When Nigeria’s N9.3bn no longer secures its oil pipelines 

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) recently announced an alarming increase in the spate of pipeline vandalism across the country. The state oil company had in October 2018 recorded a 42.9 percent increase in vandalism incidents on its pipeline network compared to September 2018. This meant there were 219 incidents in October while 125 incidents had occurred the previous month; nearly double the former. NNPC’s spokesman, Ndu Ughamadu, had identified the trouble spots as the Ibadan-Ilorin and Aba-Enugu axis, accounting for 81 (40%) and 39 (18%) vandalized points respectively. This is sad considering the subsisting N9.3 billion pipeline security contracts Nigeria has with various groups across the country.

For decades, Nigeria has battled pipeline vandalism, one of the hottest points being the Niger Delta area. Covering nine states; Rivers, Ondo, Imo, Edo, Delta, Cross River, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Abia, over 28 million people live in the Niger Delta, their primary occupation being fishing and farming. Unfortunately, the discovery of crude oil and the attendant effects of oil spillage has drastically reduced not only the quality of arable land but also the quantity of aquatic life. Coupled with decades of neglect by the Federal Government, it was only a matter of time before the natives turned on oil pipelines for their share of the windfall.

To check pipeline vandalism, the Federal Government in 1975, established the Petroleum Production and Distribution Act, also known as the Anti-Sabotage Act. According to the law, vandalism is punishable by death or imprisonment for 21 years. Earlier, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) had been established in 1970 and later amended by a June 2007 Act. Among its many duties, the corps had the power to arrest, detain and prosecute anyone found vandalizing oil pipelines, power transmission lines, water board pipes and other public service equipment. These laws notwithstanding, pipeline vandalism continued unabated.

In 2012, the Federal Government began the payment of between $3.5 million and $22.5 million to Niger Delta militants who had previously bombed oil pipelines to protect them and the waterways. The sum does not include a latter contract with the leaders of the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) for the coverage of the South West’s three zones. Then Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, defended the contract, saying it was to Nigeria’s benefit. Since the execution of the contract, crude oil production had reportedly increased from 1.8mbpd to 2.6mbpd, which translated to an increase of over $700 million in government’s daily income.

Possibly prompted by public outcry, President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly after he was sworn in, cancelled all the pipeline surveillance and protection contracts awarded to numerous ethnic independent groups. One of the earliest consequences of the cancellation was a violent clash between operatives of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) and the police at an oil pipeline close to Sagamu, Ogun State. Three members of the OPC reportedly lost their lives in the clash when the police, together with armed military personnel, took over the protection of the facilities from the operatives. Less than a year later, this decision was quickly reversed. This time, the argument was that Nigeria had been losing N7 billion monthly to pipeline vandalism. A new contract signed on March 16 2016 directed that ex-militants were to take over the protection of Nigerian oil pipelines from the NSCDC and other security agencies.

Conventionally, armed groups have no business protecting government assets; this is the duty of Nigeria’s security agencies. However, for some difficult to fathom reasons, the police and NSCDC have proven incapable of carrying out this task. Nigeria’s critical public assets are now left at the mercy of armed groups who threaten destruction at the slightest provocation.

It is not enough to lament pipeline vandalism across the country; the government must be proactive about solutions. Armed groups paid from the public coffers to protect these facilities must be held accountable. Anything less than a satisfactory response must be followed by the termination of such contracts. Righting decades of wrongs suffered by Nigeria’s oil-producing communities must not, by any stretch of the imagination, enable day-light robbery in the name of pipeline security.