For the Federal Government to disclose that it has commenced efforts to recover huge oil revenues laundered abroad by companies involved in the growing incidents of illegal oil bunkering and crude theft in the Niger Delta region, means that at least we have woken up to some genuine seriousness as a nation to the heinous financial crime or more aptly, crime against our humanity which the entire crude oil theft scheme connotes.
Just last week, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said drop in crude oil production in the first quarter of 2013, January to March, caused Nigeria a loss of crude revenue of about $1.23 billion (N190 billion), The corporation said in Abuja on Wednesday that the drop was caused by the incessant theft of Nigeria’s crude oil and vandalism along major pipelines within the region.
Crude oil production during the period fluctuated between 2.1 and 2.3 million barrels per day compared with the projected 2.48m barrels per day as said by the NNPC, though the oil workers’ union NUPENG maintained production had actually fluctuated between 1.8 and 2.1 million barrels per day during the period under review.
Figures from the NNPC show that 53 break points were discovered along the 97km Nembe Creek Trunkline, that necessitated Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, operator of the facility to declare a force majeure on its Bonny oil supplies and this will further reduce our April and May monthly average and further decrease crude oil revenue by about 554 million dollars (N83 billion) that should have accrued to the Federation Account.
At the Abuja Oil and Gas Conference, the minister lamented that Nigeria loses about 180,000 barrels of crude oil per day to crude thieves. This translates to about $7 billion (N1.05 trillion) annually.
Those who know would agree that the figures given by the NNPC and the minister were gross under estimations as it took account only of the volume of stolen crude oil taken to the international market. It did not factor-in the huge volumes of oil stolen and used as feedstocks for the thousands of illegal drum-refineries that litter the entire stretch of the Niger Delta region, parts of Lagos and Ogun coastal areas, Anambra and more recently even Kogi states.
We are not even talking of the negative effect of the menace on the environment, companies’ operational costs, and economy of the nation and worst the already not –too-good image of the country.
This is just an idea of the scale of this crime which aptly falls under the purview of international financial crime. And the disclosure by the Presidency at least shows that we know or suspect some companies (Nigerian and foreign) that are deeply involved in this illicit activity. The federal government should then start by unmasking them and releasing their names and affiliations-individuals and corporate to the world including Nigerian public.
Stolen crudes from Nigeria are conveyed by marine vessels and tankers registered and flagged in definite countries by known businesses. Even fake -flagged tankers can actually be trailed through its navigational pathways to unmask the original identity. Also, the foreign refineries where Nigerian crudes end are obvious accomplices in the crime. Most of the offshore facilities where Nigerian businessmen and even the NNPC buy the petroleum products they supply for our domestic consumption should be closely monitored as likely accomplices.
So the international community must collaborate with the Nigerian government to stop the illegal trade in stolen Nigerian crude oil abroad just as we are collaborating with some of these countries to check trade in hard drugs and other illicit trades in their own countries.
Criminalizing the illegal trade in stolen Nigerian crude oil would curb this embarrassment to the country if not total at least it will drastically reduce the crime. If the international community has always come down hard on stolen diamonds from Sierra Leone and Congo by labeling them as ‘blood diamonds’, it also needs to take a similar position on stolen Nigerian crude to stop oil theft in the country by labeling it “blood oil.”
Nigerian Government should use every diplomatic means including sanctions and assets forfeitures to stop the thriving market for stolen Nigerian crude abroad even in some ECOWAS countries.
We have to take the fight against crude oil theft to the various countries where Nigerian government feels some of the country’s crudes are being refined, and where these entities are laundering the funds made as a result of the illegal bunkering. Let’s even make efforts to harass these criminals in their countries by using diplomatic means to insist we recover monies realized from transactions involving stolen crude oil from Nigeria.
After all “The products from oil bunkering are not sold in ECOWAS waters, neither are the financial earnings from them laundered through West African banks. They actually end up in far-flung international fiscal institutions. That is why the federal government is soliciting the assistance of these foreign governments to help recover them.”
Now that President Goodluck Jonathan seems to have expressed genuine worries about crude oil theft in the Niger Delta and the trillions of Naira Nigeria loses by the trade of such crude that he is already seeking foreign assistance to resolve the menace, he should not just stop at that mere political jive.
IFEANYI IZEZE is an Abuja-based Consultant and can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters