Oil Theft in Nigeria: Private Security/Public Policing Partnerships to the Rescue
Recently, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan summoned South-South Governors over persistent oil theft in the region. The Nigerian Navy are also not relenting in their efforts to check the ugly trend. The Navy have continued to arrest and parade oil thieves and pirates, with the recent disclosure by the Commander, NSS Pathfinder, Rumuolumeni, Port Harcourt, Commodore Duja Effedua of the arrest of 33 persons over oil theft, pipeline vandalism and piracy and the seizure of a sea going vessel with 820 tons of crude oil, off the Gulf of Guinea with fake papers and without a bill of laden.
Oil theft is another growing threat to the Nigeria nation. The perpetrators of this deadly act are known economic saboteurs who operate a cartel, applying the technique of deception and surprise. Oil theft is not game of the poor and less connected but the rich and highly connected. The militants that provide security escorts and at times divert the products or hijack/confiscate vessels to load stolen oil and their civilian and military collaborators operate in a virtual circle using the chaos strategy.
The link between terrorism and oil theft is fast growing, and concertedly targeting us where we are most vulnerable, and at the same time they are working to avoid presenting themselves as any direct threat.
Our military forces are not sized and structured as a counter-value force thus providing a fertile ground for the chaos strategists to increasingly identify new vulnerabilities through targets and methods such as:
a. Critical infrastructure degradation or collapse,
b. Resource depletion,
c. Oil theft,
d. Small arms proliferation,
f. Slaughtering of innocent citizens, children and women and so on.
Nigeria is being targeted at the source of its mainstay – oil. Oil thieves are Nigeria’s collective enemy. The startling revelation surrounding the ownership of oil wells in the Niger Delta and the recently exposure of the main oil subsidy thieves call for concern on the part of the government and people of Nigeria.
The subsisting legislations were intended to encourage Multinational Oil Companies (MOCs) so as to raise money to prosecute the 30 months Nigeria Civil War (NCW). It is now 43 years after the Nigeria Civil War, what is holding the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which is believed hold the magic wand with which to tackle the rot in the industry and address the rights of oil bearing communities?
Beyond that, our concern should be how best to meet the challenges of oil theft, pipelines vandalism and terrorism. Admittedly, there is danger of overestimating a nation’s real or potential enemy. But, there is a greater danger of not recognizing a nation’s enemy at all. Let us rise up to check these enemies in the interest of Nigeria.
Since oil theft is a human problem caused by human beings who are pushed by human exigencies, it is only proper to examine and advance certain reasons why despite all concerted efforts by the Federal Government to contain the menace it has continue to thrive. These include:
1. Grievances. There have accumulated over the years so many grievances which may directly or indirectly result into oil theft and malicious vandalism of pipelines which are seen as the “Conduit Pipes” through which wealth that nature has bestowed on the nation with which the cake has been baked, but which is not being equitably shared, is normally transported. Vandalization of oil pipelines is seen today in the Niger Delta as a stop gap measure to make those who deserve to listen to actually listen or to discontinue even if temporary, the rape of the bounty of nature by those at the “Corridors of Power”.
On the other hand, oil theft is not intended to attract attention to the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta region or the marginalization of the people but to enrich the perpetrators of the criminal act at the detriment of the country. Crime of oil theft goes beyond expression of grievances. The grievances of the Niger Delta people arising from donkey years of rape of their land, oppression and deprivation provided the chaos strategists a good cover to continue to rob the nation.
A look into the oil subsidy scam and analysis of the list of the real oil thieves will reveal the real enemies of Nigeria outside Boko Haram. The percentage of indigenous Niger Delta people involvement in oil theft is less than 1%. The oil theft cartel is organized and managed by big shots from the majority groups who have continued to propagate the minority status of the people of the Niger Delta, sustain their disempowerment and promote their intimidation.
