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Oil theft: Senate to probe security agencies, militia groups, others



By Sola Omoniyi, Lagos

Disturbed by incessant crude oil thefts in Nigeria, the Senate has mandated its committees on Petroleum Resources – Upstream, Mainstream, Downstream, Gas, Host Communities, and Niger Delta – to investigate the actions of security agencies, militia organizations, the local population, oil company employees and others who use various sophisticated methods to steal oil from the country.

The resolution was sequel to a motion titled, ‘Urgent need to investigate the incessant and nefarious acts of crude oil thefts in the Niger Delta and the actors’, sponsored by Senator Ned Nwoko (PDP, Delta North) and co-sponsored by Senators Ede Dafinone Omueya (PDP, Delta Central) and Joel Onowakpa Thomas (PDP, Delta South), during Tuesday’s plenary.

Presenting the motion, Nwoko, who noted that Nigeria largely depends on crude oil for its economic growth and development, quoted the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, which stated that the oil sector represents 6.33 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product, GDP, which translated to $45.6 billion in 2022.

He said, “The oil sector provides jobs for millions of Nigerians and 70% of the country’s budget financing while oil and gas accounted for 90% of the export income and 85% of government revenue in the first quarter of 2022.”

The lawmaker further noted that statistical data “have over the years shown that pipeline vandalism, illegal oil bunkering, oil thefts, illegal oil refining have brought Nigeria into serious socio-economic crisis, and this remains an intractable challenge to the Nigerian oil-dependent economy.”

According to him, crude oil thefts started around the late 1970s and early 1980s under the military regimes.

Nwoko further noted that the current collaborative efforts involving the Joint Task Force, JTF, of the military, including Operation Delta Safe and Operation Dakartada Barawo, as well as the contributions of various security agencies, states and local governments, and the international oil companies, IOCs, in the Niger Delta region, have yielded positive results.

“These efforts have led to an increase in oil production, reaching 1.51 million barrels per day in the first quarter of 2023. This figure marks an improvement from the 1.49 million barrels per day recorded in the same quarter of 2022 and is notably higher than the production volume of 1.34 million barrels per day in the fourth quarter of 2022,” he added.

He further noted that despite the efforts of certain security agencies like the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, and the Department of State Services, DSS, in combating oil theft in the Niger Delta region, some “individuals within these agencies collaborate with unscrupulous figures within the oil industry to undermine the nation’s economy”.

Nwoko observed that there have been accusations and counter-accusations of oil thefts, illegal oil bunkering, illegal oil refining and other sundry crimes in the Niger Delta region between the military and the local militia, which shows the high level of sabotage and destruction of the nation’s economic mainstay.

“It was reported in 2022 that Nigeria lost an average of 437,000 barrels of crude oil a day, worth $23 million to criminal entities, and between March 2022 to March 2023, Nigeria also lost 65.7million barrels of crude oil at $83 per barrel worth N2.3 trillion revenues to oil thefts,” he lamented, adding that “the damage to our oil sector by these oil thefts is even more significant than what is reported.”

He said given Nigeria’s enormous oil and gas reserves, it is expected that crude oil production should continue to rise to meet the Oil Producing Export Countries, OPEC, production quota of 1.74million barrels per day, but regretted that “the activities of these oil thieves and their actors have drastically reduced crude oil production thereby undermining the economy.”

Contributing, Senator Abdufatai Buhari (APC, Oyo North) called for punitive measures to combat oil bunkering.

“We carry out investigations every year but in the end, nothing has come out of it. We need to review our laws and take punitive measures against oil thieves,” he said.

Also, Senator Adams Oshiomhole (APC, Edo North) said oil theft was an organised crime involving the bunkers and the security operatives.

This, he said, explained why many security agents lobbied their superiors to be posted to the oil-producing communities.

In his remarks, the Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio noted that the activities of oil thieves have not only led to the loss of revenues but also increased poverty in the country.

He therefore charged the committees to carry out a thorough investigation into the crime and report back within six weeks.