THE government of President Muhammadu Buhari moves in mysterious ways. This it has demonstrated through its shifting attitudes to the security of our oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta.
The Goodluck Jonathan administration had awarded contracts for the pipeline protection from oil thieves to repentant Niger Delta warlord, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo. But when Buhari’s government took over, it allowed its anti-Jonathan sentiments to push it into cancelling the contract and declared Tompolo wanted.
The military was moved into the creeks to hunt for him. They killed a number of innocent people and destroyed property. But Tompolo not only remained elusive to them, but came out openly and buried his father in September 2016.
The militants resumed their sabotage of our oil facilities. The government was forced to realise that force was counter-productive. It sent Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the then Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, on diplomatic missions which restored relative peace until recently.
Over the years, oil theft has been going on in the Niger Delta. But, under Buhari who is also the Petroleum Resources Minister, Nigeria loses an estimated 400,000 barrels per day, according to his Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva. That is a fifth of our two million barrels per day OPEC quota. The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd, NNPC Ltd, Mele Kyari, also estimates our annual revenue loss at $7.3 billion per annum or over N3 trillion. This is more than enough to permanently stop the university and health workers’ strikes.
The military, especially the Nigerian Navy, has proved totally incompetent to protect our maritime and oil assets, yet, no Naval Chief is ever sacked. Rogues within the security agencies, perhaps in cahoots with highly-placed political figures, are colluding with local and foreign rogues to cart away our oil in supertankers. By running back to Tompolo and paying him N4bn per month to protect our oil assets, the Buhari government acknowledges the relevance of this warlord in the Niger Delta.
Unfortunately, though, Tompolo’s contract could lead to further crises in the form of turf wars. A group of militants which calls itself “The Creek Men” recently showed up, vowing that Tompolo would not be allowed to police oil installations in their area. They demanded to be included in the deal or they would fight Tompolo. More groups are likely to show up.
We support the use of local manpower, working in close collaboration with state security and military agencies, to police and protect our oil facilities if that is the way to arrest oil theft. The youths of every community in the creeks should be given a chance to participate. This is where those trained under the Post-Amnesty Programme should bring their expertise to bear.
Inclusion is key.