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Published On: Wed, Dec 4th, 2013

How Delta Waterways Security Committee is battling oil theft in Delta

Flames from an illegal refinary refining crude oil to diesel at Warri South LGA of Delta State

By Ochuko Bukororo
Like a smoldering fire, oil theft under the guise of illegal oil bunkery has become an industry of its own as it has been reported that, as far back as year 2000, Nigeria has been losing between 200,000 and 300,000 barrels of crude oil to theft each day.
Reports also have it that, between 2003 and 2008 alone, N14trillion was lost to theft and disruptions by militants. This onslaught on Nigeria’s economic lifeline has been going on under government’s nose: from pipeline vandalism and illegal oil bunkering to fuel subsidy and other high-level fraud.

Enviromental degredation of a stream flowing behind a residential building at Ajudiabo, Ugborodo Community in Warri South LGA a

According to Nigeria’s petroleum minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, in one year $5billion was spent on pipeline repairs; the loss of revenue was estimated to be at least $11billion in that year. To put it in better perspective, the Federal Government’s 2012 budget was, for example, N4.69trillion or $30.11billion at the current official dollar exchange rate. This means a loss of a little more than a third of the 2012 budget.
On the loss in production capacity, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation revealed that, due to bunkering, oil production in the country has dropped to 400,000 barrels per day, instead of 2.5 million bpd capacity level.
The Delta Waterways plays host to different tributaries including the Escravos River, which flows for 57 kilometers, ending at the Bight of Benin of the Gulf of Guinea where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Chevron, a major US oil company, has its main Nigerian oil production facility located at the mouth of the Escravos River. This oil terminal pumps approximately 460,000 bbl/d (73,000 m3/d) making it a target point for oil bunkery activities.
Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua described illegal bunkering as “blood oil’ akin to the trade in “blood diamonds” that fueled the bloody civil war in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In curtailing these excess, in June 2007, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State took his first practical step to tackle the problem of hostage taking and other acts of youth restiveness in the State, when he inaugurated a 19-man Delta Waterways Security Committee with Mr. George Timinimi as the chairman and the former military administrator of Niger-Delta, Brigadier-General Cletus Emein (rtd.), as the chairman of the Advisory Board to the Committee.
He mandated the committee, which he gave six weeks to conduct its assignment and submit its report to the State government to intervene and take appropriate actions to forestall any matter or action it deemed necessary for security and safety on the waterways.
In March 2011, the committee constituted an anti-kidnap task force, headed by Mr. Henry Baro, to provide intelligence information and checkmate kidnappers’ activities in the State.
During the visit of the Good Governance Tour in February 2013, the Delta State Governor while receiving the Information Minister, Labaran Maku, attributed the end of militancy to the raise in illegal bunkering and other criminal activities in the riverine areas of the State.
It is in line with checkmating this ugly trend that the Governor after disolving the George Timinimi led Waterway Security Committee, on Febuary 25, 2013, reconstitutued a new executive of the committee, ably headed by Chief Ayiri Emami. Other members of the committee are; Hon. Opudu M. Boro as Vice Chairman, while the Permanent Secretary, Government House Annex Warri, Mr. Patrick Origho, will serve as Secretary.
According to the Governor represented by his deputy, Prof. Amos Utuama at the event, stated that security agents alone cannot tackle the rising security challenges, adding that the work of the committee include alerting relevant security agencies of any possible threat to peace and security in the state and also taking necessary measures to nip such threats in the bud.
In raising up to the situation, the committee in conjuction with security operatives in the area issued a ban on illegal oil bunkery within and around the Escravos River. The activity of the committee is like using locals who are more conversant with the terrain of the area to man waterways.
Despite the success of the security committee, oil theft still thrives in the waterways. A tour of the Escravos River with most of its shore line lying along Ugborodo Community in Warri South West Local Government Area of the State reveals that, there seems to be a working synergy with the joint operation of Nigeria’s defence outfits known as the Joint Task Force (JTF), deployed to the waterways to monitor the situation.
On its part, in October 2013, the Royal Dutch Shell accused the Nigerian security forces of aiding oil thieves and profiting from such a deal. The company stated that its decision to sell off the blocks was informed by governmental failure to checkmate bunkering in the Niger Delta, as well as the relentlessness of the bunkerers who steal an average of 100,000 barrels of crude per day.
The company, which pioneered Nigeria’s oil business from Oloibiri oil field in 1958, has also closed down its Trans-Niger pipeline that used to pump about 150,000 bpd oil to the giant refinery at Bonney, because the pipeline was holed at different points by oil thieves.
This revelation was further buttressed in October, 2013 by the Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), following a report detailing complexities of ongoing massive oil theft in the area. The group alleged that there is extensive evidence that some corrupt members of the JTF actively participate and profit from oil theft and illegal oil refining.
“A consortium typically made up of at least three key parties (security, technical capacity and operational access) own each tap point,” the report said. “During the tapping process, the JTF ensured the surrounding waterways are clear, so workers can install the tap without disturbance.”
The research also suggests that lower ranking officers are criminally involved in the low earning segments of the business. They “share the relatively small “transportation taxes” from distributor vessels as a supplement to their official wages,” the report said.
Reacting to the allegations, the Director, Defence Information, Brig. General Chris Olukolade, said that it was a subtle blackmail and that anyone with real evidence against the JTF should forward such to the appropriate authority for investigation and action.

