the downstream oil sector. They should be checked
Security operatives often brag of going after pipeline vandals. But this usually after the damage had been done. Two weeks ago, on the eve of last Christmas, the country was again treated to such a vain boast after some vandals had wrought extensive damage on the pipelines at Ije-Ododo, a Lagos suburb. The series of explosions that resulted consumed all the perpetrators and panicked the residents of the nearby village. Mr. Umar Manko, Lagos State Commissioner of Police declared after the incident, “We want to remind the vandals that vandalizing pipelines is a criminal offence and we want to tell them to desist or face the wrath of the law. That is our resolution.”
Unfortunately, such tough words are often reserved until the next major havoc is committed. The pertinent question here is: do security agencies really mean what they say about containing the activities of these criminals? The Lagos incident came barely a week after the ruptured point in Arepo, Ogun State, was restored through extensive repair works. The shutdown of that pipeline affected the distribution of fuel throughout the country for months with all its deleterious effects.
But the break-ins by the pipeline vandals had been consistent to the extent that they now pose a major obstacle to the smooth operations of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry. The alarming picture of the activities of the criminals was painted by the acting General Manager Public Affairs of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Fidel Pepple. Since last August over 774 break points had occurred, between the Atlas Cove and Ilorin depot. “Between Atlas Cove and Mosimi Depot, we recorded 181 break points, from Mosimi to Ibadan, we had 421 ruptured points and from Mosimi to Ore, we recorded 50 vandalised points. Also between Ibadan and Ilorin, we had a total of 122 break points,” he said.
But the damage to the economy is more in the capacity of the vandals to cripple effective distribution of petroleum products across the country and foist on the nation increased trucking option which comes with enormous risks and cost. The Managing Director, Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), Mr. Haruna Momoh has consistently highlighted this unfortunate trend. The PPMC records indicate that due to the incessant attacks on the nation’s artery of pipelines, about 75 per cent of products distribution in the country is now done through trucking, better known in oil industry parlance as bridging.
The option requires a fleet of about 1,212 truck loads out from the depots every day to meet the daily national consumption. On the average, a minimum of 10,000 trucks ply the roads daily given that it takes one about a week to journey across the country. Certainly, this is not only dangerous but wasteful and unsustainable. No nation puts this huge number of trucks on its roads daily without serious consequences.
Evidently, the security agencies entrusted with the task of protecting the pipelines have failed woefully. Indeed, residents of Ije-Ododo in Lagos suspected some foul play in the recent incident since the vandalisation came shortly after the withdrawal of the security men protecting the pipelines. Why were they withdrawn?
The threat from the vandals is real. The scale of casualty is high and mounting but the security agencies have a long history of tough words that have been of no effect as the criminals get more and more emboldened. It is therefore incumbent on all the critical stakeholders to come up with a solution that will work. We also urge the communities to be vigilant and keep a close eye on the pipelines within their neighbourhood, even for the sake of their own enlightened self-interest. All said, the bottom-line remains that we must protect these vital assets of the nation from the grip of criminals.