The Federal Government has set up a legal task force to prosecute persons found culpable in crude oil theft. Crude oil theft has been on the rise in recent months with the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, recently announcing that Nigeria loses about N150 billion monthly to crude oil theft, thus reducing revenue available to the government for public expenditure.
The task force, which will be headed by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, is expected to use relevant laws, particularly the miscellaneous offences Act which carries a sentence of 21 years without option of fine to prosecute oil theft offenders.
Establishing the task force was an agreement reached by an earlier constituted sub-committee chaired by the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, after a technical level meeting involving key stakeholders; where concerned agencies including security outfits made useful submissions, with more submissions expected from other stakeholders, especially from the oil producing states.
Briefing journalists after the National Economic Council Meeting, chaired by Vice President Namadi Sambo, the Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, said the Governors of Bayelsa and Delta have been mandated to meet with the concerned oil majors and the Joint Task Force to work out modalities for the effective repair of the Nembe and Trans Niger pipelines which are currently shut.
Shell and Agip had shut down their operations at Nembe and Trans respectively causing cumulative loss of over 200,000 barrels per day of crude oil.
Mr. Uduaghan said the committee also mandated Mr. Akpabio, the Secretary to National Planning Commission, the head of the extractive industry transparency initiative, NEITI, and a representative of the Inspector-General of Police to meet with Mr. Adoke towards strengthening the extant deterrence policy by ensuring more arrests and convictions of the oil thieves.
The Bayelsa Governor, Seriake Dickson had earlier said militants involved in oil theft used the money to recruit more members and to purchase arms.
Briefing newsmen alongside the Governors of Adamawa and Gombe, Murtala Nyako and Ibraham Dankwambo; Minister for National Planning, Shamsudeen Usman; and the Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike; Mr. Uduaghan said the legal task force is to be made up of representatives from the state oil company, NNPC, the Armed Forces, Civil Defence, Police, State Security Service, and other related agencies. He added that the task force is to be in force for one year with effect from July, 2013.
Members of the task force are to be announced by Mr. Adoke on Monday and prosecution of established cases will continue with all convictions given wide publicity.
The NEC commended the efforts of the Committee and further urged it to ensure that the bid to repair the shut pipelines is achieved within the targeted period of six to eight weeks, the Delta Governor said.
Mr. Uduaghan, who chaired the committee, said he briefed the Council on the work of the committee, set up during the last meeting to draw up a roadmap to guide further actions that would be taken by NEC towards finding a lasting solution to the problem of crude oil theft.
The governor stated that his committee was working on providing both long and short term strategies and provided interim measures that have been adopted in carrying out their assignment.
Information from Premium Times was used in this report.