The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said the Federal Government and security agencies in the country know the people behind oil theft, which is undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s greatest economic challenges today.
LCCI Vice President, Mr. Babatunde Ruwase, who led the Trade Promotion Board to the headquarters of Punch Nigerian Limited on Tuesday, carpeted the Federal Government for its inability to check oil theft, which has been on the increase in the country.
He said only the rich and powerful could engage in oil theft, arguing that the equipment such as barges, tankers as well as manpower used in stealing crude were not cheap.
According to Ruwase, oil thieves in Nigeria are millionaires, who can be tracked by the government.
He said, “You need to be a millionaire to be able to steal oil. The barges and tankers oil thieves use are very expensive. The government and the security agencies know them. Not until we decide to turn a different leaf, nothing will change as far as oil theft is concerned. These thieves are not ghost.”
Ruwase, who lamented the increasing rate of oil theft in the country, blamed the ‘wrong people in governance’ for the prolonged problem.
The LCCI VP, who blamed the people in government for encouraging leakages and allowing the wealth of the nation to be taken abroad, wondered why the government could not utilise aerial surveillance to monitor the regions that are prone to oil theft in the country.
To this end, Ruwase advised the Federal Government to engage the host communities to broaden the protection of vital oil and gas infrastructure such as pipelines in the country.
“The community should be engaged. At times, you cannot distinguish sabotage from oil theft,” he noted.
The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), Mr. Muraina Ajibola, during an oversight visit to the Department of Petroleum Resources, had equally emphasised the need for deeper involvement of the host communities in the fight against oil theft in the country.
Ajibola, who condemned the increasing spate of oil theft in Nigeria, called on the Federal Government to implement the House’s resolutions on oil theft.
Giving details of the recommendations, he said the House had recommended that the government should assign a dedicated telephone line to security agencies and make it available to the public.
This, he said, would enable members of the public to assist the security operatives in curbing oil theft and vandalism by alerting them whenever pipelines were been tampered with.
Ajibola said the House had also recommended that the Federal Government should provide improved and adequate security at all export terminals in the country in order to prevent stolen crude oil from being exported out of Nigeria.
The country lost N191bn ($1.23bn) to oil theft and vandalism in the first quarter of the year.
Official figures indicate the trade in stolen oil led to a 17 per cent fall in official oil sales in the first quarter of 2013, estimated at 400,000 barrels per day.
Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), a subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch supermajor, recently shut down the Nembe Creek trunkline in southern Bayelsa State for repairs after it was breached by oil thieves.
The temporary closure is estimated to cost 150,000 barrels per day in lost output.
As such, Royal Dutch Shell said it lost $250m in the second quarter of the year due to oil theft and other operational challenges in Nigeria. Eni also blamed oil theft in Nigeria for the loss of 55 per cent revenue in Q2.
The International Energy Agency also said Nigeria was losing about $7bn annually to oil theft.
“Oil bunkering, or theft, costs the government an estimated $7bn in lost revenue per year,” the agency said.
The IEA last month blamed Nigerian oil theft for damage to pipeline infrastructure as well as cutting OPEC’s output volumes.
Similarly, Agip on Monday said it was losing 20,000 barrels of crude per day to oil theft.
The oil major said this had necessitated the discussion initiated by the Bayelsa State Government with it on how to tackle the scourge.
The tripartite meeting, a statement said, had in attendance the state’s Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha Jonah, the representatives of the Nigerian Agip Oil Company and surveillance contractors engaged by the company to tackle the menace.
Jonah was quoted as lamenting that crude oil theft was impacting negatively on the nation’s economy, which is dependent on oil.
As crude oil theft continues to threaten the country’s revenue base, experts warned that the trend should not be allowed to continue.
Information from Punch was used in this report.