There is need for proper investigation into the alleged oil theft

An oil and gas trading company, Samano SA DE CV, recently accused officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other personnel of the federal government of stealing a whopping 48 million barrels of the country’s Bonny Light crude oil, for sale illegally. According to the claim, Samano’s top officials, Messrs Marco Ramirez Ramirez and Jose Salazar Tinajero contacted senior officials of the federal government, offering to buy the alleged stolen oil which it said was abandoned by some unknown persons. They further claimed that they were subsequently edged out of the deal. Although the NNPC has dismissed the allegations as spurious, we believe the federal government should wade in.

Reports of oil theft in the country have for decades remained ubiquitous and worrying. The scale of the theft is equally enormous which is why we do not consider NNPC’s response to Samano’s claims adequate. We also do not want this to end with allegations and counter-allegations as it appears to be heading. Specifically, we want a proper investigation of the allegations. The current NNPC leadership has shown its commitment for transparency and accountability and it is in its interest to deal with this issue in such manner.

Nigeria’s oil resources are managed by the NNPC on the basis of trust. This trust must be adhered to at all times and in all circumstances. Therefore, there is a need for full disclosure on this particular case. This is more so given recent official reports. For instance, Nigeria, according to the NNPC in August 2019, lost as much as 22 million barrels of oil to theft in the first half of last year. A statement released by the corporation’s spokesman then, Ndu Ughamadu, explained that the stolen oil amounted to more than 120,000 barrels per day (bpd), or roughly six per cent of Nigeria’s daily production.

The NNPC has at various times identified oil theft as a threat to the country’s economy, just as Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Edo State and chairman of the ad-hoc Committee of the National Economic Council on Crude Oil Theft, Prevention and Control, explained then that the 22mbd stolen figure could double by the end of the year if left unchecked. Similarly, the NNPC disclosed in its April 2020 operations report that between April 2019 and 2020, about 1,182 vandalised points were recorded on its oil pipelines. The corporation added that products theft and vandalism have continued to destroy value and put it at disadvantaged competitive position.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), in late 2019 indicated that a whopping $42 billion was lost to oil and products theft by Nigeria in the last 10 years. NEITI, which urged the government to embrace oil fingerprinting technology, comprehensive metering infrastructure for all oil facilities, as well as other creative strategies to combat the growing menace of theft of the country’s crude oil and refined petroleum products, explained that $38.5 billion worth of crude oil alone was stolen from the country within the period, with an average of $11 million lost daily. NEITI also noted that government’s figures claimed that between 150,000 and 250,000bpd of oil was stolen from the country daily, while data from private studies estimated that the case was between 200,000 and 400,000bpd stolen.

Without prejudice, we believe that allegations of oil theft such as that raised by Samano should not get a cynical dismissal but firm consideration and reviews by the NNPC. Beyond bringing a satisfactory closure to the allegations, the federal government must, as a matter of urgency, face squarely the threat of crude oil theft not only to the economy but national security.