According to him, the JTF is carrying out its mandate successfully by checking and curtailing illegalities in the creeks and cannot turn around and be doing other things.

He said the military welcomed proof of such allegations, stressing that if such complaints were received, Nigerians would see what happened next.
To verify the claims of the report, a visit to the oil rich Ugborodo Community of Warri South West Local Government Area from Ugbuwangue in the late hours of the night, witnessed the unperturbed activities of illegal oil bunkers with thick flames from illegal refinaries, shrewed in different parts of the mangrove with stench of burning diesel in the atmosphere while the locally refined products are transported to their various destinations.
The journey took an average of 1:50mins with at least three military checkpoints at different strategic locations, checking the content of each boat as they passed. The question nagging for answer is, is it that these illegal refined products as they are being transported become invisible as they pass these checkpoints or someone automaically closes for the day?
In a chat with the State Waterways Security Committee chairman, Chief Ayiri, he said, “We are working in conjunction with the security operatives in tackling the menace of oil theft in the State Waterways.
“Though, there are still some few incidents of oil theft in parts of the waterways, we are working tirelessly for the total eradication of their activities. Our next phase right now is the total eradication of illegal oil bunkery which has currently been reduced to a minimal level.”
Citing challenges facing the committee, he said, “I am under obligation to ensure peace and tranquility in our coastal communities including my own Ugborodo community in Warri South-West council area of the state. I am also obliged to avert incidences of illegal oil theft and the consequent pollution of our waters and devastation of the vegetative and aquatic lives.
“In the course of this arduous and very hazardous task in the creeks, we are confronted with all manners of obstacles from all sides of the divide, as we have caused so many people to undergo security checks and even put a stop to their once flowing business. People have also taken on us severally and vicariously through false allegations and frivolous petitions with the intent to bring us down or at least get us out of their way.
“Some have even taken us to court and when it was time to prove their allegations in the same court, they would be nowhere to be found because, they are aware that all the relevant security agencies have investigated their spurious and frivolous petitions and found them to be baseless and unfounded,” he added.
Though, oil bunkering is a necessity for maritime shipping within the maritime sector, it becomes an illegal oil bunkering when it is carried out without requisite statutory licenses or valid documents, or in violation of the Nigerian Maritime Sector and the guidelines made by the statutory institutions regarding it.
The recent upsurge of oil theft or illegal bunkering has become an issue that now gives the Government, oil producing companies and Nigerians in general sleepless nights. As such, Nigeria’s economy has continued to dwindle, even though the country is the biggest oil producer in Africa.
Finally, the Federal Government cannot allow illegal bunkering to continue without finding lasting solution to the problem which is affecting the economy of the nation. More decisive steps should henceforth be taken to combat the illicit business, while those found guilty in this regard, no matter how highly placed, should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others.
Ochuko Bukororo writes from Abuja

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