Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-categories.php on line 404
Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-recent-posts.php on line 495
Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-recent-posts.php on line 496
Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-recent-posts.php on line 497
Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-slider.php on line 247
Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-carousel.php on line 197
Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-tabs.php on line 114
Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-accordion.php on line 65
Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-latest-headlines.php on line 144
Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-latest-comments.php on line 100 Inside Nigeria’s Illegal Oil Bunkering Business (2) - TELL Magazine
Government after government, Nigeria has unsuccessfully made repeated efforts to fight and rein in illegal oil theft. Yet the illicit business continues to blossom. Our findings show that this is the case because of the complicity of top government officials from the Presidency, the military, Civil Defence, and the Police in the lucrative business. The security agency that appears clean in the oil theft saga is the Department of State Services, DSS. According to our sources who would not be named because they are still in active service, the DSS is not visibly involved in the trade.
Military personnel lobby to be posted to the Niger Delta and stage parties to celebrate such posting. Junior officers who spoke in anonymity because of the nature of their jobs, expressed frustration at the betrayal by their officers in the fight against oil theft. Several of them that wanted to be brave and reject inducement by oil bunkerers suddenly find themselves posted out of the Niger Delta. Though the Navy denied ever losing any personnel in the fight against oil bunkerers, some operatives insisted that some stubborn officers got killed for insisting on obstructing the business.
Having studied the body language of their superiors, the middle and lower cadres toe the line and equally make good money for themselves by not only looking the other way on the beat, but also actively aiding and abetting the economic crime. For instance, the Naval Junior Ratings who were mobilised by their immediate superior to transload the crude in M.T African Pride to another rogue ship were compensated with N250, 000 each for one-night illegal operation. Had any of them disobeyed the unlawful order, he would have been victimised and hounded out of the Niger Delta.
Now that Nuhu Ribadu, a known anti-corruption czar, is the National Security Adviser, NSA, it is hoped there could be result in the war against oil theft. The office of the NSA is alleged to have been active in the evolution of oil bunkering in Nigeria across many regimes.
The Man they could not arrest opens a can of worms.
Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo, popularly called Tompolo, is an enigma. Several times, the government had wanted to arrest him for security breaches but failed. He simply disappeared into the thin air. That is why some people call him “The man they couldn’t arrest.” He, Asari Dokubo and Ateke Tom make up the tripod of the Niger Delta armed struggle in its present cycle, feeding off Isaac Boro’s 14 days revolution in 1966. He had minimal education but has grown in the wisdom of the creeks to become a fundamental voice in the security of the Niger Delta.
He was the commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, and presently the chief priest of Egbesu, the Ijaw god of war.
The last time the federal government declared him wanted was in January 2016 on charges of theft and money laundering. Security operatives invaded his village, Gbaramatu; tore his home apart, and desecrated his Egbesu shrine but could not find him. He simply disappeared. He went underground for five years and resurfaced in 2020 in his Egbesu shrine. In August 2022, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, renewed his lucrative surveillance contract to monitor the Niger Delta pipelines at the cost of N48 billion per annum, at N4 billion monthly.
Tompolo was born April 12, 1971 to the royal family of Thomas Ekpemukpolo in Okerenkoko, the traditional Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South Local Government Area, Delta State. He is the new face of the government’s guided war against oil theft in the Niger Delta as government security operatives failed to deliver on their mandate.
The Danger of Exclusion: “We are waiting for them at the pipelines.”
Tompolo is making progress in his surveillance contract exposing the hidden illegal trunk lines for siphoning crude oil in the Niger Delta. Already, he has exposed over 156 tapping points in Delta and Bayelsa States. However, the award of the N48 billion contract to Tompolo’s Tantita Security Services Limited has not gone down well with other former militants who are still heavily armed with very modern weapons. Some of their leaders interviewed during this investigation complained that they were excluded from the surveillance contract.
The Niger Delta creeks are under the influence of three former militants. While Tompolo holds sway in Delta and some parts of Bayelsa States, Dokubo and Tom control what happens in the large expanse of creeks of Rivers State by their sheer influence.
Some former militants who now prefer to be called ‘Creekmen’ want to be carried along. They argue that the pipeline under contract, NCTL trunk line, covers over 90 kilometres, out of which 83 kilometres belong to the Kalabaris and other ethnic nationalities of Rivers State, and therefore outside the control of Tompolo. Those critical kilometres fall under the influence of former militants’ leaders, Dokubo and Tom, who is now the traditional ruler of his community, Okochiri in Okirika. Both heavy weights were not ‘recognised’ in the surveillance contract. These aggrieved ‘Creek men’ are from Nembe, Kalabri, Okirika, Okoloba and Andoni kingdoms of Bayelsa and Rivers States.
