Nigerian Parliament moves to help stem oil theft in Niger Delta

oil refineryThe Nigerian House of Representative has began moves to help address the incessant and unbridled theft of crude oil in the Niger Delta area, constituting a panel to carry out a detailed investigation of the national problem.

The 17-member panel is expected to find a lasting solution, through legislation, to the problem of incessant crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism in Nigeria which has now reached an industrial scale.

The Committee will specifically determine how deep pipelines are buried and if they are accessible to oil thieves; determine how stolen crude oil is transported; identify the owners of illegal vessels; ascertain the status of impounded vessels and recommend the confiscation of barges used for illegal bunkering.

Other critical areas the committee will address are the challenges faced by the organisations involved in terms of securing the country’s pipelines and tackling illegal bunkering; determine the roles of the various organisations in tackling illegal bunkering; ascertain countries aiding and abetting the crude oil criminals; and recommend preventive measures and lasting solutions to the menace.

The House called on the executive arm of government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, to beam its searchlight on the activities of all the security agencies’ personnel in the Niger Delta area in a bid to fish out those who perpetrate the illicit trade.

Inaugurating the committee in Abuja, speaker of the House, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, called for the speedy passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as a way of addressing the menace of crude oil theft, adding that “the House will not sit back idly and watch the gross sabotage without intervention.”

Tambuwal asked President Jonathan to compel the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to take a closer look at those behind the transportation and purchase of stolen oil – and act in conjunction with other international law enforcement agencies for criminal prosecution of the perpetrators under the Mutual Legal Assistance.

Oil and gas account for about two-thirds of Nigerian government revenue and more than 90 per cent of its export earnings in Nigeria. Illegal bunkering has caused Nigeria to lose an estimated US$ 5billion yearly, amounting to a US$ 400 billion loss since the country’s independence in 1960.

A total of 350,000 barrels per day were lost to illegal bunkering in 2012, representing an increase of 45 per cent over the figure of 2011 and a 67 per cent increase over that of 2010.

Records indicate that crude oil theft in 2013 is even more alarming.

Tambuwal tasked the committee to specifically take another look at the report by the Royal Institute for International Affairs which alleged that Nigeria’s oil was being stolen not just from pipelines but also from tank farms, export terminals, refinery storage, ports and even wellheads.

He said: “Officials and private actors disguise theft through manipulation of meters and shipping documents. Proceeds are laundered through world financial centres and used to buy assets in and outside Nigeria, polluting markets and financial institutions overseas, and creating reputational, political and legal hazards.”

‘No country can endure such blatant rape of its resources by a few criminals who seem to grow bolder by the day. And no self-respecting parliament can watch this kind of gross sabotage and not intervene. We must therefore end the kind of impunity that makes people think that our nation is a lawless place where people can get away with anything. We are here to prove that this nation has the ability to make things right and to make people pay for their crimes,’ he said.

‘We cannot begin to quantify the full economic and political damage that the activities of oil vandals have caused. For a nation that needs all the resources it can get to take care of its growing population of angry poor youth, this kind of rapacious theft of the commonwealth is nothing short of a disaster.

‘So long as we allow these oil bunkerers to remain in business, so long will our people go without the basic needs of life. Since oil is our main source of wealth as a nation, we must do everything possible to defend the integrity of the process of oil production and sale in the international market.

‘We need to put in place the right kind of legislation to improve the monitoring of on-shore and off-shore areas in order to discourage vandalism. We need to establish a robust regulatory framework to plug all loopholes through which all sorts of official and unofficial corruption thrive in the oil sector,’ he said.

He lamented that bunkering was a complicated and sophisticated business, adding that ‘it will be foolish to think of the culprits in terms of area boys who break pipelines. We must realise that without the protection of highly placed people, without the connivance of officials and experts in the sector, the activity of illegal bunkering would have been curtailed long ago,’ he added.