Against the backdrop of the alarming rate of pipeline vandalism and oil theft in the Niger Delta region, the disclosure by President Goodluck Jonathan that $1 billion (about N170 billion) has been earmarked for fighting the menace advertises, once again, the penchant for saying so much but doing so little. A similar multi-billion naira pipeline security contract earlier awarded to some ex-militants has not yielded any positive results. If anything, fighting oil theft has become a sleazy industry just as lucrative for brigands as oil theft itself, with both feeding fat on each other.
What then is the essence of throwing more money into the same venture if not to enrich a few persons with questionable commitment to the course of Nigeria?
To genuinely fight oil theft, the country’s armed forces should be properly mobilised without delay to confront what has become a full-blown economic war against Nigeria. And with honesty of purpose as well as a systematic, well coordinated approach to the battle alone can that war be won.
President Jonathan made the disclosure of his latest plan at The Hague during a meeting with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mr. Mark Rutte and Chief Executive of Shell International, Mr. Ben van Beurden. Jonathan was at The Hague to attend the 2014 global Nuclear Security Summit.
According to the President, “the Federal Government had set aside $1 billion to implement a comprehensive programme aimed at checking the menace of oil and gas infrastructure and prosecution of oil thieves”. He said a technical committee had been set up to look into all aspects of the implementation of the programme. The actions, he explained, would include security of pipelines and other oil industry infrastructure; resolve community-related issues; boost youth empowerment in oil producing areas and enhance the commitment of oil companies to the discharge of their corporate social responsibilities. The President then solicited the cooperation of the international community in his planned onslaught against oil thieves.
It is not clear from where the President’s renewed interest comes. Not long ago, Jonathan threatened to cancel the multibillion naira pipeline security contracts due to non-performance. Indeed, rather than abating, oil theft has worsened ever since the contracts were awarded.
The House of Representatives had once mandated its committees on Interior, National Security and Intelligence to investigate the contracts but it is not clear what the committees have done so far. Reports indicate that between 180,000 and 200,000 barrels of crude oil, the equivalent of Gabon’s oil production, amounting to $120 million (N19.2 billion) is stolen on a daily basis. And, statistics from the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) put Nigeria’s loss to oil thieves between 2009 and 2011 at a whopping N17.62 trillion, which is 7.7 per cent of Federal Government’s projected revenue. As it were, the country is bleeding at both ends. Fortune is being spent in fighting the menace and it appears, with the contracts, more money is being given to the thieves.
If, as it is now obvious, the country is facing an economic warfare being waged by the oil thieves, why can’t the armed forces be equipped to handle it? Any responsible government, it must be said, cannot claim ignorance of those bleeding Nigeria.
The complacency of Nigerians in the face of brigandage by buccaneers and the profligacy of governments is also one reason the country bleeds economically. A certain disrespect for their sensibilities persists when Nigerians ask no questions of their governments.
The announcement in the Netherlands, the headquarters of Shell, by the President was also grossly demeaning in its mercantilism and now certainly lays the leader of the black world open to sundry ridicule as his office or presidency would now be bombarded with bids for the contracts.
A multibillion naira contract had earlier been awarded to some Niger Delta ex-militants. Controversial as the contracts were, they were supposed to bring an end to the thriving oil theft and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta. But events have shown that the menace has not stopped despite the contracts. Instead, the oil thieves have increased in number and sophistication and have become more daring. Oil output is being affected adversely, leading many Nigerians to question why the government is unable to safe-keep the family heirloom.
It is not clear to whom the Federal Government intends to give the latest multitude of billions of naira, but cynicism is quite high that the money may be part of the slush funds for the 2015 elections.
It is up to President Jonathan to prove to Nigerians that he is truly ready to combat oil theft.
For now, painful as the ongoing profligacy at all levels and in different spheres is, it does not hurt as much as the glaringly scary prospect of a nation waking up one day to find nothing left to steal.