“We are waiting for them at the pipelines. We own them. They are our own. We are waiting for him. Let him come. The end will justify the means…They didn’t consult us but they say someone should secure the pipelines in our communities,” lamented the creekmen who preferred not to be identified individually.
“They should have respect for us. This is colonialism. The pipelines are more in our territory than in the community of the person the contract was awarded to. They should talk to us first. If they say that equity is not good, then let them come to equity with dirty hands. They will see war!”
It was gathered that Tompolo later engaged in intense creek diplomacy and may have achieved an understanding with the other groups.
Navigating the treacherous mines of corruption and connivance
Tompolo uncovered a four-kilometre pipeline on the Trans Escravous trunk line in the Yokiri area of Delta State. His Tantita operatives have uncovered 156 illegal crude oil tapping points in Delta and Bayelsa States, and still counting. These are illegal investments of highly placed people in power and retired generals in Nigeria. They have connections in government, military and with the locals. They are losing heavy investments to what they see as Tompolo’s meddling and they are very angry. But those close to him say Tomopolo is not an ordinary man and cannot be intimidated.
“This is our area, and this is our people. We are doing everything to stop it because the aquatic life of our people is gone. We only provide intelligence; the security people will come and do the work,” says Tompolo. “We are not going to use illegality to fight another illegality. We are doing everything with our people; we are working together to save our environment and our people.”
That is being diplomatic to massage the frayed ego of military men who feel a non-state actor has taken over their jobs and is doing it better. It is not about lack of competence; it is about vested interests.
He reveals: “We have top security men that are deeply involved. They are trying to bring down this country called Nigeria. If you are coming from Warri, you see many houseboats. You have one military gunboat by the right; you have one navy gunboat to the left. At the extreme (middle) is where this bunkering is taking place! You must pass through the military to get there. We have some of these illegal bunkering sites owned by the Navy, Army, Civil Defence and Police personnel. It is only the DSS that are not involved. And we have the evidence.”
The godfathers of oil theft are not happy with him. “A lot of them were not happy when they mentioned me. We are riverine people. I actually know the in and out of this country…When we started the project, a lot of high caliber people were touched. That is where our problem came from. Many of the security people are involved in the bunkering business. There is no way you will load a vessel without settling the security within that environment. One gunboat to the left, one gunboat to the right, can they load crude oil in the middle end without settling the security? A lot of people are now running helter-skelter because they know there is nothing in this country concerning the riverine that I don’t know. Once our people are fully engaged and you call your people to order, we are good to go. And if they fail to comply, I will tell my people to bring out the list of oil bunkerers. I have a comprehensive list and all of them know that…A lot of key players are involved in this illegal bunkering. Our people cannot take a drum of crude oil out without the help of security men.”
He confirms what other former militants’ commanders had told us. “We don’t have any opposition. It is even these security men that are inciting our people so that Tompolo will not come and work. Enough is enough. A lot of these things people are saying have been doctored by security people. We know our people. We don’t have problem. We can have little argument about sharing formula; but besides that, we don’t have problem.”
The militants revealed that at the height of the Niger Delta crisis from 2003 to 2007, security men would call and ask why they had been ‘quiet’ if they did not do any operation for one week. Likewise, they said the idea of making money from taking hostages was sold to them by security men and politicians.
“At the beginning, we just kidnapped people to press for better deal for the Niger Delta as activists but they started bringing large sums of money to release the hostages. We discovered that they offered more money in hard currency for white men. Then it occurred to us that we could fund the struggle from kidnapping. They told us the security votes of the governors were big and meant for such emergencies. Later, we discovered that the intermediaries took more than what they delivered to us,” revealed a former militant from Rivers State.
Today, the scenario is still the same in oil bunkering as oil companies allegedly leverage on oil bunkering to steal Nigeria’s crude for their own benefits. When Tompolo started his pipeline surveillance contract in August 2023, Nigeria’s official daily crude oil production was 937, 000 barrels daily against the country’s Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries, OPEC, quota of 1.8 million b/d. in February, NNPC put Nigeria’s daily oil production at 1.59 million b/d. However, a Bloomberg survey put it at 1.35 million b/d, and the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, NUPRC, reported a 1.24 million b/d, excluding condensates.
