By Constance Meju
Transparency International in conjunction with Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center, CISLAC organized a validation session on a research they jointly conducted on “Military Involvement In Oil heft” in Nigeria Thursday June 13, 2019. Venue was Landmark Hotel, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Welcoming participants drawn from civilsociety organisations, media and community representatives, CISLAC programmeofficer said the discussion paper,outcome of the research arose from the fact that Nigeria loses 200,000 barrelsof crude oil everyday to oil theft and this affects the federal revenue anddeliverables to citizens. He said the situation is made worse by claims thatsecurity personnel charged with the responsibility of guarding against thetheft are aiding ad even participating in the crime.
He said the recent accusation by the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike that the Army leadership is involved in the theft added to a pertinent need by Transparency International and CISLAC to conduct a research on the matter to ascertain the truth or otherwise.
The programme officer explained that thestakeholders have been invited to validate the findings of the research beingoperators in the oil and gas impacted areas.
According to the research report titled,“Military Involvement In Oil Theft in The Niger Delta: A Discussion Paper: “TheNiger Delta is the most important oil producing region in Africa with its oilproviding 70 per cent of Nigeria’s government revenue. However, alongside thelegitimate trade in the Delta’s oil products, there is a lucrative andorganized illicit oil trade that reported loses Nigeria 200,000 barrels of oilevery day”.
“Participants in oil theft also calledoil bunkering, steal oil from pipelines, refine the oil, and then sell it tolocal, regional and international markets. It is a profitable criminal industrythat cost the Nigerian government N3.8trillion (approximately UD$1056billion)in 2016 and 2017,” the report further stated.
It noted that beyond the economic loss,“the human cost and environmental pollution have similarly, been significant”.Regular spills of oil caused by oil theft and sabotage it said, have “pollutedthe waterways, contaminated crops and other food resources, and released toxicchemicals into the air”. According to the research, in 2017, reports emergedthat oil spills doubled the risk of child mortality in the Niger Delta.
Though the Joint Military Task Force,JTF was deployed to the region since theearly 2000s to checkmate militancy and protect pipelines from oil theft, therehave been indications that some JTF members are complicit in and often benefitfrom precisely the pursuit are mandated to eradicate; the illicit oil industry.
Categorically, the report stated:“Existing research suggests that members of the Nigerian Armed Forces haveenabled and benefitted from the illegal trade in a number of ways. Often thisbenefit comes from providing protection both ensuring military officials turn ablind eye to illegal activity and protecting oil thieves access to extractionpoints from rivals in exchange for financial bribes. A Chatham House report hassuggested that JTF officers have stood guard at illegal tap points and providedarmed escorts to ships loaded with stolen crude.
“Similarly, a 2015 report from the stakeholder DemocracyNetwork, SDN reports JTF members active involvement in oil theft, fromproviding security to local oil thieves as they install taps that divert oil from pipelines to collectingtransportation taxes for vehicles transporting oil and demanding regionalsecurity payments from illegal oil refineries for ongoing protection. The mediaalso suggested that soldiers know the locations of the illegal cooking pots butare often paid off not to close down oil theft rings and maintain an overviewof the illegal operations.
To gauge the scale of practice and depthof military involvement, six independent researchers conducted interviews andfocus group discussions in the region between February and July 2018 anddiscussions took place in Nembe and Yenagoa, Bayelsa State and Port Harcourt,Rivers State. Participants were drawn from local communities familiar with theillegal oil operations. The researchers further observed busy scenes at severalillegal oil refining points.
Outcome of the exercise revealedcomplicity of the military in protecting operators or feigning a blind eye inexchange for money.
“One participant who is familiar withillegal bunkering in Bayelsa State indicated that tapping occurs with theknowledge and complicity of military personnel”. According to him, themilitary, “know the location of every tapping point and the names of everyindividual or group who controlled them”.
In Cross River State, researchers weretold of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC state-owned pipelinebeing routinely targeted for oil theft operations.
“The extraction points identified byinterviewees were less than one kilometer from the Nigerian Navy Base, NNSVictory and the Nigerian Navy training School. The proximity of tapping points close to militaryestablishments suggest at best, awareness of the scheme and at worst, activeparticipation”.
The vulnerable especially women pay upfast to avoid harassment. ”Women are also involved and pay up promptly beingmore vulnerable”.
“My waterfront is a joint where all theforces, army, police, navy, in Rivers State come to collect their share”, a highlyplaced stakeholder stated.
