By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
•Jobless graduates join illegal oil bunkering business – Barr Eric Omare
•Oil bunkerers have union in N’Delta states; contribute ‘settlement’ money
LEADER of the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, and a coalition of nine other militant groups in the Niger Delta, self-styled “Major General” Johnmark Ezon-ebi, aka Obama, weekend, raised the alarm that high-ranking officials of government and security agencies were the major illegal oil bunkerers, who steal crude oil from Niger Delta and sell overseas through proxies.
An activist and national president of Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, who spoke for rights groups, corroborated the claim of the militant leader, gave insight into how the different categories of oil thieves in the region operate and ‘settle’ security agents on the waterways.
A legal practitioner, who identified himself as President of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Mr Eric Omare, said the connivance of security agents, was a known affair, adding that his concerns were the effects of oil bunkering to the environment and the fact that due to joblessness, graduates have joined the oil bunkering business.
Recall that about two months ago, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State accused the Nigerian Army of running illegal bunkering in Rivers State, but the General Officer Commanding, GOC, 6 Division, Nigerian Army Port-Harcourt, Jamil Sarham debunked the allegation. He said through the division’s spokesperson, Aminu Iliyasu that the governor’s outburst was because he rejected his bribe to compromise the last governorship polls.
Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari in an interactive session with Nigerians in the Diaspora at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC, United States, during his four-day official visit in 2015, indicated that his administration would carry out a probe to fish out oil thieves in the government of his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
“We have started getting documents where some of the senior people in government, former ministers, some of them operated as much as five accounts and were moving about one million barrels per day on their own. We have started getting those documents.”
“I assure you that whichever documents we are able to get and subsequently trace the sale of the crude or transfer of money from ministries, departments, Central Bank of Nigeria, we will ask for the cooperation of those countries to return those monies to the Federation Accounts.
“And we will use those documents to arrest those people and prosecute them. This, I promise Nigerians,” he had assured.
About four years after the promise, nobody knows how the probe went, but theft of crude oil by government and security officials has been escalating in recent times. Latest information show the country loses an average of 200,000 barrels per day and about 100,000 barrels lost to shut-ins.
Govt officials, security agents have all compromised – RNDA leader
RNDA leader, “Major General” Ezon-ebi, who was emphatic in his claim, asked Saturday Vanguard, “You want to know if oil theft has actually increased in the region, that report is 100 per cent correct. Oil theft has increased, but those stealing crude oil are powerful persons in government, security agencies and NNPC. The truth is that they have compromised.
“We are in the creeks and we know what is happening in the river, the problem of high oil theft started again because they took away the pipeline surveillance from militant leaders, who know the terrain. They worked in conjunction with NIMASA, Navy, NNPC and other security agencies, and devised a new method in which they shortchange everybody, including the federal government.
“Before now, they gave militant leaders manning the pipelines N150, 000 for each of the persons engaged to guard the pipelines a month, but they took the job away from them and now give just N50, 000 each to some persons to do the same work.
“How can they do it? Most of the communities where the pipelines passed are not properly engaged and they are displeased, they took away the job from those who have the capacity to monitor what is actually happening because they want to create the room to compromise, and that is why oil theft is back,” he said.
“You see, there is a big connivance among the top people. They have compromised, and vessels that are not licensed are allowed to come into the country’s high seas and be loaded with crude oil. It is for a cabal, including top security and NNPC officials and nobody is there to stop them.
“Even the community boys that are paid N50, 000 each, they have a limit to what they can do. They have their areas of operations too, they cannot go to the high seas where the crude oil is trans-loaded into big vessels at night to ask question.
“Nobody is policing the cabal that is stealing crude oil now. If it was when militant leaders were in-charge of pipeline surveillance in their states across the region, they patrolled with NIMASA, Navy officials and they were able to reduce crude oil theft because they confronted and arrested illegal vessels and the people they found on board. Who is doing that now? Nobody, “he said.
His words: “From Escravos to Forcados, we are saying that officials have compromised, so heavy theft of oil is ongoing, we weep everyday as we see this. It is not community people, it is not any so-called militant, and the top people know who is doing it.”
