Nigeria’s seeming helplessness and Tompolo’s solution to oil theft
by JOHNMARK UKOKO
Over the years, Nigeria has been losing billions of dollars to illegal bunkering, pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft. In spite of security agencies guiding offshore and onshore oil installations and pipelines in the Niger Delta, the country continues to lose huge amount of crude oil to oil theft.
The situation has forced the Federal government and the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited to revalidate a multi-billion surveillance contract with former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly called Tompolo, to help fight the menace, a development that prompted JOHNMARK UKOKO to ask if Nigeria and its various security apparatuses have become helpless and clueless to tackle the challenge.
On August 10, 2022 the government of Equatorial Guinea announced that it arrested a sheep laden with 500,000 barrels of stolen crude oil from the Nigeria’s waters.
The report claimed that the Nigeria Navy attempted to arrest the ship on the Nigerian sea, but was unable to do so before Equatorial Guinea arrested the vessel in its territory.
The report has that the ship had 10 Indians, five Sri Lankans, two Nigerians and four others, whose nationalities were not immediately confirmed.
While top officials of the government of Equatorial Guinea were discussing the development with the Nigerian government in Abuja and what should be done to the oil thieves and their 500,000 barrel loots, the Federal Government hinted that it has had enough of crude oil theft and swiftly announced that it has struck a multi- million dollars pipeline surveillance contract to a former militant leader in the Niger Delta, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo.
The government actually renewed the contract that was initiated by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, as crude oil theft, which has been rampant during the immediate past government, but worsened under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, consistently robbed the country of huge revenues.
On their part, International Oil Companies (IOCs) at a recent conference in Abuja announced that the country was losing as much as 400,000 crude oil daily to theft, and as such, the Federal Government, IOCs, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited and security agencies should strategise and synergise to curb the menace.
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As the Federal Government was thinking of the best approach to overcome the challenge, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced that oil theft in Nigeria has been giving the oil cartel serious concern as it was distorting its oil production quota.
The oil cartel revealed that for several months, Nigeria has consistently been unable to meet its daily production quota, which it said, hovered between 1.7 million to 2 million barrels per day (mbpd).
While Nigeria is expected to produce 1.7 to two million barrels per day, it currently produces one million to 1.2 million barrels per day, thereby robbing the country of huge amount in foreign exchange earnings.
Its failure to meet crude oil production quota has led to depletion of the county’s external reserves from over $35 billion early this year to less than $20 billion as of June 2022.
Also, about two weeks ago, the Minister of Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, announced that the country was losing about $1.9 billion s monthly to crude oil theft, saying that if the country failed to tackle the menace, a serious economic crisis was imminent.
Before painting the country’s gloomy economic outlook, the naira, which exchanged for about N500 to the dollar earlier in the year, crashed to about N700 to $1 in July, prompting the National Assembly to summon Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, to appear before it to explain what was going on with the local currency at the official the parallel market.
Despite Emefiele’s promises and the fact that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested some foreign currency speculators last month, the naira still exchanged for over N600 to the dollar at the parallel market.
Although the naira exchanged for N429 to the dollar at the Investors and Exporters (I&E) window on Friday, August 19, 2022, it exchanged for between N630 and N645 to $1 at the parallel market depending on location.
Economists and analysts blamed the development on scarcity of Foreign Exchange (FX) due to the low crude oil production and export, a situation that has been compounded by the Russia-Ukraine war.
While other OPEC member countries continue to reap handsomely from crude oil sales, non-OPEC members Nigeria groan under a depressed economy and lack of funds, just as the Federal Government declared that the massive crude oil theft has robbed it of required revenues to meet its budget projections.
In a rather belated response two weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari dispatched a delegation led by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Chief Timpre Sylva and comprising Chief of Defence Staff (CDC), General Lucky Irabor, Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mele Kyari and others to visit the oil producing states to solicit their support in the fight against oil theft.
Irabor and the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, assured governors of the nine oil producing states and Nigerians of their determination to fight oil theft headlong.
While Nigerians await fulfillment of Irabor and Jamoh’s promises and that of other local security forces, a shipped loaded with 500,000 barrels of Nigeria’s stolen crude oil was arrested in Equatorial Guinea last week.
However, the failure of the security forces to stop the massive theft might have forced the Federal Government and NNPC to sign a surveillance contract with Tompolo, a former commander of the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to end illegal bunkering, illegal refining and all forms of oil theft in the Niger Delta region.
A source close to Tompolo told The Trumpet that the contract was worth over N4 billion monthly, adding that the former MEND leader will be responsible for monitoring and overseeing other surveillance contracts, contractors and their activities in the oil-bearing region.
Although, the actual figure Tompolo will be paid could not be confirmed, the source said Tompolo’s role in the deal will be similar to the one he played during former President Jonathan’s administration when Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke was Minister of Petroleum Resources.
Before the Buhari-led government cancelled Tompolo’s contract in 2015, it was learnt that the strategy he adopted effectively tackled illegal bunkering and oil theft and increased Nigeria’s crude oil production quota to over 2mbpd.
It would be recalled that at the inception of the Buhari administration, the contract was cancelled, while Tompolo was declared him wanted, though he was later exonerated of all wrong doings.
“But it now appears as if the Federal Government has suddenly realised the need to bring him back, because currently, over 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) are being lost to illegal bunkering,” the source said.
The Trumpet learnt that the new deal was brokered by Sylva and some top officials of the NNPC, including the Group Executive Director, Upstream, Adokiye Tombomeiye.
In its new status, NNPC as profit making outfit is determined more than ever before to curb all illegal activities affecting operations and making the company run at a loss.
At the signing of the renewed contract with Tompolo, it was also learnt that over 5,000 stakeholders from the Niger Delta, especially from Bayelsa and Delta states attended the meeting.
While it appears that the government has realised that security agencies lack the willpower to end crude oil theft, the presidency and top government officials are now lamenting that the menace had impacted negatively on the country’s revenue generation capacity.
Responding to the development, most Nigerians say it was ironical that Tompolo has once again secured the contract, in spite of all the allegations the Buhari administration leveled against him at its inception, adding that it was unbelievable that the former militant leader could secure the same contract from the Federal Government.
They expressed surprise that the Buhari government could re-award the contract to Tompolo to protect the country’s crude oil pipelines and crude oil facilities.
Expressing disgust that thousands of navy officers, security agencies and their men could not arrest crude oil thieves, they lamented that the country’s security apparatuses seem to be collaborating with some foreign powers to steal Nigeria’s crude oil.
They maintained that it was unbelievable that crude oil thieves that stole 500,000 barrels of crude oil and evaded arrest in Nigeria could be arrested in Equatorial Guinea.
But with the renewal of Tompolo’s contract to guide monitor and possibly protect crude oil pipelines in the Niger Delta region and end crude oil theft, most Nigerians wonder if the country’s security agencies and their officials have become helpless and clueless on strategies to effectively put a final stop to the massive stealing of crude oil in the country.