Operators in the oil and gas industry have commended the invitation of the armed forces and the police by the Federal Government to collaborate on stemming the rising incidence of crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism in Nigeria.
Industry operators who spoke with Vanguard on the sidelines of the announcement by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, of a new Joint Task Force, JTF, to tackle the menace, weekend.
The operators said such industry collaboration was the only way to salvage the situation and protect the nation's oil assets.
*Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke with the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Oluseyi Petirin, at the roundtable on Nigerian oil and gas industry, in Lagos, weekend.
The minister told journalists that government was worried over the spate of crude oil and petroleum products, which now results in an annual loss of about $7billion, which called for expedite actions in view of the huge economic wastes. The task force comprises the Police and the Armed Forces, in collaboration with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, as well s multinational and indigenous operators.
The new JTF was set up after a meeting of stakeholders in Lagos, to deliberate on these issues in order to take a common stance in dealing with the menace.
The minister argued that this was the first time the country was dealing with the issue of crude oil and petroleum products theft holistically, saying, "For the first time, along the multinationals and the indigenous Nigerian operators.
"We have discussed the extent of impact of crude theft; first, in terms of the economic losses and the entire loss to the nation. We have spoken very openly about the issue and what can be done about it, and we had a very fruitful meeting along with the Chief of Defence Staff and his service chiefs particularly this segment concerning security in terms of our critical assets in the oil and gas sector, especially crude oil and other products as well."
Consequently, she said that one of the immediate and major outcomes of the meeting is the setting up of the Joint Task Force, "to begin to address these problems in a very robust and intense manner."
Alison-Madueke further argued that the taskforce was particularly expedient now, more than ever before, in view of foreign crude thieves who have cashed in on the situation in the last six months to steal Nigeria's crude. "So we felt it was critical that we stem these abuses at this time with the involvement of all stakeholders and these are all the issues that the task force will be employing and looking into with immediate effect," she added.
Dealing with oil thieves
With regard to delays in the prosecution of oil thieves caught in the act, previously, the minister said that the new JTF is being set up "to ensure that the arraignment and prosecution are done promptly and properly documented."
The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Oluseye Petirin, defending that the new JTF is not a parallel one that could cause possible conflicts with the existing JTF in the Niger Delta We are not setting up a parallel task force.
He explained, "The task force we are talking about now is to monitor all the actions we have decided to take, and to make sure that all the actions are taken at the right time so we get to the bottom of this and get these criminals who have been a menace in the oil industry.
So, it is not like we are setting up another task force. This is a committee so to say, of very senior personnel both in the oil industry, military and other security services to monitor all the decisions we have made and decisions we have reached, and to make sure we are following them to a logical conclusion and that things are done properly."
He denied the allegations of collusion by the military and other armed forces, who are constantly accused of providing security to the oil thieves. He challenged the accusers to produce evidence of their claims, saying, "Don't listen to people who talk without any fact. If you say people are colluding with the thieves, bring them forward, point at them; let them be investigated, but nobody has pointed any finger any anyone."
The Country Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, not minding what had gone on in the past, expressed optimism that something good will come out of the new cooperation.
Seeing that Shell has been the major target of these crude oil thefts and pipelines vandalism, an excited Sunmonu said, "For the first time in the industry, we are coming out with a list of smart actions; we are coming out with a framework that will allow us monitor and track how this actions are being undertaken.
That, for me, is a clear departure from what we have seen in the past and am really pleased about what we have done today and of course we have to follow through. We have to make sure that every action we agreed upon is actually been followed up and that for me is the next challenge we are going to have."
Although ExxonMobil has not suffered much from crude theft, its Chief Executive Chair in Nigeria, Mr. Mark Ward, told Vanguard that with this initiative, the piracy and a criminality issues will be significantly reduced.
According to him, "the presence of the chief of the defence staff and the service chiefs give a significant amount of support to the initiative, obviously a major problem in Nigeria. I think we came up with some good ideas today that can be followed up, and make a difference, so I'm encouraged and cautiously optimistic that we will see an improvement."