By Omoh Gabriel
Every so often, the Nigerian nation is hard hit with petrol scarcity. This is because the nation has no refining capacity. Ironically, Nigeria is about the fourth largest exporter of crude and the largest importer of refined products. The nation’s four refineries have long ceased to function making importation of petrol what the country cannot do without.
In a period of low foreign exchange earnings from oil, the country is expending its reserves in the importation of petroleum products. This aside, the fuel cartel is milking the country dry through fuel subsidy. Yet, the Nigerian armed forces, especially the Joint Task Force every so often breaks the news of the destruction of hundreds of illegal refineries in the Niger-Delta region of the country.
The most recent is the report by the Central Naval Command last Wednesday when it said its operatives have destroyed eight illegal refineries and about 300 metric tons of products suspected to be Automated Gas Oil and Crude Oil at Akassa in Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
Spokesman of the command, Lieutenant Commander E.D Yeibo said the raid was led by the Commanding Officer, Forward Operating Base (FOB) FORMOSO, Captain Musa Katagum following intelligence report on the activities of suspected oil thieves in the area.
The team, he said, was made up of personnel from Naval Base Brass and soldiers attached to Nigerian Agip Oil Company. Yeibo said: “A total of eight refineries and about 300 metric tons of products suspected to be Automated Gas Oil and Crude Oil were destroyed during the raid. The destruction was in accordance with extant regulations of destroying in-situ when arrest was not effected. The perpetrators fled the objective area before the arrival of the military personnel.
Other items destroyed include seven surface tanks, 93 drums containing products suspected to be Automated Gas Oil, amongst others.” According to him, “the Flag Officer Commanding Central Naval Command, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman who arrived the scene of the destroyed illegal refinery at Akassa environs, commended the efforts of officers and ratings of the Central Naval Command for keying into the Zero- Tolerance Campaign of the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas against illegal oil bunkering, crude oil theft and other oil- related criminalities in the Niger-Delta region.”
He added that there will be no hiding place for oil thieves in the Central Naval Command Area of responsibility and warned oil thieves to desist from illegalities and get involved in meaningful businesses or face the wrath of the law. This certainly is not the best of times for operators of illegal refineries in Rivers State as men of the Nigerian Navy Ship, Pathfinder, are already making good their threat of putting them permanently out of business. In fact, in the last two months, 78 illegal refineries have been smashed in various creeks in the state.
According to Commander Shuwa Abdulrahim Mohammed of the Nigerian Navy Ship Pathfinder in the state: “The heat is already on oil thieves and those running illegal refineries in the state. The anti-oil theft war is on, no compromise”. He said his men will not relent until all illegal refiners are flushed out. “We will smoke these oil thieves out of their hideouts. They will have no peace unless they change from this illicit act,” he told newsmen at the base.
His men have continued to comb all parts of the creeks for oil thieves. Last Saturday, while the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas was at the Naval Ship Pathfinder, Commander Mohammed’s men were at Oloma community smashing illegal crude oil refineries. Yes, the nation has been battling with oil thieves without success, yet the Federal Government has not thought of creative ways of ending the menace.
If there are operators in the informal sector of the Nigerian economy that have developed indigenous ways of refining petroleum products, would it not pay the nation more to investigate the technology used and adopt it for local refining? Nigeria will be better for it if it employs local skills to develop the oil sector. Modular refineries are being used globally. Nigeria could research into this local technology and use it to empower the citizenry.
If these local refiners are embraced, the government could work with them and sell crude to them for refining. This strategic engagement could end crude oil theft. By legalising their operations, they will add to the stream of petroleum products available in the country. Many of these refiners could, on the long run employ some of the unemployed youths in the country thus creating jobs and reducing the level of unemployment in the country. This administration prides itself as a government whose economic policy is to elevate Nigerians and alleviate poverty.
Nigeria has the habit of missing out on great opportunities. During the civil war, Biafra used the same technology to sustain its struggle for three years. The technology employed by the rebels to prosecute the war was dumped and Nigeria lost out of the gains it would have had at the end of the war.
Here again is a trying moment for the nation and opportunity like this springs up, all the nation’s leaders and law enforcement agents are seeing is the wrong side of the coin. They are not asking how far the technology can go in relieving the nation of the perennial fuel crisis if it is developed. No, they are criminals, they should be shot. Nigerian leaders need to put on a thinking cap and think out of the box to save the nation the pains of endless queues at filling stations every so often.