Aiteo Denies Involvement in Protest Against JTF over Illegal Oil Bunkering

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• Says Nembe Creek pipeline shut for total of 145 days

• Over 50m barrels of crude oil deferred in three years

Ejiofor Alike

Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production, operator of the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) and the prolific Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 – both in the eastern Niger Delta – has denied its involvement and that of its chief executive Benedict Peters, in a protest by youths against the security Joint Task Force (JTF) in the oil-rich region.

The oil firm has also gone into details highlighting the losses incurred from vandalism on the NCTL, saying this has led to the shutdown of the pipeline for about 145 days and an approximate deferment of 50.386 million barrels of crude oil (net) for the six oil firms that pump crude oil into the NCTL since it took over its operatorship in September 2015.

The JTF is a security operation of the federal government comprising the military, the police and civil defence corps. Its primary responsibility is to provide security cover to oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta and prevent oil theft and illegal bunkering in the region.

Despite its presence in the region for over a decade, illegal activities including piracy have continued unabated.

Allegations have also swirled over the involvement of JTF officials in the illegal acts in the oil-rich region.

Last Friday, hundreds of youths had at a press briefing accused the Commander of Operation Delta Safe (Commander of the JTF), Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman, of complicity in illegal bunkering and oil theft and called for his immediate removal from office.

But in his defence, the navy admiral had pointed accusing fingers at Aiteo and its chief executive of being behind the allegations made by the youths.

Reacting Monday, Aiteo, in a statement issued by its management, said: “We have read with consternation, comments attributed to the embattled Commander of Operation Delta Safe, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman on or about June 1, 2018, in which, ostensibly in defence to serious allegations levelled against him, he unfoundedly suggested that ourselves and our chief executive officer, Benedict Peters were somewhat responsible for the publicly aired complaints about actions and outcomes arising from his work at the JTF.

“To put the factual matrix in perspective, it appears that on June 1, 2018, hundreds of youths connected to the Niger Delta region organised a world press conference at Abuja, within which one of the central themes was to draw attention to the activities of Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman in his role as the JTF supremo.

“Allegations were made against him, accusing him of complicity in the growing menace of illegal bunkering and oil theft and calling for his immediate removal from office.”

Aiteo stressed that it was not in any way involved in the allegations made by the youths against Suleiman, noting that any attempt to suggest otherwise was a distraction that is bound to fail.

“For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, any attempt by the embattled Admiral Suleiman to suggest our involvement in the activities of those who undertook the event or indeed any other related activity is a distraction designed to fail.

“It does not in any way detract from the weight of allegations with which Admiral Suleiman has been publicly confronted nor the overwhelming need for him to engage in a process that will allow him to deal with the substantive issues that flow from that event,” the company added.

Aiteo maintained that Admiral Suleiman’s attempt to divert attention from himself was an “ill-conceived, reckless and ineffectual response aimed at fabricating a distant alibi to aerate a degenerating sore of a festering personal wound”.

“Clearly, the Admiral misguidedly considers that there is some form of wrongdoing around the genuine agitation by a people to get protection for their land, property and assets from the vile criminality that oil theft has become.

“For someone who professes to lead a security entity whose principal objective is to engender community safety and protection, this disposition suggests abject insensitivity and a total lack of responsibility, issues presumably at the top of the list of those seeking a change to JTF’s leadership.

“Aiteo has enormous responsibilities in the oil industry requiring focused intensity and attention in the execution of our quite considerable commercial obligations.

“With a daily production in the region of 90,000 barrels per day (bpd), the NNPC/Aiteo JV is now directly responsible for producing five per cent of the country’s daily oil production. In doing so, the group employs over several hundred direct staff and thousands of others indirectly through contractors and service suppliers.

“This sense of responsibility is the bedrock on which our commercial and other activities are founded. Sadly, this oil theft has meant that we are one of the biggest victims of oil theft in the country.

“As the opportunity regretfully presents, we consider it apt to clarify a number of ‘matters arising’ from the admiral’s unfortunate comments:

•The admiral referred to the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) as the property of Benedict Peters. This is a poor, ill-informed and disappointing description of the ownership interests in an extremely valuable asset, which the JTF under his leadership professes to support. We need hardly remind him, a very senior naval officer, that the NCTL is actually more the property of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and we, as operating partners, holding a minority interest. The NCTL is an asset owned by the NNPC/Aiteo Joint Venture in which Aiteo owns 45 per cent and the Nigerian Government owns 55 per cent. How then can the rear admiral reasonably suggest that the pipeline is the property of one individual? There are several other oil majors whose crude is injected and transported by the NCTL, including Belema Oil Producing Limited, Eroton Exploration and Production Company, Newcross Petroleum Limited, and Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). Shutdown of such a strategic public infrastructure due to activities from illegal bunkering has a staggering effect on the commercial fortunes of these companies and a significant impact on the Nigerian economy from the ensuing loss of revenue for government.

