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Nigeria: Stemming wave of oil theft

The rising incidence of crude oil theft is not only getting out of hand but is costing Nigeria staggering sums and must be nipped immediately by the current administration.

The cabal responsible for the leakage must be smashed and the sundry measures required for tackling the problem put in place.

Failure to do so will widen the leakages, deprive the people of billions in development dollars and worsen the country’s reputation in the committee of nations.

It is worrisome to learn that staggering quantities of the commodity are bunkered and ferried off illegally on a daily basis. While Chartam House, a London Based Think-tank put the figure of stolen crude at 100,000 per day, the country’s Ministry of Petroleum Resources raises it to 250,000.

In monetary terms, this amounts to N5billion lost to oil thieves every single day. This suggests that more than N1.8 trillion is stolen from the economy every year from this murky source. It is three times the education budget, nearly six times the provision for healthcare and more than the cost of constructing thirteen new roads as per the 2018 budget. It is certainly bigger than the N555.99bn allocated to the ministry of power, works and housing, the highest in the budget that year.

Considering that illegal bunkering is an age old problem in this clime and that such colossal sums are lost to it, it is curious that government has not been able to muster the will to smash the criminal activity.

This supports the suspicion that the illegality is been perpetrated by a very powerful set of people with large toes that law operatives dare not step on for fear of being crushed.Now is the time to dismantle this cabal of well-connected individuals, arrest, prosecute and throw them in jail. This is the only way to show the will by government to stem the tide.

Besides taking a decisive action on oil thieves, there are other measures that can be put in place to check the rising theft. One of such measures is stopping none metering of wellheads in many oil installations.

We understand the supervising government parastatal, the Directorate of Petroleum resources (DPR) has little or no capacity to tell what quantity of crude oil is being lifted by the IOC or any other entity for that matter. Neither does the Ministry of Trade, which a 2004 Act vested the responsibly to ‘weigh and measure” such transactions.

This regulatory lapse leaves room for manipulation and wholesale theft of the country’s resources and must be checked. What is worrisome is that as far back as 2005, this was the subject of a stakeholder meeting organised by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). It is rather unfortunate that fourteen years later the problem is yet to be addressed.

Such costly lapses would not have happened had the Ministry had a substantive minister. It is clear for all to see that Mr President has dropped the ball in many instances including on illegal bunkering and sundry matter since he declared himself minister of that portfolio.

He has enough on his shoulders as president and commander in chief of the Republic and must hand over the reins of the country’s cash cow to a minister that can and should mind only that business and its many issues.

Besides having a full time minister for the ministry, passage of the Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill (PIGB), which we strongly encourage the ninth senate to pass, will help put the industry in a sane place and stem a lot of the chaos that the industry finds itself, including the gaping holes that allow for brazen oil theft.

Already, it has been identified that the only two countries without proper governance of the industry are Nigeria and Venezuela. In that light, government should take swift remedial action to save not only the economy but the country as a whole from oil thieves.