Thursday, October 09, 2008

Nigeria’s Anti-Bunkering Campaign

For a nation that has oil as its mainstay, it is to be expected that no effort would be spared in protecting oil facilities from vandals, economic saboteurs and plain crude oil thieves. It is against this backdrop that President Umaru Yar’Adua recently raised the alarm at the global forum of the 63rd session of the United Nation’s General Assembly, where he vowed that Nigeria would lead the global campaign against oil theft.
He had argued that proceeds from stolen oil are “Blood Oil” as it was with “Blood Diamond” in Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Illegal bunkering, also known as crude oil theft, is a crime that came with the discovery of oil in Nigeria. Often, the crime is committed with the active connivance of two parties-- local and foreign saboteurs.
While the foreign crime partners provide the huge capital outlay, logistics and operational facilities needed to perpetrate the crime, the local partners provide the guide and protection needed for a successful operation. The proceeds of the crime greatly enrich the criminals, albeit, illegally.
That the activities of the crude oil thieves have had a negative effect on the earnings of the country from oil is to say the obvious. Coupled with the unrest in the oil-rich Niger Delta, which has adversely affected production output, this evil has all but shrank the financial health of the nation. That should explain the determination of President Yar’Adua in seeking global co-operation in taming the criminal trend. One less discussed problem is the environmental pollution the theft causes from resultant oil spills and fire.
The international community which has often expressed concern over the mismatch between Nigeria’s enormous oil resources and the widespread poverty in the country should support these efforts the best way they can.
While we commend the fresh initiative at fighting bunkering on a global platform, it is necessary to remind the government that much more work needs to be done at home if the campaign is to yield the desired result. Indeed charity must begin at home. The nation must be prepared to deal decisively with the local collaborators in the bunkering business, before expanding the frontiers of the battle to the global front.
Though the government has often lamented the losses suffered to crude oil theft, it has hardly come down heavily on arrested suspects. Too often, much show is made when a group of high profile crude of thieves are caught, but no sooner had the arrests been made, than the case is forgotten. This has fuelled the strong suspicion that certain “powerful forces” are behind the criminal act in Nigeria.
For instance, three months ago, a group of 14 Filippinos were arrested on board a vessel with 150-160 metric tonnes of stolen crude. They even confessed to their crime, giving details of how their principal based in Greece directed the operation with the assistance of local partners. But till date, not many Nigerians know what became of the case. We are not aware of any conviction as a result of illegal bunkering.
In the past three years alone, the Navy and JTF have arrested 260 ships. What happened to them? Regularly, there are allegations of how even military personnel posted to guard oil installations collude with crude oil thieves to illegally sell off our commonwealth. The military authorities have, however, often denied this.
Along with the violence in the Niger-Delta region, oil bunkering has accounted for the loss of one-fifth of the nation’s production out put, and has indeed, reduced daily output to less than 2 million bpd. This should compel the nation to be firmer in applying the laws against these saboteurs. Treating them with kid gloves can never curb the crime. Worse still, foreign collaborators will never take the nation seriously if it continues to pay mere lip service to the campaign against oil theft.
The plan to launch a global war against oil bunkering is thus laudable as long as the nation is prepared to decisively deal with her own criminals in this respect.
Luckily, experts say the oil in Nigeria has its own peculiar character, finger print, and thus can be identified in the global market. That should further help in the anti-bunkering war.
But the worry is which global anti-bunkering police that can stop these thieves in their tracks at the international market? In order to succeed, Nigeria must thus work out an elaborate scheme of weaving together a tight network of surveillance that can help reduce the incidence of oil theft in the country and also be seen to have punished arrested crude oil thieves..