•As a result of recurrent theft along the NCTL pipeline route resulting in significant pressure reductions on the trunk line, theft points identification as well as illegal refineries, and corroborated by several joint investigative visits constituted by various regulatory bodies and the applicable host community, Nigeria has experienced a loss of production and revenue that should have accrued to the country. In Dec 2016 alone, 45.46 per cent of the total net crude injected into the NCTL was lost on this basis which implies that the country lost revenues that could have been accumulated in the country’s treasury from crude sales.

• Third party interference with the line has often resulted in oil leaks, which ultimately culminate in shutting down the NCTL to undertake emergency repairs. This in itself has resulted in the NCTL being shutdown for about 145 days and an approximate deferment of 50.386 million barrels of crude oil (net) for the six injectors into the NCTL since Aiteo took over the operatorship of the trunk line in September 2015.

•As recently as May 1, 2018 there were a total of 24 illegal bunkering points identified along the NCTL. Aiteo has successfully repaired nine of these illegal bunkering points during May at a huge cost to the company. These illegal bunkering points also contribute to the huge losses on the volumes injected across the NCTL by the six OMLs and the volumes actually received at the Bonny Terminal.

•Due to the continued vandalism of the NCTL and resulting oil theft, Aiteo has written to the federal government, through the Chief of Army Staff, General TY Buratai on two occasions (April 17 and 23, 2018), requesting the involvement of the armed forces in reinforcing existing security arrangements to the pipeline as the incessant security breaches were resulting in losses amounting to billions of naira for the country. We have made similar efforts to other arms of the security apparatus of the country.

•Aiteo is very concerned, not just about the effect of these disruptions on its bottom-line, but the health and livelihoods of people living in these areas. This tragic trajectory is not only condemnable but inimical to human existence, in the long term. It appears that this is a situation that is lost on the admiral.

•It is intriguing that the admiral, rather than address the allegations directed at him, opted unwisely to allege that Mr. Peters supposedly supported the protest because he is ‘trying to hide something’. By these utterances, he personalises and trivialises a matter of grave national concern in an incomprehensibly absurd manner. Aiteo and others with proprietary interest in the pipeline are the hitherto unmitigated victims. As we have indicated, we have pressed relentlessly for the involvement of all arms of the security apparatus of the country to find an enduring solution to the problem, hardly the action of one with ‘something to hide’!

•In our view, instead of seeking the location of ‘shadows’, the admiral anxiously needs to address the issues that are critical to eking out a long-term solution to this pervading menace. Some of these issues are captured in recurring questions that may even have been articulated by those communities complaining about the JTF’s role as follows:

(a) Why has large-scale illegal oil bunkering and refining assumed unprecedented dimensions in recent times?

(b) Is it correct that the security forces are now offering protection/escort services to those allegedly responsible for oil theft?

(c) How is it that vessel movement of the oil thieves occurs unnoticed in the region despite heightened activity in large-scale illegal bunkering?

•Nigeria cannot afford to remain passive as our sovereign wealth is being aggressively pilfered, aided by indifference on the part of relevant stakeholders. These activities are highly injurious to the economy of a country vacillating between a recession and the fringes of economic stability. As a major indigenous producer, we identify with issues about which the communities rightly complain. Although – and again we make this abundantly clear – we have not instigated them to participate in any protest, we believe the object of their complaint about the persistence of illegal bunkering remains germane. All hands must be on deck to diminish and extinguish the theft of oil across the NCTL and other such national facilities and its attendant implications,” Aiteo stated.

The company restated that it did not “mastermind” any of the protests by Niger Delta communities, noting that as a socially responsible organisation, “it understands that the community bears the brunt of illegal bunkering and refining activities”.

“Indigenes of these communities remain morally and legally free to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed civic rights to peacefully protest against the ills in their community till their voices are heard and desired remedial or corrective actions are taken,” Aiteo added.

The company reiterated its long-standing commitment to due process and international best practices in the discharge of every aspect of its statutory mandate.