Governor Nyesom Wike’s recent revelation on the alleged involvement of a divisional police officer and a commander of the anti-vandalism unit of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in illegal refinery operation in Rivers State has explained why security officers lobby their superiors in Abuja to be posted to the Niger Delta region. Ejiofor Alike writes that oil theft will reduce drastically if the federal government and other governors in the region adopt Wike’s approach
The authorities of the Nigeria Police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) must have been embarrassed recently when Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State openly accused a divisional police officer (DPO) and the civil defence officer in charge of vandalism of oil pipelines in the state of operating illegal refineries in the state.
Speaking at the Government House in Port Harcourt during a meeting with local council chairmen and heads of security agencies, including the Commissioner of Police in Rivers State, Eboka Friday, the visibly angry governor also demanded immediate redeployment of the two security officers from the state.
The state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Paul Nsirim had revealed that Wike had on Wednesday, January 13, 2021, embarked on fact-finding assessment tour of two local government areas – Ikwerre and Emuoha.
The purpose of the visit, the commissioner disclosed, was for the governor to obtain first-hand information from some of the locations where the operators of the infamous illegal refineries threatening the lives of Rivers people with black soot, had commandeered as their operational bases.
Wike had ignored the risk to his life and dared these heavily armed illegal refinery operators, who are backed by unscrupulous security officials, in their locations.
During the visit, the governor unveiled mind-boggling facts that would help the federal government to tackle oil theft if indeed the war against the menace is not a lip-service.
The governor went through the track roads to the forest of Ogbodo community in Ikwerre Local Government Area and the forest of Ibaa community in Emohua LGA to uncover the illegal refineries that are fed with stolen crude oil.
Rising crude oil theft, coupled with ageing oil and gas infrastructure, had forced Nigeria to record a huge deficit of almost 200 million barrels of oil in the first 11 months of 2021.
As part of the efforts to tackle the menace of crude oil theft, the Rivers governor took the bull by the horns by naming some of those behind these illegal operations.
He had also declared 19 persons wanted, and directed all local government chairmen and community leaders in the state to locate, and identify such sites and also report all those involved for prosecution.
He had also issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the 23 LG chairmen in the state to provide a comprehensive list of illegal refineries and their operators within their jurisdiction.
At the meeting held in Government House with security chiefs, Wike accused the DPO in Emohua LGA of operating illegal refinery and demanded his redeployment from Rivers State.
“Thank you for transferring the DPO who owns a refinery but the man must leave here – not just transfer -he must leave this state. I can’t be governor here and a security man owns an illegal refinery. No, it is not possible. It is either he becomes the governor or I will be the governor. I will not agree. “The man has to go. Take him to wherever they allow bunkering. He shouldn’t be here again,” Wike reportedly told the state police commissioner.
The governor said it was unfortunate and unbelievable for security officials in Nigeria to be involved in illegal bunkering.
“I can’t believe it,” he added.
He also accused the civil defence officer in charge of vandalism of oil pipelines in the state of being a saboteur, and demanded his immediate redeployment from Rivers.
“Where is the civil defence man? Yes, who is the man in charge of pipeline vandalism? Transfer the man! He should leave. He is a saboteur – complete saboteur. I will not allow it. I mean, how can security men be the ones involved? What kind of country are we? If that man is not transferred latest Monday…, I will not take it,” the governor warned.
Wike had repeatedly raised the alarm that the sooth threatening the health of the residents of Port Harcourt was caused by the operation of illegal refineries in the state, and had vowed to go after their operators.
“Now, every council chairman must go and identify where illegal refineries are taking place. If you identify one, you get N2 million. So, go and identify as many as you can. I will pay N2 million for each one. I am going to fight against this. Our people are dying and we owe our people the responsibility to protect them, to save them from death they never caused.
“So, you must, and you’re given 48 hours to go and identify all illegal refineries sites, and those who are in charge of them,” the governor had told the council chairmen.
Nigeria have lost billions of dollars in oil revenues as cases of crude oil theft have continued to rise despite the massive deployment of the military and other security agencies to the oil-producing Niger Delta region to tackle the menace.
Figures from the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Petroleum Commission (NURPC) had indicated that while Nigeria was expected to pump approximately 635 million barrels of oil by November 2021, it struggled to produce only 441 million barrels during the period.
Product losses through the pipelines have continued to rise due to the involvement of the security agents deployed to the region.
As the federal government deploys more security personnel to the region, cases of oil theft continue to rise.
Security experts had alleged that security agents, who lobby to be posted to the region, send ‘returns’ to their superiors in Abuja in appreciation.
Wike alluded to this fact when he told the meeting that “you people (civil defence) are fond of escorting these people – civil defence are the one escorting these people (oil thieves). They sent you here to provide security but you are doing it to kill us. If this is the kind of security you provide, don’t provide it. Civil defence is killing us. Do you people lobby to come here to protect Rivers people or to protect our lives? I will not take it. They will come and give you people money. Are you people not ashamed that you are wearing uniform and look at how the country is going down? Instead of you to fight crime, you are aiding crime. What kind of country is this?” the governor queried.
Wike had thanked the state police commissioner for transferring the affected DPO but mere transfer was not enough punishment for such heinous crimes. The police and NSDC authorities must demonstrate that they are not complicit in crude theft by investigating the affected officers and prosecuting them. It is an an economic crime, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should equally swiftly move in and investigate the affected officers and their collaborate for possible prosecution according to the law.
It is a shame to security agencies that it was a governor who discovered the involvement of their men in these crimes. Wike has obviously put the investigative skills of these agencies to question. The governor’s revelation has also raised concerns on their alleged culpability in these crimes.
Now that Wike has set the pace by daring the lions in their dens, the federal government and other Niger Delta governors should adopt his approach to find a permanent solution to illegal bunkering.