By Philip Agbese
I think we have a way of mixing up issues in the country. This has been a common attribute. I wasn’t surprised when reactions poured in concerning the contract awarded to a firm to secure critical oil infrastructures in the country.
The fact that the government thought of ways to reduce oil theft should be commended, even on the heels that the country loses hundreds of billions of dollars yearly to oil theft. Instead, the rumour mills went agog for the wrong reasons, giving it a religious and ethnic colouration.
Let me start with these scary facts: Nigeria loses about $1.9 billion monthly to the activities of oil vandals, with its attendant effect on environmental degradation. Of the 141 million barrels produced in the first quarter of 2022, only about 132 million barrels of oil were received at export terminals. Crude oil theft has increased to a daily average of 108,000 barrels in the first quarter of 2022 from 103,000 barrels in 2021.
The theft resulted in the declaration of force majeure at Bonny Oil & Gas Terminal, a pipeline transporting crude from the Niger Delta to export vessels, creating a hostile environment and disincentive to investors.
If these facts do not call for concern, I wonder what else would do. Hence it could suffice to say that the government’s contract to secure critical oil infrastructures is a step in the right direction. But those benefitting from the theft are neck-deep in spreading falsehood about the government’s intention.
Their spin doctors have raised the propaganda to a very high level. But they forgot that the contract was not awarded to an individual but to a firm that has demonstrated capacity in times past. Obviously, the focus is Mr Government Ekpemupolo, better known as Tompolo. And I dare say, and so what?
Is Tompolo not a Nigerian? Does his company have the capacity to deliver? Was the process that led to the award of the contract transparent? Did the government act in the right direction? If the answers to the above questions are yes, then there is no justification for the reactions that greeted the contract.
I believe there are terms of reference for the execution of the contract and not a bazaar or jamboree, as some would want unsuspecting members of the general public to believe. Let’s not forget that the bulk of these critical oil assets is in the Niger Delta region, and the possible solution should be inwards and to someone that understands the dynamics of the Niger Delta region.
The award of the contract, in my opinion, is a masterstroke. It goes a long way in expressing the government’s seriousness in addressing the threat posed by oil theft to our economy. We need to reflect on some of our actions as Nigerians. Everything should not be about politics. This stance has led us nowhere and would not now. It is about practical and indigenous solutions to our challenges.
It is also about ensuring that government oil earnings improve. One of the ways to go about that is ensuring that our oil infrastructures are secured. The production capacity of our country can increase, and the country would be better for it. In tackling this kind of security challenge that oil installations face anywhere in the world, the paramount consideration is usually what and how it can be done and not who is doing it.
Some might what to argue about the role of the Nigerian Navy, and the question I would like to ask is why the problem has persisted despite the presence of the Navy. There are apparent lapses because of the terrain and other complexities, which is the gap the private contractors would fill. Let me also state that the Navy has not been completely taken out of the equation, but rather the coming onboard of private contractors is to assist and complement because the overarching objective is to secure the country’s oil assets.
And I beg to ask, what is the role of religion or ethnicity in protecting oil infrastructures? Sometimes I feel we are not serious in this country. I also wonder if we think through some of our public outbursts. Why would any individual or group think a contract of such magnitude and complexity would be awarded without due process and terms of reference?
This is indeed a sad tale. It goes a long way in stating that those vested interests that have milked the country dry through oil theft are angry and would go any length to jeopardize the government’s efforts in this regard. But I think they failed and woefully. The truth remains that we cannot afford oil theft of such magnitude at this critical point of our existence, with various sectors of the economy demanding attention.
The era of monies meant for the country being diverted to private pockets must stop. And these thieves can go to hell for all we care. What matters to us is the country’s interest, which has happened. I must commend the leadership of the NNPC for taking the bull by the horns. I, therefore, beg to disagree with anyone insinuating that the contract should be cancelled simply because Tompolo is from a particular part of the country. That would be a joke of the century, potentially making Nigeria a laughing stock.
I think we should concentrate our energies on measuring results rather than calling for the cancellation of the contract. This is rational. But as they say, common sense is not common. I think the NNPC has acted in good faith, and it behoves well-meaning Nigerians to ensure that the effort at securing the country’s critical oil assets succeeds. My one cent.
Agbese is a human rights activist based in Abuja.