Tracing Footprints of Oil Theives


May 3, 2022

By Suyi Ayodele

Nigeria today is one of the poorest countries in the world. Our leaders, however, are the most flamboyant in the world. They are like the Nigerian lead character, Captain, in “Lonely Londoners” a 1956 novel by the Trinidadian author, Samuel Selvon. Captain is described as “a man constantly asking his friends if he can borrow money”. He smokes the most expensive cigar; he does nothing else. When you think he is done for, he survives and bounces back. The character, in his description of the peoples of the world, says: “It have some men in this world, they don’t do nothing at all, and you feel that they would dead from starvation, but day after day you meeting them and they looking hale, they laughing and they talking as if they have a million dollars, and in truth it look as if they would not only live longer than you but they would dead happier”. Nothing describes Nigerians and Nigeria more than the quoted Captain’s words. Our crude oil is said to be one of the purest in the comity of oil producing nations. It needs little effort to refine it. That is supposed to fetch us some good money. But we live in abject penury. No thanks to international oil thieves and their Nigerian  collaborators.

One of the beautiful gains of my closeness to my native roots was the privilege to listen to elders talk. Those were wise men of yore. They spoke in parables, and at times, esoteric words. In one of such discussions, I heard something about how to trace the footprints of a thief on the rock. I was curious to note how that could be done. The discussion ended with the saying that it takes a thief to be able to trace the footprints of another thief on the rock. In essence, to catch a tricky thief, you set another thief after him. Wise counsel! One of the deficiencies of this present government is its obvious lack of intelligence. It does not matter the number of the so-called eggheads in the General Muhammadu Buhari administration. The government does not pass as one with deep thinking faculty. Why that is so, I don’t know and I may not know. I am also not sure if an average Nigerian knows why the government lacks the ability to rise above basic intelligence while throwing stunts at the citizenry. The common denominator in all the stunts of the government is its folly to think that the generality of the people would never find out the tricks the government plays with us. Pity! One does not have to be a hunter to know that an animal does not take a particular path in the bush. This is why, after each mistake it makes, the Buhari administration looks for a means to cover it up. And what does it do? Buhari men go to town with a stunt to divert our attention.

Shortly after it took over power in 2015, the government, basking in the euphoria of its propaganda of fighting corruption, through the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) declared the commander of the defunct Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) , Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo, wanted. In the much-publicised advertorial, the Federal Government accused Tompolo of diverting the sum of N45.9bn, belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). The EFCC took that drastic action on February 12, 2016, after Tompolo had failed to appear before the Federal High Court, Lagos, presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba, trying him and nine others of the alleged crimes  of “conspiracy, illegal diversion” of the said amount of money. That was some six years ago. The government has since forgotten about the matter and moved on to some other things. Nigerians, the government also thought, had forgotten about the entire episode. The man who answers Government, returned to his Gbaramatu kingdom, where he continues to reign as the lord that he is; waiting patiently like the vulture for another opportunity. As the 2023 elections approach, the Buhari government suddenly realised that the nation was losing billions of hard currency to crude oil thieves in the Niger Delta. It took a decision to stem the tide. Our oil pipelines must be protected. The revenue losses through the activities of the illegal oil bunkerers must stop. It was then it dawned on the government that the only person who could help in putting an end to the stealing is Government himself. To chase today’s rabbit, you need today’s dog (Ajá ìwòyí ló mo ehoro ìwòyí lé). The business of illegal oil bunkering is not a small business. To stop it, you need the services of another tough guy, who understands the business.

Without thinking, the government approached Tompolo. Without any input from the public, the Buhari administration in August 2022, awarded a multi-million dollar pipeline surveillance contract to Tompolo. The contract sum was put at N48 billion per annum an average of N4 billion a month! Just a little N2.1 billion above the N45.9 billion it accused Tompolo of “diverting” – imagine the euphemism. The outcry that greeted that insensitive contract was huge. How would a government, which terminated the same contract awarded by the government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan,  now give the  same contract to Tompolo, who it declared wanted for “diverting” N45.9 billion?

The Guardian, in its editorial of September 22, 2022, declared the contract amounted to awarding medals to criminals. Here is what the newspaper said: “The award of a N48 billion-a-year contract to protect pipelines bearing petroleum products to a former Niger Delta militant, Government Ekpemupolo (a.k.a. Tompolo) may be convenient for the Federal Government; but it adds no value to the esteem of an administration that had promised not to reward criminals with medals. Beyond that fact, the pipeline protection contract awarded to Tompolo raises deep concern about the capacity of the state to secure lives and properties. What the Muhammadu Buhari government has done in effect is to abdicate government’s constitutional responsibility to mercenaries, even against its avowed policy not to engage mercenaries in fighting terrorism”.

