Navy: Renewed Fight against Crude Oil Theft Has Denied Criminals N30bn Stolen Products

•Says 100 suspects arrested, awaiting prosecution 

•FG lacks political will to tackle menace, TUC declares

Chiemelie Ezeobi, Ugo Aliogo and Ijeoma Okonji

The Nigerian Navy’s renewed fight against crude oil theft through the ongoing Operation Dakatar Da Barawo has denied criminals over N30 billion stolen products from illegal refinery sites in the Niger Delta.

Also, over 100 suspects have been arrested and handed over to the prosecutory agencies like the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Department of State Services (DSS).

The Director or Naval Information (DINFO), Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan made this disclosure yesterday when he paid a courtesy visit to the Ikoyi headquarters of THISDAY Newspaper.

But as the country continues to suffer huge economic sabotage due to high level of pipeline vandalism, the President General of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Festus Osifo has expressed displeasure over what he described as federal government’s lack of political will to tackle crude oil theft.

Received by the Managing Director, THISDAY, Mr. Eniola Bello; the Managing Editor, Mr. Bolaji Adebiyi; Sunday Editor, Mr. Davidson Iriekpen; ICT Director, Mr. Victor Ojogun, the DINFO briefed them on the efforts made by the navy so far to tackle maritime crimes, particularly crude oil theft.

Launched on April 1, 2022, the ongoing operation, which is in synergy with the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) was instituted to curb crude oil theft (COT) and associated crimes.

To this end, he said the entire naval assets and personnel in the Niger Delta have continually and vigorously fought the menace of COT as directed by the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo.

In the ongoing operation, they have destroyed hundreds of illegal refinery sites (IRS), ovens and storage tanks, impounded vehicles and tanker-trucks, seized boats, and recovered outboard engines and pumping machines.

Ayo-Vaughan added that the Navy has increased its counter security operations against maritime criminality, especially with the use of Swamp Buggies to destroy illegal refining sites (IRS).

On piracy on the maritime domain, he said to cement the efforts made by the NN, the recent International Maritime Bureau (IMB) report exited the country from its piracy list, following the significant decline in such attacks in Nigerian waters, adding that, “Nigerian waters are safer now in terms of piracy.”

On the alleged collaboration between the security agents and crude oil thieves, he alluded to the push for resource control as one of the reasons why oil theft thrives, adding that some of the people in the Niger Delta see the oil as their own and have unfortunately mastered connivance.

He said: “I want to look at it from the aspect of the kinetic means that we have put up in the last years. Oil theft has been there for a long time.

“Unfortunately, some of our personnel are also complacent and compromised. But under the present leadership of Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, with the renewed fight against crude oil theft, that is in the past.

“We will continue to do the needful. We’ve not had issues of compromised personnel but we see it on the other side.

The Chief of Defence Staff is addressing that.”

Shedding more light on the crude oil theft saga, he said it was a multi-faceted issue where these criminals steal from vandalised pipelines from unused and not commercially viable oil wells.

He said: “International oil companies complete exploration of our oil well according to the regulation and standard international practice. Once you do that, you seal the oil well because it is no longer commercially viable but it can still produce.

“The problem is that they don’t seal it. So it creates an avenue for people that are living off the creeks to have access to the crude oil. If access can be denied then you cannot get the crude. But when access is there, that’s when theft occurs.”

On measures by the navy to tackle this, he said they patrol the entire Niger Delta, particularly in the Port-Harcourt axis, Warri, and Yenagoa axis where they have identified the illegal refining sites.

“Many of them have set up heavy metallic steel ovens and drums for the refining process. In these cases, we use Swamp Buggies to destroy them. It entails a lot of resources and that is why operation Dakatar Da Barawo was set up and launched by the Nigerian Navy in collaboration with NNPC for logistics.

“Our men are there every day. As I speak to you, they are carrying out different patrols in the creeks to ensure that they do not reactivate those illegal refining sites. Now, that is the kinetic means.

