It was unbelievable to hear the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin tell the Senate that the information he was brandishing as the volume of crude oil Nigeria loses daily to oil thieves was lifted from The Chatham House Report on oil theft in Nigeria.

If not that this country has remained a theatre of absurdities, how could a public officer who has the sole responsibility to police and safeguard the nation’s territorial waters and the national assets therein openly declare before the National Assembly that the figure he gave them on crude oil theft to justify his 2015 budget was lifted hook, line, and sinker from a study done by a foreign non-governmental organisation using data gathered by methodologies that could best be described as “play analysis”?

Where is the information the navy was expected to have generated over the years on this matter of oil theft? Obviously the service has nothing as sort to give out as a near reliable data on the actual volume stolen by thieves in our waters at least from the ones the navy alleged to have nabbed.

The Nigerian Navy Tuesday 2nd March 2015 told the Senate Committee on Navy that the nation currently loses  as many as 100, 000 barrels of crude oil at the estimated cost of N1.18 billion everyday amounting to N433.62 billion  a year.

At his budget defense, Rear Admiral Jibrin, who was represented by the Nigerian Navy’s Chief of Logistics, Rear Admiral Peter Agba, said the development was caused by “poor law enforcement at the nation’s territorial waters.”

Why is the Chief of Naval Staff telling us this? Does it not mean that he and the navy have failed the entire nation because until the very day he appeared at the Senate, it was still the responsibility of the service to guard our waters? How can the Naval Chief give out volumes of crude oil lost every day to oil thieves and still pretend they cannot get the perpetrators?

This same Chatham House report was emphatic that the main reason why oil theft goes on in Nigerian waters was because of what it described as “permissive law-enforcement atmosphere.”  Now, whether ‘permissive or poor law enforcement’, what does this say of the Nigerian navy? Was it not that the service has failed woefully in its sense of duty as mandated by law?

Is it not clear the navy is part of this problem? They sure have their hands soiled in it. They talked about blue navy and not being involved except beyond 25 nautical miles off the nation’s coastline. In reality, is this the case?

Can the naval chief pretend not to be aware that the same Chatham House Report he lifted figures from also recommended intelligence-gathering priorities to curb this menace and the question is: whose responsibility is it? Is that not within the purview of the statutory obligations of the navy?  Who will find out and burst the number and operational capacities of active export bunkering rings;  the nature and size of any so-called ‘white collar’ oil theft; transit, anchoring and fuelling patterns of ships suspected of stealing oil in Nigerian waters; and survey of small to mid-sized tankers regularly anchored offshore the Niger Delta. Has the Nigerian Navy done all or any of these? You see why the service is hugely suspected to be complicit in this whole thing?

Truth be told, the “organized stealing” of crude oil in this country has its roots in the highest echelons of the government including the military. It is collusion between locals who are even mere labourers in this matter, security agents and political powers. That is the only way the crude can be stolen. Nothing can be farther from the truth than believing that crude oil theft started with the Jonathan presidency. That’s a lie from the pit of hell.

It went on throughout Yar’adua’s short stay; the eight years of Obasanjo’s presidency had it and infact it was during this era that much awareness was created because of the heightened scope of the criminal activity and displacement of a certain ethnic group by another that was more favoured by the new (then) dispensation. It went on throughout the military era. The only difference is that each government comes with additional players in the game.

Is it actually possible in real terms for Nigeria to be losing 100, 000- 400,000 barrels of crude oil everyday to thieves as claimed by the industry operators and those at the helms of affairs?

The same Chatham House report the naval chief flaunted also conspicuously stated that, “No one can say with confidence exactly how much of Nigeria’s oil is stolen. Estimates vary widely, and fundamentally different pictures of the trade emerge depending on which figure one accepts. Equally credible sources put out widely diverging numbers at the same time. Ultimately, there may be no one in or outside Nigeria able to quote a totally reliable loss figure.”

Is the naval chief not aware that it has been established that Industry sources now ‘spin’ theft figures to serve ulterior motives? The IOCs do not publish joint estimates of amounts stolen. Individual companies tend to announce numbers selectively, and sometimes in vague forms, preferring to keep their best data confidential for security or other reasons. It has been established that most of the IOCs now habitually conflate amounts stolen with amounts spilled or deferred to make their case stronger with the joint venture (NNPC) and in turn Nigerian government.

Curiously, the IOCs always publish data attributing Niger Delta oil spills overwhelmingly to theft and sabotage. Almost all the IOCs regularly blame saboteurs for at least 90 per cent of all oil spill incidents in their operating areas. Though illegal bunkering does compound the problem, most of the volumes these foreign operators claim are stolen are actually lost in their spate of massive spillages into the Niger Delta environment. This is the truth!

The biggest confusion in this oil theft menace is the integrity of industry data. The pathetic aspect of this crude oil theft menace is in knowing the actual or rather honest size of the problem and also ranking theft by illegal bunkerers and ‘manipulation’ by foreign producers themselves. This is essential in finding appropriate solutions to this crime against the Nigerian people.

Pathetically, Nigeria is steered away from where the major stealing takes place. Who is talking of theft at export points where excess crude are loaded onto tankers by manipulating meters even the ‘totalizers’ and falsifying shipping documents? Nigeria has over 24 crude oil export terminals including floating platforms both near-shore and offshore. And majority are not policed by the navy for reasons that could best be described as unclear and at worst sinister. Is this a lie?

My submission: Let us put this problem in proper perspective so that we can urgently begin to take genuine and honest targeted actions to address the menace which at best has become a very big embarrassment to the entire country? God bless Nigeria!

(IFEANYI IZEZE lives in Abuja and can be reached on: [email protected]; 234-8033043009)

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