The oil companies are accused of utilising the activities of oil thieves to under-declare their production output. “If somebody takes 2, 000 barrels, they will say it is 200, 000. At the end, they will declare oil theft! These are people sponsoring people against Tompolo,” he revealed.
Be that as it may, Tompolo insists, “I am a confident man. This is our area. We are the landlords. The real perpetrators are in Abuja and Lagos; after all, they will shift the blame to our people,” he stated.
The NNPCL Connection
Our investigation showed that most crimes committed in the crude oil theft business revolves around NNPC. The fight against oil theft was found to actually be a campaign to get rid of unauthorized thieves and reduce the volume of losses. The NNPC authorises ships arrested by Navy without licence to come in and load crude oil. It is those without sufficient connection that get hooked.
The Navy has expressed frustration that when they arrest ships without licence coming to lift crude oil, the NNPC issue some licence while under arrest and get them to load crude oil officially and leave Nigeria. It is said to be highly irregular for a vessel to arrive Nigeria without licence. What emboldens them is their contacts inside NNPC and the Presidency.
For instance, MT Heroic Idun, a Motor Tanker with capacity for three million barrels, tried to load crude oil and her name was not on the list given to the Navy by the NNPC. The Very Large Crude oil Carrier (VLCC) entered the Nigerian Maritime Environment August 7, 2022, and headed for Akpo Field without any form of authorisation or clearance. The ship, IMO: 9858058, is registered in Marshall Island with an overall length of 336-metres, 60 metres breadth, and capacity of three million barrels.
The vessel was spotted by the Nigerian Navy Maritime Domain Awareness facility and a Nigerian Navy Inshore Patrol Craft, Nigerian Navy Ship GONGOLA probed the legitimacy of her presence in the Total Safe Anchorage operated by Akpo Field. Following the interrogation, the Captain of MT HEROIC IDUN duly responded to NNS GONGOLA and further stated that his vessel was without relevant clearance to operate in the Field.
The vessel was therefore ordered to turn around and follow NNS GONGOLA to Bonny anchorage pending when she will be cleared for loading by NNPC Ltd. However, she bluntly declined on the claims that she had been told by her agent not to take directives from the Nigerian Navy Ship. Thereafter, she engaged full speed and escaped to Sao Tome and Principe maritime area in a bid to evade arrest.
The Nigerian Navy therefore invoked the collaboration of neighbouring Equatorial Guinea through the Yaoundé Architecture to arrest the vessel. With the aid of the Nigerian Navy surveillance facility, MT HEROIC IDUN was tracked and the Equatorial Guinea Amphibious Ship, CAPTAIN DAVID was therefore vectored to intercept and arrest the fleeing ship on August 12, 2022. By invoking the appropriate international treaties, MT HEROIC IDUN was brought back to Nigeria from Equatorial Guinea on November, 12, 2022.
Among the offences the Nigerian Navy charged the ship with were: Attempt to deal in export of crude oil without license or authorisation, and entering the restricted zone around an oilfield without authorisation and thus violating Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone regulations.
This was said to be an inside job gone awry. According to insiders, a captain cannot risk such a super tanker with three million barrels capacity to head for Akpo Oil Field to load illegally without backing from someone in NNPC. The Captain refused to stop when the Navy ordered him to, saying he was told not to stop for the Navy.
In bunkering, there is legal and illegal bunkering. The legal bunkering is done by retired army generals and other influential Nigerians. So there is legal bunkering which NNPC authorises. The GMD can also scribble on the back of his card and whoever sees it will act. His senior directors and presidency officials are also said to get some slots. It was actually alleged that some of them hire vessels themselves and supply to refineries outside the country, and as far as the international market at Florida, United States.
Mele Kyari, group chief executive officer, GCEO, of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPC, aware of all these intrigues and economic interests, decided to award the surveillance contract to a non-state actor. “We need private contractors to man the right of way to these pipelines… And we believe we made the right decision.”
He said the decision was to achieve three broad objectives, one of which is “to ensure that the government’s security agencies play their part. We have our Navy and the Army and they are doing an excellent job of containing this. But as you do this, sustenance is everything, and therefore, we also decided that we need private contractors to man the right of way and also operate outside the right of way so that they can also join us to manage members of the community.”
