The nation, which is losing over $7bn (N1.13tn) in revenue annually to oil theft, has continued to battle the menace. The two security agencies said inappropriate sanction posed greater hindrance to the fight against oil theft in the country.
They, therefore, called on the Federal Government to ensure that all culprits were severely dealt with to serve as deterrent to others.
This position was canvassed at the ‘Conference on Oil Theft and Illegal Bunkering in the Niger Delta’ organised by the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta in Lagos.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba, recommended surveillance, response initiative and enforcement against the oil theft.
He bemoaned the inadequacy of punishment being meted out to oil thieves and pipeline vandals.
He said, “Anything that impinges on the safety of the maritime space constitutes a great danger to the country. So, pipeline vandalism and oil theft are some of them. Pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft are mutually exclusive. And if there is no pipeline vandalism, there will be no crude oil theft.
“It is, therefore, important that the culprits are appropriately sanctioned to serve as deterrent to others. This is where there are gaps. We have serious problem in the area of enforcement. However, in the immediate future, we should be able to see people properly sanctioned for sabotage, pipeline vandalism and oil theft.”
The naval chief further urged the International Oil Companies operating in Nigeria to begin to have a rethink on the ways of protect their pipelines and said they could bury them deeper into the earth.
He also urged the government to do more in its monitoring at the loading terminals, in order to bring the incidence of oil theft to the barest minimum.
According to Ezeoba, only the rich can engage in oil theft, considering its scale and financial requirement.
Speaking in the same vein, the Commandant General, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Dr. Olu Abolurin, condemned the way oil thieves were being handled.
He said a recent situation where some oil thieves, who had allegedly attempted to offer a N5m bribe to his men, were reportedly sentenced to one month imprisonment by court with an option of N2,000 fine was not encouraging. Oil theft, according to him, will not reduce if ‘weak punishment’ is applied against pipeline vandals and oil thieves. “The legislation must not be weak for us to achieve our objectives of curbing oil theft in Nigeria,” he said.
In view of this, the NSCDC boss said 85 oil theft cases had been transferred to the Attorney General of the Federation for accelerated hearing. He expressed the hope that appropriate punishments would be applied to discourage others from going into the crime.
The Niger State Command of the NSCDC had arrested nine persons including a petroleum tanker driver over alleged vandalism of petroleum product pipelines and installations in the state.
The state’s Commandant of the Corps, Mr. Donatus I Ikemefuna, said the suspects specialised in scooping fuel from the vandalised pipelines.
“We have discovered that vandalism in Niger State has become a profession,” he said, adding that many farmers were involved in the illegal business.
Similarly, the Oyo State Command of the NSCDC said it had arrested three suspected vandals.
The Commandant, Mr. Shem Obafaiye, said the suspects were apprehended at Ibudo Jesu Area of Surulere Local Government area of the state.
The Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, however urged oil communities to collaborate with security operatives in the fight against oil theft.
According to him, oil theft has become the biggest threat to the nation’s economic development.
He called for community support in fighting the menace just as he commended the security agencies for foiling most of the attacks, detecting and destroying illegal refineries in the region.
Kuku said community support in the fight is required urgently before the thieves transform into a formidable deadly group like drug or arms gang.
Kuku also dismissed the current figure being published as amount of oil stolen in the country, saying the estimated 400,000 barrels of oil per day loss in the industry might not have captured actual loss.
“It must be understood though that this figure represents what the country is losing not necessarily what is stolen.”
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