By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
In the past few months, the Federal Government, which had lived in denial of the actual reason for the razor-sharp increase in oil bunkering, popularly known as kpofire, in the Niger Delta, had upped its game in the surveillance of oil pipelines with the engagement of private pipeline surveillance contractors.
One contractor is Tantita Security Services Limited, TSSL, owned by the leader of the moribund Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND) and high chief of Ijaw ethnic nationality, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo.
Before now, the security report was that some militants and other misguided miscreants, harboured by villagers in the different riverine communities in the oil-rich region, were the monsters breaking into the nation’s pipelines and haemorrhaging the country.
The intelligence report acknowledged that they were major oil thieves bankrolling the operations of the minor oil thieves; it was unspecific in their nomenclature.
Based on the disingenuous details, the government has pursued a one-track strategy of a crackdown on suspected operators of illegal oil refining camps in the creeks of the Niger Delta, destruction of the said camps, equipment, and apprehension of some operators. However, the real damage continued because the major culprits remained unruffled.
The military offensives by the Joint Task Force, JTF, in the Niger Delta on the kpofire business have degenerated more to the harassment and inconveniencing of riverine dwellers, and most of the time, people not involved in the criminal act turn victims of the onslaught.
However, facts are emerging with the engagement of Tompolo by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, NNPCL. Why has oil bunkering increased rather than decreased, in the last few months, which has made it impracticable for the nation to meet its Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, daily production quota?
Army, Navy, Police, and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDSC, officers deployed to tackle oil bunkering in the Niger Delta sponsor their own illegal crude oil refining camps in the creeks. Only the Department of State Services, DSS, is not involved in the show of shame.
Sources informed that security officials involved in oil bunkering finance locals to carry out unlawful business in the creeks, provide security, and shield their camps from destruction by other security agents. Some top security officials in Abuja and Lagos, who are neck deep in the business, typically, use their strategic positions to intervene and cover the tracks for their men on the ground in the Niger Delta
The International Oil Companies, IOCs, some privileged NNPCL officials, and other high-profile Nigerians are part of it.
The comprehension that the strategy all the while was a wild goose chase was already causing disquiet in the security circle.
Lately, TSSL and security operatives working with Tompolo uncovered a 4-km underwater theft pipeline connected to the sea from the Forcados Terminal with a loading port, and 58 tapping points in Delta and Bayelsa states through which oil thieves had been bleeding the country.
On October 6, they ambushed and apprehended eight members of a suspected crude oil syndicate while they were pumping crude oil from a Chevron Nigeria Limited, CNL, pipeline, in Delta State, into an improvised 87-meter-long ocean-going vessel, MT Deino.
At the time Tantita operatives swooped on the vessel, the team leader, Captain Temple Manaseh, from Bayelsa state, and seven other suspects had pumped 605 cubic meters of crude oil into the vessel with 12 compartments from an illegal connection they attached to a CNL crude pipeline, between Abiteye community and Escravos, Warri South-West Local Government Area.
Security agents had previously picked up the vessel, which bore an International Maritime Organization, IMO, number 7210526, in September, last year, for oil bunkering, but as emblematic, they released it.
Truth is that the high-profile stealing of Nigeria’s crude oil and sale in the international market, where the demand is still very high, by the security agencies, IOCs, NNPCL officials, oil bunkers, and locals, is a structured big business.
The illegal underwater 4-km pipeline, loading port, and 58 tapping points on the nation’s different pipelines discovered by TSSL have existed for almost nine years and security officials, stationed with gunboats in the creeks, cannot claim ignorance.
What explains the security agencies not discovering the illegal port, tapping points, and all that Tompolo has discovered in a few weeks for two decades or more?
A simple check showed that in between the places where oil bunkers siphon crude oil from the pipelines and abandoned oil wells, some of which the IOCs leave vulnerable, security operatives have their checkpoints at strategic locations near the pipelines, but collect inducements to ‘close their eyes’.
The revelation of NNS, SOROH Commander
Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS, SOROH, Commodore Daniel Atakpa, who, recently toured some creeks in Bayelsa State, accused IOCs of purposely leaving their oil heads wide open so that oil thieves could access the crude oil.
His words: Seven months ago, we noticed that crude oil was flowing out from an oil head in Okaki. We notified the oil company that owns it, Shell. Their response is shocking. They said they have not noticed it and that they are prioritizing their operations. If you ask me, what kind of priority is that supposed to be? The Navy can only do its part, Let every other agency do theirs.”
He also said the IOCs calculatingly abandoned some old oil heads under the pretence that they were not economically viable and oil bunkers steal crude from the facilities.