Kyari is either being economical with the truth or he is not properly briefed on the roles the security agencies and staff of NNPC are playing in the value chain of oil bunkering. Our investigation shows that oil theft cannot be done successfully without the commercial connivance of the security agencies, especially the Navy. But the GCEO says they are doing an “excellent job.”
Tompolo’s revelations corroborate the weight of their involvement. Similarly, the testimony of Rear Admiral Antonio Ibinabo Bob-Manuel, the ordeal and trauma he went through at the hands of a compromised Navy hierarchy, underlines the treachery of Nigerian Navy big wigs in the protection of Nigeria’s highest foreign exchange earner.
Just like it has been shown that oil bunkering cannot take place without the involvement of security operatives, it was also found that successful oil bunkering business cannot take place without the involvement of staff of NNPC.
The Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, a department of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, ensures compliance with the industry regulations, process applications for licenses, leases, and permits, establishes and enforces environmental regulations. DPR has the statutory responsibility of ensuring compliance to petroleum laws, regulations and guidelines in the Oil and Gas Industry. The discharge of these responsibilities involves monitoring of operations at drilling sites, producing wells, production platforms and flow stations, crude oil export terminals, refineries, storage depots; pump stations, retail outlets, any other locations where petroleum is either stored or sold, and all pipelines carrying crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products.
Among other functions, they supervise all petroleum industry operations being carried out under licences and leases in the country, and maintain records on petroleum industry operations, particularly on matters relating to petroleum reserves, production/exports, licences and leases.
In other words, DPR should have accurate record of crude oil and gas production by Nigeria. However, some industry stakeholders insist there is no accurate record of Nigeria’s crude oil production. Paul Osu, Head, Public Affairs, DPR, denied that and affirmed that every litre of crude produced in Nigeria is adequately captured during the process of extraction.
“As a further step to boosting crude accounting process from production to export, DPR recently launched the National Production Monitoring System, NPMS; NPMS is an online platform for direct and independent acquisition of production data from oil and gas facilities in Nigeria. NPMS as an electronic data transmission tool at production and export terminals is designed to better predict the performance of oil and gas reservoirs and better production forecasting,” he explains.
In other words, NPMS tool enables DPR to exercise electronic surveillance, perform production monitoring and data analysis for utilisation and forecasting.
If this is the case, critics of DPR and NNPC ask why DPR cannot detect when an illegal pipeline is grafted onto a petroleum pipeline and large quantities of crude are taken daily. Some industry insiders insist that daily crude oil losses are far more than what is officially reported by NNPC.
It is alleged that DPR is part of the oil bunkering nexus and other sleazes in the sector. During the fuel subsidy heist in 2011/2012, portfolio companies obtained papers from DPR confirming the importation of refined products that did not exist. They claimed subsidy for products they never imported, and Nigeria paid subsidy for oil never imported. It was found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, that ships that claimed to have delivered refined products to Nigeria were confirmed to be in Brazil and Holland at the same time they were supposed to be discharging oil in Nigeria.
Even worse, NNPC was alleged to take fuel they refined locally in Nigeria offshore and brought it in as imported fuel and claimed subsidy on the consignments.
During the course of this investigation, the attitude of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and NNPC suggested a heavy conscience. Seven times, we asked the personal assistant to the former Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Timipre Slyva, to fix an interview appointment with his principal. He showed interest at the beginning, but once he was told the focus of the interview, he became evasive. Till today, we are still waiting for the appointment now under a new minister of state.
Garba Deen Muhammad, Chief Corporate Communications Officer of NNPCL, did not respond to repeated efforts for him to address the alleged involvement of some NNPC top brass in the oil bunkering chain. For instance, the Navy revealed that some ships they arrested were cleared by the NNPC and were subsequently released.
The betrayal of trust by security operatives
Our investigation showed active connivance by security operatives across various services charged with security operations in the Niger Delta. Operatives posted to the Niger Delta stage thanksgiving parties before leaving Abuja for their new posts in anticipation of a change in their fortunes beyond what their monthly salary can achieve.
The ratings that were persuaded to assist transship the stolen crude oil in The MT African Pride to another ship were paid N250, 000 each for their pains. Rear Admiral Bob-Manuel turned down an offer of $100, 000 bribe to free the ship laden with 11,300 metric tonnes of crude oil. Security operatives blackmailed Ibelema to return to work on the pipelines.