“The non-kinetic means is for political leaders- the governors in the Niger Delta to prevail on the people and get meaningful engagement for the young people that don’t have anything to do apart from vandalising oil pipelines.

“Perhaps, that’s the reason Tompolo has been given the contract again to mobilise the young people and ensure they are not vandalising pipelines, using the human resources on ground to address the problem.”

FG Lacks Political Will to Tackle Menace, TUC Declares

Meanwhile, the TUC President General has expressed displeasure over what he described as federal government’s lack of political will to tackle crude oil theft.

He said this was the first time in Nigeria’s history that international crude oil prices would be rising and the federal government would be aggressively borrowing money instead of saving the surplus oil proceeds in the sovereign wealth fund or Excess Crude Account (ECA).

Osifo, who disclosed this yesterday in Lagos, during a media briefing, noted that the ECA has depleted to almost zero, apart from the initial seed fund of $1 billion, saying, “I am not sure it has been funded in the last 10years.”

He called on the federal government to wake up to its responsibilities, adding that governance was about repositioning the economy for growth and ensuring that citizens enjoy the dividends of democracy.

He called on the federal government to implement stiffer penalties to punish culprits involved in crude oil theft, adding that this would serve as deterrent to others intending to engage in the act and restore sanity to sector.

He advocated for the use of drone technology to carryout pipeline surveillance, pointing out that instead of placing soldiers who would compromise, “you can have a multi-layer and a sophisticated control room where you monitor these activities, and you can respond swiftly, if there is a suspicious activity.”

He disclosed that affiliates of TUC and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) were planning to have a sensitisation across the six geopolitical zones from September 7th to 8th on the matter.

This, according to him, was a push that came from TUC as well, “because we felt that it is fundamentally wrong for the crude oil theft to continue.”

Continuing, he stated that: “I listened to the Group Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) recently as he stated that there is a total collusion. The collusion is total, both from the community, those outside the communities, both from stakeholders in the oil and gas sector, the security personnel sent to man the pipelines.

“I can tell you that a lot of security personnel they are paid handsomely well outside their salaries to protect the pipelines. The Naval and Army officers, are paid well on a daily basis to protect these pipelines. But they collect these monies and collude with those in the community to also steal this crude oil. So it is a fundamental problem.

“So the challenge today is that a lot of companies that are operating in the Niger-Delta are shutting down their production because some of them will pump in 50,000 barrels and at the end of the day, they will get like 2000 or 3000 barrels, so it is better they shut down, than recording losses.

“So that is why when it is reported that about 400,000 barrels are lost. It is not actually because the entire barrels are stolen, but because most of the companies have decided to shut down their operations in those large areas.

“So it is a fundamental problem. We should stop talking now, we should start acting. Those whose responsibility it is to solve the problem should go to the field and using technology to solve the problem.

“It is not about coming to the media and start making inciting statements. Those are not really necessary. Because the problem we have had is you have the Chief of Army Staff sitting somewhere in Abuja and giving press statements.

“But what are the machineries put in place to ensure that those junior officers that are posted to the creeks in the Niger Delta are actually doing the work they are posted there to do? Those are the things they should be telling us. And those are the things we want to hear.”

Commenting on the prolonged industrial action by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Osifo called on the federal government to borrow money to meet their demands.

He further pointed that the National Assembly recently disclosed that the 2023 budget will be in deficit, adding that they had proposed N19 trillion.

Owing to this, Osifo, who is also the President of PENGASSAN lamented the brain drain facing the country.

According to him, “If the money that wants to be borrowed is to complete the second Niger bridge or railway line, the question is who wants to use them? Those sectors are not more important than education.

“We have been borrowing money to solve our infrastructural problems and no infrastructure that will be more valuable than a human asset. We must get our priority right and government needs to put on its thinking cap.

“In a civilised society, the government is made up of serious-minded people. The common man on the street is more creative than the people elected to public office. We don’t know when the strike will be called off, all we are hearing is blame game.”

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