This dominated discussions at the Conference on Oil Theft and Illegal Bunkering in the Niger Delta recently organised by the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta in Lagos last week.
The Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and environmentalists suggested that the crude oil recovered from oil thieves should be returned to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and resettled rather than being destroyed by the JTF.
The Commander of the JTF in the Niger Delta, Maj.-Gen. Bata Dabiro, while discussing the modus operandi of the ‘Operation Pulo Shield’ in the oil rich region, said the mandate was to stop illegal oil bunkering activities in the upstream sector of the country’s petroleum industry; protect oil and gas facilities; and ensure secure environment for other lawful activities.
According to Dabiro, 6,102 men of the JTF made up of Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Civil Defence Corps and Customs personnel, among others, are battling with oil thieves in the Niger Delta everyday burning illegal refineries and tanker trucks, and confiscating vessels.
A large volume of crude oil is destroyed during these exercises and this has generated deep concerns among stakeholders.
Aside from arresting pipeline vandals and oil thieves, the JTF commander said the recovered crude oil was immediately burnt with other confiscated items used for illegal oil bunkering.
“Illegal refineries are not far away from the communities. We will not allow them to continue to operate. When we locate them, we destroy them. We also destroy their tanker trucks and ‘Cotonu’ boats. Thousands of illegal refineries have been destroyed and 24 vessels arrested,” he said.
It has been established that the country is losing about 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day and these amount to 63,600,000 litres or 1,927 trailer loads of products.
The menace, which has shown no sign of slowing down, has been estimated by experts to costs the country about $7bn in revenue loss annually.
Reversing this trend is the reason the JTF was deployed to the Niger Delta, and destroying recovered stolen crude is an everyday activity, according to Dabiro.
However, stakeholders advised that the practice of destroying recovered stolen crude should be stopped owing to its huge economic and environmental impacts.
The Director-General, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi, said, “There is no way a military approach can solve the problem of oil theft in the Niger Delta. While commending the efforts of the JTF, I think blowing up ‘Cotonu’ boats will not give the solutions.
“It’s not the solution. It’s compounding the environmental problem. A lot of the International Oil Companies are causing pollution and our own people are breaking pipelines, causing pollution. I don’t believe this stolen crude should be destroyed. ”
The General Secretary, PENGASSAN, Mr. Bayo Olowosile, equally expressed deep concerns about the ecological impact of the burning of recovered stolen oil and illegal refineries.
As such, he advised the JTF to take the refineries out of the Niger Delta creeks before blowing them up.
“The degradation of the environment is high. The maritime agencies such as NIMASA, with the help of the military, should be able to curb oil theft in the creeks. However, I think illegal refineries should not be burnt, they should be taken out of the creeks in order not to cause further damage,” Olowosile said.
Speaking in the same vein, the Commandant General, NSCDC, Dr. Olu Abolurin, said he was a staunch advocate of the non-destruction of recovered stolen crude because of its ecological and psychological impact.
“I am an advocate of no destruction of exhibits because of the ecological and psychological impacts,” he said.
Abolurin further condemned the way oil thieves were being handled.
He said a recent situation where some oil thieves, who had allegedly attempted to offer a N5m bribe to his men, were sentenced to one month imprisonment by the court with an option of N2,000 fine was not encouraging.
Oil theft, according to him, will not reduce if weak punishment is applied against pipeline vandals and oil thieves.
“The legislation must not be weak for us to achieve our objectives of curbing oil theft in Nigeria,” he said.
Already, oil theft and exploration activities have been confirmed to have led to over $1tn environmental devastation in the Niger Delta.
The Special Adviser to the President on the Niger Delta and Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, regretted that the region had witnessed phenomenal environmental degradation, not just from oil exploration, but from illegal bunkering and crude theft.
He said restoring the Niger Delta environment to its original state before oil theft left it devastated would cost over $1tn.
Kuku said, “While several estimates have been made regarding the cost to the national economy in lost revenue and pipeline repairs, no one has calculated the cost to the environment and the livelihood of the people of the Niger Delta.
“No one has calculated the cost of restoring the environment; but extrapolating from the cost of restoring aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP Gulf coast spill of 2010, the cost to the Niger Delta will amount to more than $1tn.”
According to the presidential adviser, oil theft is a problem of urgent and strategic national and international importance.
“However, its impact on the communities of the Niger Delta, on our environment, our health and our livelihood is even more serious. In many communities, fishing and farming are no longer possible because of the damage to the environment on which our people depend on for livelihood.”
Information/Picture from Punch was used in this report.