Ledum Mitee reports: “I have been somewhere in Abuja where some soldiers were partying that they had been posted to the creeks in the Niger Delta. They said those who were posted there for one year are building houses in Abuja! Those in security agencies lobby to be posted to these areas. That is the level of corruption. Any person who has seen where the oil theft is taking place, you will see the amount of security guarding the cartel. These young boys don’t have such connections. They are only beneficiaries and they pay to get this level of security.
“I have even seen where there is sharing formula. Two different security agencies exchanged fire and one person was killed – the Civil Defence. This was about two years ago. There is high complicity of the security agencies.”
As NEITI Chairman, Mitee and his team talked with various stakeholders in the oil theft saga and made first-hand discoveries. “Even the security operatives were sincere with us. They admitted complicity between their superiors and those who are doing it. Some of the officers said that when they arrest some people, the big boys, nothing happens. When they see things like that, they are disempowered. There are some of the security agencies doing what they ought to do, but if you arrest one small boy and they put him in detention, the person names the big guys and nothing happens. If you are the arresting officer, what will you do?”
Sara Igbe maintains that security operatives are crucial to the logistics of oil theft. “My stand remains that the oil host communities lack the capacity to do oil bunkering, stealing so much barrels of crude oil daily. I continue to maintain that this is done by the forces that be – the security agencies, the oil companies, and the big boys in the industry…So we have consistently maintained that they should hold the oil companies and their contractors responsible for oil theft.”
He argues that the points where the oil is stolen from are impossible for villagers to access: “The villagers do not have the money to build four kilometres of pipeline. It takes a lot of resources, a lot of energy, a lot of equipment to excavate four kilometres and lay pipelines. You don’t carry pipes on your head; you must use excavators, cranes and other equipment to lay the pipes. It’s a huge business.”
He also indicts the oil companies. “On the part of the oil companies, how can you tell me you don’t know what is happening to the oil when from your office, you are observing the movement of the oil through the pipelines from one end to another? You cannot tell me that you can’t see where there are diversions of pipes to another pipeline. It will be shown because we are now using an electronic dashboard that shows how everything works. From the monitoring room, there is no way they will not see that oil is being diverted. But everybody keeps quiet.”
He said Bob-Manuel was a victim of crude oil thieves. “He made arrests. He did so many things. Today, nobody is talking about those vessels. Those cases are all closed. Nobody was sent to jail and the man was retired unceremoniously! You ask yourself, what am I fighting? This country is not what you think! Instead of being commended, he was retired prematurely. He was their stumbling block. The cartel fought against him, and the cartel won. He was court martialed. He won the case but they still retired him.”
He further lamented that Rear Admiral Bob-Manuel gave an insight into what was going on in the oil industry and instead of encouraging him, they removed him. So, if something of 2003 is still on in 2023, that’s 20 years.”
Sara-Igbe also cautions that the oil thieves will retaliate eventually. “Government should expect a fight-back from the cartel which involves the security agencies because you are going to expose them for what they have done; they are not going to fold their hands.”
Dunamene Fyneface, executive director of Port Harcourt-based Youth and Environmental Advocacy Centre, Nigeria, says the revelations Tompolo and Tantita are doing are not really new. “I don’t call what Tompolo is doing in the surveillance contract by the Presidency new discovery. I call it exposure because they have been there since. He knew where they are. Some points in time, he was also part of the process.”
However, he is worried about the consequences: “As an environmentalist, I am concerned about how they go dismantling these sites; they are destroying the environment. They are making the fishermen unable to fish, and farmers unable to farm, and generating soot into the environment, polluting the water and aquatic life, and the food people eat.”
On how the oil thieves are able to graft rogue pipes onto crude oil pipelines without getting caught, Fynface said “It is very simple! As we talk now, people are connecting pipes; people are taking oil right now. Every day, people do that. These youths are in the creeks. Where they go to, security is not there. We are in a country where we have both ungovernable spaces and ungoverned spaces. Where they carry out these operations fall under the purview of ungovernable spaces. They are the lords of those areas. So, they go there, tap their pipelines and take the crude without the security even knowing. But the types of pipes that Tompolo exposed cannot be connected without security involvement.”
On the taping points, he argues that it is not possible to tap the pipelines without the involvement of the company staff. However, it was gathered that now, the boys have improved their illegal practice to the extent that they can tap crude oil pipes without the knowledge of the company. How the insiders in the companies come in is that they will inform them when there is low or no pressure in the pipeline so they can tap. Now the boys are tapping even when there is pressure in the pipeline. They have experts that do that.