The high level of unemployment in the country is another factor which is aiding oil theft. Unemployment ensures the availability of ready army of gun bearers and pirates who are prepared to render their services for peanuts. Certain staff of some oil companies who are laid off unjustly after they have been trained by the oil companies also fined idleness leading them into oil theft and oil pipelines vandalization to make ends meet. Much as they would not have engaged in such acts if they were gainfully employed, the indifference which some of these oil companies display over staff and carrier matters need to be looked into.
Besides, those arrested, paraded and prosecuted by security operatives are not the main oil thieves. The victims are mere servants/agents of the oil theft cabal who parade the corridor of power.
3. Oil Import Contractors.
These days of nonfunctional refineries and broken pipelines Nigeria rely solely on importation of fuel and other related products. Those who benefits from the product importation business ensure that stolen Nigeria’s crude oil is exported, refined and in turn imported into Nigeria and sold at exorbitant price while the Federal Government paid the difference to the same people as subsidy. Where importation of products is not forthcoming, they resort to vandalization and illegal depot operation. Since they have made a lot of wealth from this illegitimate business, they are able to cover up their bad deeds and the vicious cycle continues.
4. Smuggling Mafia
Dismantling the smuggling mafia is one of the most difficult battles that can be fought as far as oil theft is concerned. The factors involved are very complex. One of the primary reasons is that to some people, smuggling is a career and oil theft is a vocation, especially those who have been used to the quick-money-little-work syndrome over a long period of time. They have not learnt any trade or vocation, so it is a life and death, do or die thing. They are those who would break the pipeline siphon the oil, finance law enforcement agents who would give them illegal cover; entice even unwilling accomplices with the lure of money; and have ready-made markets for the oil.
The mafia dimension in the smuggling business would continue to frustrate the fight against oil theft because if Government succeeds, they would be out of business.
5. Illegal Bunkering
A lot of Nigerians are inadvertently lured into illicit lifting of oil for quick financial rewards. They recruit unemployed and hungry young men and women and arm them with lethal weapons to go for such operations. The vogue is for young men and women to be formed into groups with all the characteristics of a cult, including ritualistic oath-taking and initiation procedures.
There is therefore an urgent need to put a conscious effort to reduce unemployment, improve the quality of life, bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, and repeal all oppressive legislations.
6. Small Arms
The low cost and ready availability of small arms like rifles, pistols, and light machine guns is not only contributing to rising cases of oil theft and pipelines vandalism as well as production disruption, but also promoting a culture of violence in Nigeria. In Nigeria today, gun ownership has become a symbol of power and status, and gun violence a first resort for the settlement of personal and political disputes. Small arms are not only taking many lives in Nigeria, but also exacting a heavy toll on the economy. The top shots who import these arms and arm the youths with it are the decision-makers in the society; they control the three arms of the government (Executive, Legislative and Judiciary) and the military. Until we begin to hold these people responsible, oil theft will continue to thrive.
In all, poverty and fear of poverty and the quest for materiality are sure motivating factors. But beyond these is availability of surplus oil, the absence of protection system coupled with existence of ready and motivated adversaries.
The current security being provided by the JTF is both ad-hoc and inadequate. The Federal Government should explore the possibility of building private security and public policing partnerships to prevent and respond to terrorism, oil theft and public disorder; that is, an integrated and comprehensive security system which weigh up the full spectrum of critical infrastructure security vulnerabilities with the ability to response to virtually every type of conceivable security threats.
I have pointed out severally that Nigeria’s public security capacity to protect our critical infrastructure is limited than is generally acknowledged. Agreed, the size, orientation and structure of public policing favours acquisition of timely threat information, but private security have control over most of the vulnerable sites.
Secondly, vast majority of the oil facilities are owned by the private sector or protected by private security who are not only the first responders but also have grassroots information concerning the immediate environments; making it imperative for the protection of our oil facilities to depend partly on the competence of private security practitioners. Thus, building partnerships is essential for effective national security.
Nigeria should not rely only on public policing apparatus for the protection of oil facilities. Concerted efforts need to be made now to urgently bring both private security and public policing resources to work together in a well defined and coordinated partnership so as to curb oil theft in the Niger Delta and guarantee national security.