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So, Who are the Oil Thieves?

So, Who are the Oil Thieves?

Eddy Odivwri

That Nigeria is in serious debt is no news. What should be news is how we got to this sorry low point in our life as a country. How come suddenly, we tumbled from the height of a country that has so much money with our only problem being how to spend it, to a country of puppetry indebted to so many nations in huge margins and profile? We do not need experts in economics to know that Nigeria’s ill fortune is as a result of economic mismanagement, orchestrated by hydra-headed corruption. If there was anyone yet in doubt about this, the revelations on the quantum of crude oil being stolen every day (for nine years) from the Niger Delta creeks, will sure be solid evidence on why we are so richly poor.

With a total (local and foreign) debt profile of over N42.8 trillion naira and a highly depleted foreign reserve, any government succeeding the Buhari administration will surely have a tough time. What that means is that we, the Nigerian folks will surely be in the woods for a long time to come. 

Some have argued that God loved Nigeria so much that everything a country needs to grow and excel was given to us—from human to natural resources, what with our clement weather, vast landmass, bodies of water, etc. etc. Others have however argued that God does not make a mistake. That He grossly over-endowed us with mass and mass of resources, but deliberately gave us acidic leaders who will be so determined to ruin the resources. You can believe any of the theories you want to believe.

However, not all our leaders have been like yam beetles, eating away the yam. But on the average, Nigeria seems to have been pretty unlucky with the kinds of leaders that have come our way.  Next February, comes again the test for electing another leader in a make-or-mar election, as many believe.

For over a month, we have been regaled with tales of the great discovery of how our oil wealth has been stolen mercilessly for years unend. The theft of our crude oil did not just start. The thieves only got lionized. Before now, the stealing was with a modicum of fear of God. Not anymore. The present-day thieves neither fear God nor man. It got to a height last July when the nation could no longer export even the modest OPEC quota of 1.8 million barrels per day. Nigeria was only able to export just about 900 bpd—half of our quota! That should mean half revenue from oil. Yet, it is even worse.

Perhaps it will be consoling if we now earn half of what we ought. But no. Because we have entangled ourselves in the web of subsidy, we are told that our petrol consumption is over 60 million litres per day. At that, the halved revenue from crude oil sale is not even enough to service the sickening so-called subsidy. So, we borrow to subsidise just the PMS (petrol). Many have cried and sworn to the heavens that Nigeria does not consume as much as 60 million litres per day. It is our word against theirs. It has been argued that the refusal to remove the subsidy is benefiting a cabal at the expense of the larger economy.

So, while our subsidy figures keep rising, our revenues keep dropping, faithfully. The result is the heavy deficit we have continued to suffer.

It is said that for months now, the (now) privatized Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Ltd (NNPCL) has not been able to contribute a dime to the national treasury. So, if we are earning zero kobo from crude oil sales which is our main source of revenue, it means that we are clearly in dire straits. It’s been said that the Nigerian government has, on several occasions, resorted to “ways and means” to even pay monthly salaries of workers.

But this same NNPC which has not been able to contribute anything to the nation’s treasury spent over N13 billion on entertainment; N20 billion on phone calls, yes phone calls; N90 billion on media relations; N788 billion on salaries, etc; bringing a total of N788.7 billion “administrative expenses” in 2021.

What kind of organisation is that? Just take another look at the figures and you will understand why we are where we are.

This is the eleventh month of the year. The NNPCL has not paid a kobo into the federation purse for sharing by the three tiers of government, but can incur “administrative expenses” of N788 billion in one year!

All of these are happening at a time that oil and gas companies, all over the world are upping their game, smiling lavishly to the bank and raising their capital worth. But our NNPCL is wringing its hands in helplessness and wretch.

The Saudi Arabian Oil and Gas company, Saudi Aramco, the equivalent of our NNPC, taking maximum advantage of the Russia-Ukraine war, as it concerns global pricing of petroleum products, two days ago, became the most market capitalized company in the world, at $2.426 trillion, beating the hitherto top-ranked Apple brand whose market capitalization stood at $2,415 trillion. But our NNPC, trading in the same global market, is netting a vexatious deficit.

But even if we scale down from the Aramco height and compare with a smaller oil and gas company like Petrobras of Brazil, which is about the same age and capacity with our own NNPCL, the figures of the earnings from Petrobras will make you want to say everybody in NNPC be arraigned on Monday for gross economic sabotage. By early this year, Petrobras had raked in 272 billion Brazilian reals which is the equivalent of about $53 billion. But our NNPC is spending N20 billion on phone calls in one year. Not even calls to heaven will cost as much. 

It is a crying shame that what ought to have been our major source of strength has become not only our weakest link, but indeed our albatross.