It was found that they now use chemical. They make a circle on the pipeline and put chemical on the circle. It creates a hole. After connecting their illegal pipe to the pipeline of the company, they leave the spot that is supposed to open for the crude to pump. The chemical they put in that spot melt the pipe at the measured point and crude will begin to flow into their own pipe.
Experts are involved in this. These experts are being trained by professionals in the Niger Delta, especially the Petroleum Institute at Effrun, Warri in Delta State. Not all those who are trained by the Institute in that special field are absorbed by the oil companies in regular jobs. Those who cannot find regular jobs deploy their skills to the illegal sector of oil theft where they are well rewarded.
Some of them we met in the course of this investigation are beneficiaries of the Presidential Amnesty Programme. The government trained them abroad and abandoned them. They have learned contemporary skills and are left without jobs. These professionals are involved in technical side of oil theft. There is nothing they cannot do.
Fynface says oil bunkering is organised crime. “It is an organised trans-national crime with the crude oil being stolen from the Niger Delta passing the same route of slave trade. This is a reorganisation and a rebirth of what we know as slave trade. It has evolved into another organised criminal activity, which is illegal bunkering.”
Fynface condemns incinerating the confiscated vessel without arresting the owners and crew. “It was completely wrong to set that vessel ablaze because you destroyed evidence. I’m surprised that even now, the EFCC has not arrested the people involved. The suspects should be under prosecution. Burning that barge was deliberate to destroy evidence.”
Then the bad news. From our investigation, oil theft may never end; it is rather evolving and recreating its modus operandi. The people of the Niger Delta are deeply involved in various ways.
“Those who are part of the oil theft are more than those of us fighting it,” laments Fynface. “We are a threat to them, so our own security is also threatened. I pushed the campaign to the extent that they called me to say, ‘leave this thing you are doing; it won’t help you. Come; let’s give you a truck of oil that will give you about N400m. It will change your life. I told them not to worry, that I wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of money.”
He says that “no vessel can cross the ocean, come to the creeks and take crude oil without the assistance of Niger Delta people; but the security operatives have the greater share. There is a lot of collaboration from community people to ex-agitators, security operatives and oil company staff. Even some chiefs are allegedly involved because they are the custodians of the tradition of the people. Some of these boys are powerful chiefs in the Niger Delta because they operate arms the chiefs don’t have. Some of them are paid N250, 000 monthly; how long can you sustain that? It may not be sustainable. Remember that the person you are paying N250, 000 in 30 days is earning at least N2.5m per a day in the crude oil theft process. His living standard has improved; so, he cannot make do with the N250, 000 again.”
Mitee is not excited about discovery of illegal crude pipelines and tapping points. “When people talk about the discovery of pipelines, for me, I don’t think I’m excited. Mind you, the story is that it has been there for about eight or nine years. And no one knew that it existed? Are these dramas to justify, maybe, the huge pipeline contract? The authorities should not claim ignorance of what has happened… No one is fooled that they don’t know that these pipes exist in many other places. So what I feel is that once in a while, to grab attention, they say, we have discovered another one so that NNPC will see that they are improving in what they are doing. I’m not amused by what we are seeing. I feel that we have not decisively made up our mind that we want to deal with oil theft in Nigeria.”
The Duplicity of NSCDC
The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, is the agency entrusted with safeguarding the oil pipelines, but they have seriously betrayed this trust by getting enmeshed in the oil theft business. A former commandant was found to be part of the business and Governor Wike insisted he must leave Rivers State, and he was recalled to Abuja.
When we visited the Rivers State Command of NSCDC, the current Commandant was said to be away to Abuja and would not be back for one week. But a strange thing happened within that period. The next day, we returned to the office; the seven tankers arrested for oil theft had disappeared into thin air! No personnel could confirm where the tankers were relocated to.
At the Abuja headquarters, the attitude of the director of public relations of the Corps, Olusola Odumosu, showed the organisation had a lot to hide. When contacted, he said he was on a course and that we should send questions and he would ‘respond immediately.’ We sent the questions, and he chickened out. He stopped picking his calls. An insider suggested that “any answer he gives you will put him in trouble.” For over five months, Odumosu has not responded to the questions.
The third and concluding part of this story shows that oil theft, like Nigeria, is a mesh of corruption and vested interests; the proverbial chameleon faeces that no matter how one cleans will not go. Stakeholders suggest how to end oil theft, and the Nigerian Navy addresses their alleged involvement in oil bunkering.
This story was funded by the International Centre for Investigative Journalism, ICIR.