JUST DESSERTS FOR OIL THIEVES
In 1956, four years before the shackles of colonialism snapped off the wrists of Africa`s biggest democracy, a fortuitous discovery in the unassuming soil of the sleepy town of Oloibiri, Bayelsa State, almost went unnoticed.
Many years later, the black gold, discovered in staggering quantities in Oloibiri and much of the Niger Delta has come to define the economy and economic destiny of Nigeria. In many ways, it has also come to line its wounds, giving visible signs to the tension that have run its fragile diversity.
As the years have gone by, while oil has brought dollars-soaked prosperity to Nigeria, other vital sectors of the economy have been criminally neglected just as the table on which corruption has fed fat on the misery of Nigeria and Nigerians has been polished with oil.
At the center of the canvass so horribly cast in the heartbreaking struggles of the Giant of Africa to get its act together are oil thieves and those who enable them. In this wise, recent statistics indeed make the blood run cold. Nigeria is said to be losing as much as $40 million daily to oil thieves.
The thieves as shameless as they are in the barefaced banditry perpetrated against Nigeria`s oil wealth are said to include government officials, security personnel, expatriates and others who play prominent roles in the Nigerian society.
Maybe, it is because many powerful fingers in Nigeria are stained with stolen oil that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is finding it so difficult to curb the menace.
Recently, a forum of former foreign affairs ministers and diplomats under the aegis of the Academy of International Affairs challenged President Buhari to set up a judicial board of inquiry to address the root cause of crude oil theft and fuel subsidy scandal.
In what was a prescription to what remains a heinous headache for Nigeria, the forum also berated the award of the multi-billion dollar pipeline surveillance contract recently made to Tantilla Security Services Limited which is a private security company owned by former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Government Ekpemupolo(a.k.a. Tompolo).
Specifically, the forum noted that it was a vain exercise to ask some of the chief suspects in the oil theft business to go in search of illegal pipelines and oil criminals.
The menace which continues to defy many solutions clearly calls for the constitution of a judicial panel of inquiry which would unravel the root causes of oil theft, the major suspects, as well as make far-reaching recommendations that must be implemented if this costly business is to be conclusively curbed in the interest of the most vulnerable Nigerians.
But, is the government ready to go in all hard? This is highly doubtful because for the government to do that may mean exposing some powerful figures who serve within it. The reluctance is not difficult to understand.
Indeed, it has been long rumoured that the government knows many of those who have their hands in Nigeria`s oil. Yet, it has done next to nothing to expose them to the pains of prosecution and public opprobrium.
Who is to tell that some of the proceeds of oil theft are not being used to sponsor terrorism which is tearing many rural communities in Nigeria to shreds, and driving many innocent families over the edge?
There are many questions and only very answers. A judicial panel of inquiry will no doubt help Nigeria plumb the depths of those questions and ferret out answers.
Kene Obiezu, @kenobiezu