From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The massive oil theft in the Niger Delta region has reduced oil production to an alarming low level. From recent statistics, oil production output has dropped to a record low of 972,394 barrels per day.
During a tour of the region by members of the Anti-Oil TheftCommittee, Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, lamented:
“Our production has dropped drastically to very unsustainable levels.
As a country, we cannot sustain this king of oil theft perpetually.”
In Asaba, Delta State, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, advocated a review of surveillance contracts on oil facilities to incorporate host communities to further help in checking oil theft: “I am glad we are discussing this hydra-headed issue which impacts directly on our economy and the environment.
“It impacts on the health of the people and sustainability of the environment. I am glad that we are taking some steps because there are so many issues that led us to this.
“We went through situations where gaps were created between host communities and oil companies and unfortunately criminality set in. It has gone so bad but we are doing our best as a state. I am so glad about the collaboration.”
In Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Governor Douye Diri said the continued oil theft in the Niger Delta region poses serious threat to the survival of the region: “The federal and state governments largely depend on oil.
“Oil theft does not affect only the Federal Government. It affects us as a state government and the local governments. We have spoken about this over and over and we will continue to say it.
“We are talking about our environment that has been brazenly polluted through oil bunkering activities. If you go to our communities, you will see oil floating on our rivers. That has led to the locals not having a means of livelihood. It has led to unknown diseases and sicknesses.”
Investigations revealed that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited awarded pipeline surveillance contracts to five companies in the region to assist the military in combating oil theft.
Such contract was also awarded in 2012 to ex-militant leaders in Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Ondo states during the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The surveillance then helped greatly to stem the tide of oil theft, which ultimately increased oil production.
In the thinking of the NNPC, it awarded the surveillance contracts to five companies covering Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo, Rivers, Imo and Akwa-Ibom states. Nigerians have been sharply divided over the nature of the contract. Some applauded it as a good step to curb illegal oil bunkering and illegal refineries.
Among the critics of the award is Governor Olurotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State. He queried the rationale behind the contract to ex-leader of the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo
He argued the contract which would allow private security outfits to bear arms while denying the same to states of federating units to tackle insecurity “is a pointer that the defence architecture in the country needs an urgent overhaul.”
However, former president, Ijaw Youth Council, (IYC), Eric Omare, expressed optimism that the approach “is going to work especially with
Tompolo who has the capacity to rein in oil thieves in the Niger Delta region leading the charge.
“The meeting in Oporoza was convened by Tompolo to sensitise the people on the need to stop crude oil theft. It is no longer news that Nigeria can no longer meet its OPEC production quota. The effect is far reaching. It is a community-based approach to stop crude oil theft. It worked under former President Jonathan and it would still work.
“I have always believed that a community-based approach to insecurity whether oil theft or banditry is the way to go. Those involved in crude oil theft are not spirits. Most times they have tacit or passive
support from the communities. But with what Tompolo is doing by
galvanising support from communities, it is going to work.”
Omare later addressed some Ijaw youths: “All of us had carried arms before. So, nobody can threaten anyone with guns. But what I want to assure you is that there will be no escape route for anybody.
“The reason I invited you here is on how to halt illegal bunkering. I am from Okerenkoko, the same way each of these community leaders are from a community. What we want to tell our mothers, fathers and all community leaders is that from today, after today’s meeting, we will work out the form that the operation will take.
“No more illegal bunkering. After now, we will give you the addresses of where you will be deployed so that you will be employed. The employment will be for men and women in the ratio of 60-40.
“If the right thing was done, we wouldn’t have reached this level. God knows who’s behind it (oil theft), the government knows who’s behind it. But we just want to appeal, because the buyers and the sellers are deeply involved.
“Anybody employed by this community, the money will go straight to them. We won’t give any job to contractors where you will ask that someone should be paid N20,000 and they will be given just N10,000.”
Donald Ojogo, immediate past Commissioner for Information in Ondo State, said: “Tompolo has a clear, unambiguous record of an immeasurable experience in the area under review. As such, his engagement can only engender economic stimulation as a result of increased oil production output.
“By this decision to get locals, especially the likes of Tompolo involved, the nation shall heave a sigh of relief as a result of increased economic growth.”
Former president of IYC, Chris Ekiyor, said: “This surveillance contract was not just given to Tomoplo, he bided for it like other businessmen and his bid was successful. He has said that the contract is not about him but the people.
“It is about the men, women and youths in the Niger Delta. He is meeting stakeholders to ensure that no one is left behind. Those grumbling are in a hurry and they are not being fair.
“We have learnt our lessons. Those who think they can instigate a crisis are going to be disappointed. Tompolo is doing everything to ensure that unemployed people in the region benefit to demonstrate to the government that we are capable of taking care of our region.”
Chairman of a socio-political group, Nembe Se, Senator Nimi Barigha-Amange said: “The decision to award the surveillance job is a reward for a track record of competence and expertise in security in the Niger Delta region.
“The position of the Niger Delta leaders especially stakeholders is clear on the award of the contract to Tompolo. His company like other bidder was at liberty to bid, win, and execute any legitimate job with a track record of competence and expertise in security in the Niger Delta region.”