PORT HARCOURT: ILLEGAL bunkering has become a major problem in the oil rich Niger Delta region. At the last count the nation reportedly loses about 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day to this illicit trade.
According to experts, illegal bunkering is supplying crude oil illegally. Within the context of the Niger Delta, it also includes the vandalism of oil pipelines and facilities for illegal crude. Besides supplying the crude to vessels for local and international market illegally, those in the illicit trade have also devised illegally, means of refining the product for local consumption.
Within the last two years in the region, no fewer than one thousand five hundred illegal refining points have been attacked and destroyed by the Joint Task Force Operation Pulo shield, JTF. Inspite of the huge financial investment of the federal government in the crusade against illegal bunkering, nothing much seems to have been achieved.
Commander Sector II of the JTF Operation Pulo shield and Brigade Commander 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt, Brigadier General Burutai Tukur, voiced the frustration of the security body in the crusade in his office in Port Harcourt recently, when he said that the international oil companies, IOCs were insincere in the anti- illegal bunkering crusade.
Although he was limited with information on his allegation, but, the statement speaks volumes of the near hopeless state the JTF finds itself in the crusade. In some quarters, some men of the security body have been accused of compromise.
Meantime, with the huge loss being recorded by the government to the illicit trade and the failure of the JTF to achieve meaningful impact, some ex- militants under the aegis of Niger Delta Ex- Agitators Leaders Forum, have called on the government to legitimise the illicit trade.
Former number two man of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, a disbanded frontline militant group in the region, Mr Prince Amaeibi Hornby aka Busta Rhyme said when the trade is legitimized, those involved could be made to pay tax to the federal government.
Adding that legitimising the illicit trade would create empowerment for youths of the region, he said it would also allow emergence of indigenous refineries in oil communities. These refineries should now be made to pay tax to the government. He said there was no way the federal government could stop illegal bunkering in the region because those involved were part of those fighting it.
According to him, it is a big trade involving big time investors. “Security men are part of the illicit trade. We think if government gives legal backing to illegal bunkering it would lead to establishment of indigenous refineries.” He said the indigenous refineries should be made to produce to specification. “NNPC should ensure they refine to specification.”
The former MEND leader further argued that illegal refineries were all over the region and were creating huge loss to the government in the crude oil business. Adding that the only option opened to the government to have a grip of what many see as an ugly situation was for it to legislate it into existence and give room for indigenous refineries to be set up all over.
He further said that legitimising illegal bunkering would reduce hazards associated with illegal refining of crude. Hornby said some contractors get their crude supplies to the big oil firms from the illegal bunkering markets. “The local refinery products do pass specification test. Some of the big oil firms, their contractors come to buy products from the illegal market”
“When government legalises illegal bunkering, it will reduce crime in the region and give room for oil communities to own indigenous refineries”. Prince further enjoined the National Assembly to come up with a law legalising the illicit trade, adding that it would save the country the money being seemingly wasted in the crusade against the trade.
The former militant “general” also appealed to the government to revisit the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroun. He said Ijaws in the area still saw themselves as Nigerians. And the government on its part recruited many of them in its amnesty programme.
He also spoke on the deplorable East West road, urging the government to re- award the part that was given to Julius Berger to the company, saying it would help to speed up work on the project.
Meantime, some persons who also spoke to the Vanguard on legitimising illegal bunkering cautioned the federal government against it. Mr Francis Tarry said it would increase crime in the region. But Chief Tamuno Charles differed with the forgoing.
According to him, ogogoro was initially labelled an illicit gin because it was brewed locally. But today it is almost in all homes in the country and traditional events. He said legitimising illegal bunkering would create a buoyant economy for the country and save her the loss it suffers from the illicit trade.