While oil-producing countries showcase their might in infrastructure and well-being of their citizens, Nigeria is struggling with the awkward stories of huge theft of her crude, mindless rape of the oil treasury, cruel and criminal connivance of people entrusted with national assets, seizure of diamond bra and exotic jewelry plus seized cars and mansions of a former Petroleum minister, called Diezani Madueke. Our stories are disenabling.

The NNPCL, which recently re-organised its operations and its subsidiaries is expected to be transformed from this depth of economic liability to a profitable venture that can grow the profit margins of the country.

But before then, the guys who have ruin-run the organisation deserve to be questioned on what brought us to this sorry state.

They need to tell us who has been stealing our crude oil all along. They need to tell us how between them and the Nigerian Navy, the crude oil heist had gone on endlessly without a whiff of alarm from them.

It was just about seven weeks ago that the NNPC commissioned an enquiry into the vigorous stealing of our crude. A team of media maven had been shuttling between Abuja and the deep alleys of the Niger Delta creeks on the trail of the crooks. The complex network of collaboration between the thieves, on one hand and the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Police and even the Nigerian Army, not forgetting the Nigeria Customs and the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps (NCDC), on the other hand, had made the tracking and stemming of the malaise somewhat difficult.

The ensuing revelations have been deeply shocking.

Little wonder that among the security apparatchik, there is an intense lobbying by its rank and file to be posted to the creeks, as it had become the gateway to easy and sudden wealth.

It got so bad that the NNPC had to engage a private individual, Government Ekpemupolo, better known as Tompolo, who had no formal training in arms handling and security (though a reformed(?) militant) to secure and protect the pipelines and oil installations in the creeks, at the whopping cost of N4 billion per month. Insider sources say the fee is far more than was announced.

That in itself is a huge and harsh indictment of the nation’s security architecture.

With Tompolo now in command, so many dirty deals have been blown open. The stemming effort was hallmarked by the recent arrest and burning of a vessel which came to steal crude. Some House of Reps members and some busybody lawyers   had argued that burning the vessel had destroyed the evidence that could be used to prosecute the oil thieves. The question is where are all the previously caught thieves? Burning the vessel, though despoils the environment, thus further imperiling the flora and fauna in the creeks, sends a strong signal to the foreign cartel of oil thieves that the game has changed, as a new sheriff is in town.

Under the old order, the navy had always collaborated with the oil thieves to allow ships and vessels sail into our waters uncaught. The NPA Managing Director , Mr Mohammed Bello Koko recently revealed that the  ships on rogue mission, before sailing into the Nigerian waters,  turn off a bar code in the ship that will enable them to be tracked and located within the Nigerian waters; so, that way, they can sail to our creeks, get loaded with stolen crude and sail out undetected. That is only possible with the connivance of the Nigerian navy and even the Nigerian Customs.

The degree of stealing is indeed mind-boggling. If sources say that those illegal pipelines connected over long kilometers from the loading terminals to some illegal platforms where crude is loaded into illegal ships and vessels, then the question must be asked about who is behind them all. It is a technical, highly skilled and expensive engineering process. Some of these questionable platforms are owned by renowned oil companies. So are they also part of the stealing? As Peter Obi will say, poor men don’t steal crude. 

Can the NNPC truly say they are not part of the cartel that has been stealing the crude? Can the Navy say their men have not been aiding and abetting the mindless heist in the oil and gas sector? Can even the Nigerian army claim to be innocent? I am aware of huge sums given to the Nigerian army to reinforce security of the oil and gas sector. To what end has it all been?

When Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, embarked on a drive to shut down all illegal refineries in Rivers State, it was revealed that even some illegal refineries were owned and operated by serving Police DPOs and the like. It is a broad-based cartel.

 It is clearly an organized crime that had gone on for years. Many of the locals who were engaged by the team of media enquirers confirmed that even local people have long been in the business of “helping ourselves with what God gave us”, especially as they do not feel the presence and effect of government in the creeks. 

With the stealing of the crude comes the inadvertent consequence of oil spillage, in some cases. Images from the creeks show the telling effect of the eternal (?) damage done to the Niger Delta environment. Needless to say that those not involved in the stealing of crude have no other legitimate means of earning a living as they can no longer fish nor farm as the waters have been harshly polluted, just as the vegetation have been massively damaged. It is truly a sorry sight, and a reason they are tempted to conclude that the oil which ought to be a blessing has indeed become a caustic curse to them.

So now that the stealing of our crude has been established, what next is the government planning to do? The Buhari-led administration has about six or so months to go. What will he do with those found culpable in the oil pillaging? Will they be part of the handover notes to the incoming administration or will he begin a decisive prosecution of those involved, no matter whose ox is gored?  Will these oil thieves, aka economic saboteurs be left untouched like the thieves that nearly ruined the NDDC whom Mr President vowed to make to cough up all stolen monies, since last year, yet nothing has been done?


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