Focus group participants reportedwitnessing some JTF members being closely involved in oil theft from the NNPCpipeline and receiving a share of oil products in return for providing coverand protection while Rivers State residents reported on trucks being escortedby police and military personnel regularly approach the pipeline at night,inserting valves and hosts and filling two or three tankers with oil as armedmilitary and police personnel provided a security perimeter.
Operators of illegal refineries told theresearchers that the JTF knew exactly where the bush refineries were locatedand how they operate used that to knowledge to extract payment. “The JTF knowswhere every cooking pot in the Niger Delta is; they know how to get there, theyknow who owns it and they even have their phone numbers”.
The interviewees alleged that the sitesburnt by the JTF running into 100s, are acts to intimidate operators intosubmission to agree to their terms. “How can the military claim that they arelooking for oil thieves when they have invaded the entire waterfronts andcommunities? No, they came to cause fear and damage to our communities toinstill fear so that those who do bunkering will pay”.
While environmentalists decry burning ofillegal refinery sites and tankers caught with stolen crude as it devastatesthe environment further endangering lives. Some communities claim that what isactually destroyed are not the refineries but dumps containing flammable wastefrom the refining process.
Payments to the military are said to beregular and scheduled while non-payment attracts punishment. From Bayelsa Statecame the disclosure that, “after an illegal refinery failed to meet a deadlineto pay an operational fee of N4million (approximately$11,000), militaryofficers arrived on the site and opened fire, allegedly killing one person anddemanded an extraN200,000 ($550) for the delay.Next day, N1.7million was to themilitary personnel with a promise to pay the balance of N2.5million($600)later”; reminiscent of a drug movie scene.
And from Rivers State, a worker associated with illegal refineries recalled a meeting with police and army personnel of unknown unit which purpose was to ensure the illegal worker delivered his regular payment to the security personnel.There was a payment he could not deliver on as scheduled due to delayed communication in the illicit trade network-the contact in the oil company had not given him signal to go ahead and siphon crude oil and as such, he had not produced from that well as scheduled.The army officer had to personally call the oil company insider to confirm the truth and was told time was risky.
So evident is military involvement in the transportation of this theft business that an interviewee summed it up thus: “It is impossible for any person to transport even a drop of product on these rivers without first getting the understanding of the military. Nobody will will expose his investment to that type of risk. There is no hiding; they will find you and the punishment for trying to bypass them is that your produce and the boat will be burnt.
Even before the boat man agrees to giveyou his boat to carry product, the first question is, ‘Have you settledsecurity?”
Validating the findings, stakeholdersconfirmed the involvement of the military in oil theft in the Niger Delta bothas security providers and sometimes as participants in the business. Theylamented that while government is fighting to stop illegal oil business, themilitary representing the armed forces,are facilitating the evil act. Theyhowever, noted that government is not taking adequate care of the securitypersonnel to fortify them against being lured into the illegal lucrative trade.
The stakeholders described illegal oiltrade as a failure of the Nigerian state, exhibiting fundamental flaws in oursystem noting that the oil theft is a ring connecting high ranking personnelwhile posting of military officers to the Niger Delta and oil sites areinfluenced. They said it is the duty of government to play its part by holdingcitizens accountable to their assignments and office.
Though the importance of the military inthe protection of lives and properties in the Niger Delta in particular wasacknowledged, a noticeable lapses in the governance system were identified including, obvious lack of transparency inthe country’s security operations as well as clear human and environmentalrights violations.
To change things for the better, thestakeholders recommended the publication of officers nabbed colluding with oilthefts as a deterrent to others as they called on the federal government tocome clean on oil operations by declaring how much is coming in, what quantityof oil is stolen. They stated that when government shows transparency, oilcommunities will be encouraged to support moves to end oil theft in the region.
Government was also charged to resolvethe Nigerian crisis as oil theft is very well tied to politics and resourcecontrol and stop destroying illegal sites, tankers and boats loaded withproducts as the survival of Nigeria depends on a healthy Niger Delta. Establishmentof large tank farms for storage of trapped stolen oil was recommended to helpsave the environment and help government gauge correctly,the quantum of oillost to theft.
Use of ICT to anonymously monitor andprotect activities in the industry was recommended as well as high leveladvocacy to military leadership by civil society to promote non-involvement.
Niger Delta governors were challenged tobe more specific in condemnation of parties involved in the illicit tradeincluding the military to help track and sanction them.
Oil companies operating in the regionwere also charged to do the needful on quality control in line withinternational best practices to block room for leakages that encouragebunkering.
ConstanceMeju is a gender equity and environmental justiceadvocate and publisher of Port Harcourt based National Point Newspaper