Oil theft in Nigeria: More questions than answers

A trending video on social media features the nerve center of the oil operations of Saudi Arabia one of the world’s leading oil producers. According to the narrator in the video, the administration of that country’s oil industry is proactive twenty-four hours of the day and all throughout the year.

It ensures that every drop of oil belonging to the kingdom is accounted for. The system brooks no slips or excuses in any aspect of the value chain – visit in production, marketing or monitoring of the various markets where the product is sold.

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By the way, according to 2021 statistics, Saudi Arabia produces on a daily basis 9.3 million barrels of oil to trail behind the US which leads the world with 11.2 million and Russia in second position with 10.1 million barrels. Nigeria on the contrary ranks at number 14 as it produces 1.5 million barrels a day, and out of which at least 437,000 barrels are routinely stolen, according to the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL).

Whoever watches that video on Saudi Arabia oil industry, will come away with sympathy for Nigeria’s oil and gas sector which operates under the ambience of one season one trouble, with the current turbulence in the sector swirling around the humongous scale of oil theft that is denying the country of due dividends from its endowment of the resource. The issue here is further compounded by the fact that not only is oil theft on an ongoing industrial level, but that it has been running for as long as the country has been producing the substance. That will mean that since 1960 when the country started exporting oil, this practice may have been running with different actors comprising expatriates and conniving nationals, playing the game of sleaze with the country’s common patrimony. In any case, this situation has remained an open secret and serves as the basis for the settled fact, that at no time has the country come anything close to the actual figures on quantity of oil it produces or exports.

Against the backdrop of the foregoing, whereby the sin of oil theft has been running for so long, the recent rally by the government under the auspices of Mele Kari – the Chief Executive Officer of the NNPCL, and Nigeria’s Czar on the anti-oil theft campaign, offers an interesting angle for Nigerians to explore. Why is oil theft suddenly an issue that prompted the government to be rallying forces to combat it, including the award of a multi-billion naira pipeline surveillance contract to Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias ‘Tompolo’, to address the matter? Why have the perpetrators proved so invisible for so long? Given the long running nature of the crime why have they not been identified and apprehended? And how far can the government go in combating the menace? In one context the answer lies in the ever diminishing level of official revenue for running the government. NNPCL is no more serving as the ‘pocket-never-dry’ factor from whom all blessings (as far as free money is concerned) flow for the various tiers of government to share and mismanage.

With the benefit of historical facts, exploring the ongoing scenario deeper leads to the playout of more questions chasing fewer answers, which justifies fears that in the final analysis, the so called oil theft masterminds may not be apprehended. And the country’s revenue woes will continue. Yes, a few inconsequential individuals may be caught as scape goats and given the salutary slap on the wrist in respect of penalties to be met out to them. But the real master minds will be spared. This contention is informed by facts in respect of how big and organized crimes and their perpetrators fare in this country. ‘Loot first and face the law latter’, seem to be the credo for such operators.

To buttress the foregoing contention does not need evidence more than the recent instance of the Forcados oil pipeline heist ‘discovered’ by Mele Kari, and his team. As he had made public, the operation of tapping a major oil pipeline as that of Forcados could not have been done surreptitiously but was procured with the deployment of cranes and other heavy equipment. Would such an operation be conducted without drawing attention of the oil workers around the vicinity? Much as kudos go to him and his team for the courage in taking the bull by the horns in this venture, he also deserves sympathy as his campaign against the oil theft majors may hit the rocks sooner than later.

Considering that as reported, the illegal connection in Forcados had lasted for nine whole years, the task of fishing out the culprits should remain a piece of cake. Given the expedients of the oil industry standard practice, facilities such as pipelines and other equipment demand regular inspection and operational status update. Should Nigerians accept that for nine whole years, the pipeline so impacted was not inspected throughout its length, and no report of the illegal connection was made? In that context, who then were the officers saddled with the responsibility of checking the pipeline throughout this nine years period, as they have questions to answer on the matter, their present stations in life notwithstanding. But will the government go so far as recalling the generations of oil workers who procured the Forcados pipeline heist? That will be the day!

As for our immediate concern, shall it also be that after some ‘government magic'(credit to late Afrobeat maestro – Fela Anikulapo Kuti), the dust over oil theft ‘wahala’ will settle, and the culprits – comprising the high and mighty in society, and whose ranks are swelling every day, will simply continue to enjoy their loot with backslapping of each other. This the real face of Nigeria.

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