“We are offering ourselves, RNDA is offering itself, we know what is wrong, the Federal Government should contact us, and they should discuss with us and give us contract to stop crude oil theft because we know those doing it and how they are doing it.
“I can tell you that with NIMASA, Navy and other security agencies, we will patrol, we know the flash-points and where they do the dirty business, we will plug the loopholes with government officials and you will see oil theft reduce drastically in the region,” he added.
The militant leader also said that major contractors sponsoring a rival militant group in the region, were involved in the game principally “to smear the reputation of Captain Hosa Okubor, a good man whose company, Ocean Marine Solution, is handling some pipeline surveillance contracts in the region.”
He warned sponsors of the moribund Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, who are big contractors handling Chevron and NNPC projects in the creeks to stop destroying the image of Captain Okunbor, saying, “He has created employment for most of the youth in the Niger Delta creek through is community-based pipeline surveillance contract services by Ocean Marine Solution Company.”
5 categories of oil bunkering – Ozobo, IPDI leader
IPDI national president, Mr. Ozobo, asserted, “Illegal Oil bunkering is being carried out by five categories of persons ,the poor , the rich, government officials, NNPC and oil companies’ staff and the military. The poor are the labourers. The rich are the wealthy private businesspersons.
The government officials are those working in state and federal governments. Some of them are lawmakers and others are political appointees and top government officials past and present.”
“The military comprises the army, Navy, Police, Civil Defence Corps and others. The military- some of them are past and current top military officials, NNPC and oil companies staff are equally involved in the bunkering. They help to load vessels that do not have loading license and make additional money.
“Both classes above except the poor class are in involved in lifting of oil through vessels illegally through Escravos, Bonny, Forcados, Brass and others rivers.
…4 phases of the business
“The business is in four phases – loading point operators, local bunkering operators, suppliers of raw crude and the buyers of the finished products. In each of the phase, the military is seriously involved.
“The local refinery operators are the refiners of the crude to finished products. The suppliers collect crude from illegal points and supply the refiners at moderate cost. The loading point operators are the people, who alter major pipelines to drill crude and load per boat at modest cost.
“Army, Army, Navy, Police, Customs Police and Civil Defense officials collectively carry out oil bunkering. They are either involved directly or indirectly and this is not strange in the public,” he said.
What bunkerers pay security agents
Ozobo added, “Oil bunkerers have union, the bunkerers in Delta state and equally other states have their groups. There’s an amount every operator pays, which they use in settling the military officers around their operational areas. The appropriate officers get their kickback every month end from the union.”
“They destroy and burn bunkering facilities when the operators fail to pay, may be due to the high demand placed on them by the military officers or they settle army and fail to settle navy or vice versa.
“Police DPOs around where these operations are carried out get their kickback. The DPOs send their boys to collect the money. Civil Defence also takes settlement. Apart from the respective officers, all the police, army, naval and Civil Defence patrol personnel that patrol the waterways where bunkering is carried out take their daily settlements in Warri, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa_Ibom and others states,” he said. According to him, “It will interest you to know that all the illegal loading points operated, there is a fixed amount they pay to the military and naval heads every month.
“When you talk about big time oil bunkering, the military is not exempted. Any military officer that comes to Niger Delta region is coming to do oil business and make much money. Both military officers and regular members lobby to come to Niger Delta to taste oil money.
“When they resume newly, they will frighten the bunkerers with destruction of their properties to induce fear and make them see reason to settle. Thereafter the burning of local oil facilities will stop. Except, some military on special assignments may destroy such facilities when they come across it,” he explained.
Ozobo quipped, “To me, the business is a good one. Many military officers have turned millionaires overnight. It helped create more than 50,000 jobs among jobless youths, women and men. I am the pioneer of legalization of oil bunkering and Modular Refinery.”
“No vessel can load illegal crude without the knowledge of top military officials or those on patrol around oil facilities in the region. They take their settlement before you can load freely,” he asserted.