Clark demands a probe of the military, NNPCL officials
National leader of South-South and elder statesman, Senator Edwin Clark, Tuesday, fumed at the development, calling on the Federal Government to investigate the role of the Nigerian military and officials of NNPCL in the massive crude oil theft in the country.
“I want to advise the Federal Government to institute a judicial inquiry to investigate this criminal act of oil theft and also, to once again, appeal that jobs should be provided for the teeming unemployed youths…
“The news that there is an illicit four-kilometer pipeline through which crude oil is being siphoned goes to confirm what I have always said over the years, and what the leaders of the Niger Delta have been shouting about. That oil theft is being perpetuated by some mafia-like groups, with the connivance of some people in the oil industry, using sophisticated engineering methods to carry out their nefarious acts.
“Even more disturbing is that these activities have been going on over the years under the watchful eyes of the military and security personnel, who are supposed to be protecting these oil pipelines with many gunboats to patrol the area are, unfortunately, alleged to be involved in these criminal acts,” he said.
Tompolo has a comprehensive list of bunkers
Saturday Vanguard learned that Tompolo has a comprehensive list of oil bunkers in the region and since his recent exposures, some persons have sent threat messages to him and TSSL operatives. However, some have reached out to him to simmer down.
The ex-militant leader, miffed by the involvement of security operatives in bunkering, had reportedly complained to the National Security Adviser, NSA, and Inspector General of Police, IGP, and is awaiting action.
Speaking in a television interview, recently, the former MEND leader, Tompolo, who confirmed that he actually complained to the NSA and IGP about the involvement of security personnel in oil bunkering, however, said, “Not all security officials are involved, there are some good ones and those are the people we are working with in recording the successes so far.”
“With what we are doing, we have illegal bunkering camps owned by some Navy, Army, Civil Defence, and Police, it is only the Department of State Services, DSS, that are not involved and we have the evidence.”
“I am using this medium to appeal to the security agencies to call their people, especially those deployed in this part of the country. Let us work together
“We are going to provide the intelligence; they are the ones that will implement. Many top security officials are not happy because I know the in and out of this country–Lagos, Calabar, Escravos, and Akwa-Ibom.
“If we are working together as a team, in another few weeks, you see that production will shoot up. In Nigeria, if you are saying the truth but not on the same side as the government, they will turn the case against you.
”We are ready, in a few weeks’ time, we will restore production. Many people are now running helter-skelter because they know that there is nothing concerning the riverine that I do not know,” he said.
CDS should tackle security failure
The Chief of Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor, and the Group Chief Executive Officer, GCEO, NNPCL, Dr Mele Kyari, were in Delta state, last weekend, to inspect the tapping points that oil thieves illegally created on the Trans- Escravos, and Trans- Forcados pipelines. They are now certainly not oblivious to why oil bunkering escalated in the country.
It is top-level connivance between the oil companies, oil industry officials, including NNPCL, oil bunkerers, and locals.
With what the CDS saw when he came and the details, that Tompolo made availed him, he owes Nigerians not just the duty of a thorough investigation as he had already avowed, but also fishing out the culprits and calling the security officials deployed in the creeks to order.
Without identifying the corrupt security officers, it would be difficult for him to cleanse the Augean stable, therefore, he is duty-bound to expose and weed out the thieves and engender new orientation in the new set of operatives to take over from them.
The CDS has to clinically, dissect the role of oil companies and some NNPCL officials in diverting crude oil from pipelines, which they export without the knowledge of the Nigerian government.
In fact, no ship enters the nation’s territorial waters and leaves without the knowledge of the security apparatus.
Nobody can easily load crude oil from anywhere in the country and move it in a vessel outside the country’s territorial waters without the involvement of security agencies. Therefore, oil bunkering is more of a security failure than any other thing.
Kyari should work on an unambiguous record
Kyari, the NNPCL boss, who believes in the capacity of Tompolo, would smile at his exploits so far, but he also has to examine his house, because some of his officials have compromised with the IOCs, and oil bunkers in falsifying the record.
It is not news that Nigeria does not have clear-cut documentation of crude oil production and exact measure loaded for export; it relies on oil companies, which are complicit to give details of production and loading.
He should address head-on crude oil going out of the country without records, which is scandalous for an oil-producing country of Nigeria’s status. The nation deserves a spotless record of its oil production and revenue.
The current synergy between the NNPCL, security operatives, and private pipeline contractors, especially Tantita, seems to pay off for the country, and President Muhammadu Buhari, who is reportedly happy wants Tompolo to expose as many skeletons as he can.
If the CDS, Irabor, and NNPCL boss, Kyari, can tackle the corrupt military and industry officials before facing the IOCs and oil bunkers, they are good to go with the first-rate performance of Tompolo.