The paper went ahead to dismiss the explanation by Mele Kyari, the Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), that it was ‘the right decision’, saying that “by surrendering the security of the economic valves and nerves of the country to Tompolo is not in any way different from hiring mercenaries. If the Armed Forces have come to the sad conclusion that they cannot secure the Niger Delta and Nigeria at large, then there is a problem for the country”. Other criticisms followed and just as The Guardian warned that the contract to Tompolo would  “set a dangerous precedence” as other ex-militants would demand their own share of the juicy contract, the entire Niger Delta landscape suddenly became a field of agitation, with threats and counter threats issued. Then the government decided to douse the tension. What did it do?

The government suddenly woke up with another drama to depict Tompolo as the saviour of the Nigerian economy. While appearing before the Senate’s joint Committees on Petroleum (Upstream and Downstream), and Gas, disclosed that the NNPCL had discovered a 4-kilometre pipeline from Forcados terminal to the sea, and a loading port that had operated undetected in the last nine years. “Oil theft in the country has been going on for over 22 years, but the dimension and rate it assumed in recent times is unprecedented. The illegal attachments on the Trans Escravos pipeline are professionally done and the end result is that they connected this to an inactive pipeline which should not carry crude in a normal instance”, is the way Kyari narrated the “discovery” to the senators. He added  that the discovery was made during a clampdown on crude oil theft in the past six weeks! Hope you get the connection. The Tompolo controversial contract was awarded barely six weeks ago and pronto, we discovered a pipeline that had been in operation in the last nine years. 

While one will agree with the elders that it takes a thief to trace the footprints of another thief on the rock, shouldn’t the Buhari government have spared us this unintelligent discovery? What does the government take Nigerians for? That we don’t think at all, or what? Is this how to justify the award of “medals to criminals” that The Guardian alluded to above? Granted that one did not pay adequate attention to mathematics in the secondary school days, elementary arithmetic rote learning says “1,000 metres make one kilometre”. That means that the newly “uncovered” oil thieves laid 4,000 metres of pipeline from our oil well to the deep sea and operated the same for nine years before the “eagle-eyed” Tompolo discovered it for us! And Buhari, Kyari and their gang of stunt players would want us to rise in ovation for the “discovery”. This is a country with a functional Navy. This is Nigeria with an effective nocturnal DSS, which takes delight in visiting judges’ homes at the dead of the night? For the past nine years, until Tompolo won the surveillance contract some six weeks ago, nobody knew about the existence of the pipeline with over 15 discharge points. Wonders shall never end.

And while we were at that, another yucky information flittered in that in far away Equatorial Guinea, a 336-metre long tanker, carrying 299,995 metric tonnes of Nigerian crude oil was arrested. Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, a Commodore, and spokesperson of the Nigerian Navy, made the disclosure. According to him, the vessel was on  August 8, 2022 spotted at the “Total Safe Anchorage (SA) operated by Akpo Oil Field for loading operations but was interrogated by the Nigerian Navy and later observed to be without NNPC due clearance for the loading operations. Notwithstanding, MT HEROIC IDUN proceeded with the loading operation at the Akpo Single Buoy Mooring (SBM). Having not produced her NNPC clearance papers for the loading operation, MT HEROIC IDUN was stopped from proceeding further by Nigerian Navy Ship GONGOLA. The Captain of MT HEROIC IDUN then revealed that he was instructed by his ship’s agent, Messrs Inchcape Shipping (owners of IDUN Maritime Limited) not to obey any directive from the Nigerian Navy. The VLCC subsequently resisted arrest when ordered to stop by NNS GONGOLA and the supertanker escaped towards the Nigeria-Sao Tome Joint Development Zone Area”. Imagine Ayo-Vaughan telling us that the Captain of a foreign vessel told our Naval officers that he had directive not to “obey any directive from the Nigerian Navy” and the vessel “escaped”!  I bumped into an online analysis which stated that for that vessel to be fully loaded, it would take 12 full days. That is the same vessel, its Captain told Ayo-Vaughan and his officers that he was instructed not to “obey” any (yeye – nonsense) “directive” from our naval personnel. One, it was discovered that the ship had no NNPC papers. It was challenged on that but it called the bluff of the Nigerian Navy. It stayed in our waters for at least 12 days, loaded our crude oil without papers and “escaped”. And then, a Commodore in the Nigerian Navy gleefully announced to us that: “As a demonstration of the renewed cooperation and collaboration among the Gulf of Guinea nations, the Nigerian Navy welcomed with much satisfaction, the news of the arrest of MT HEROIC IDUN by the Equatorial-Guinean Navy (EGN) on 12 August 2022 barely four days after the supertanker assumed she had evaded arrest by the Nigerian Navy”. 

Last Friday, General Buhari presented a budget of N20.51 trillion to the National Assembly with a deficit of N10.78 trillion. To finance the budget, like Captain, Buhari would have to borrow N8.8 trillion. If you are wondering why we are this broke as a nation, listen again to Commodore Ayo-Vaughan, whose Navy allowed a 336-metre long tanker to “escape” with our crude oil because the captain of the vessel had instructions not to “obey any directive from the Nigerian Navy”.  How many crude oil vessels have “escaped”? How much have we lost and going to lose to crude oil thieves before we get it right?

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