Barely two days after President Goodluck Jonathan stated that Nigeria leads in crude oil theft in the world, the Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria Plc, Mr Mutiu Sunmonu has disclosed that Nigeria loses five billion dollars annually to the activities of oil thieves in the country.
Sumonu said this yesterday while making a presentation at a public hearing organised by the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) and Navy on the upsurge of oil bunkering in the Nigerian coastal region in Abuja.
According to him, Nigeria loses approximately 150, 000 barrels of oil to oil bunkering daily by local and international oil thieves who have now stepped up their activities from small scale pilfering to full blown stealing.
Decrying the situation, he said, "We should all feel extremely violated. The recent ship arrested with stolen oil is a foreign ship. We should feel violated that some people somewhere find it easy to come here and steal our oil and get away with it".
Lamenting that there are other implications other than economic, he pointed out that the degradation of the environment by these people is so bad "that if we don't do something about it, posterity will curse all of us because we had a chance to do something about it and we didn't. The scale of the degradation is more than what any oil company can handle".
Suggesting possible ways to address the problem, the SPDC boss called for stricter enforcement of laws, patrol of the creeks and cut off of the export market for the thieves.
The shell boss said that there must be political will by all stakeholders to be able to fight oil bunkering.
He also stressed the need for a more sincere political will at all levels of government to support the fight against oil thieves saying, "Every tier of government must be involved in the fight against illegal oil bunkering."
Also, he noted that in recent times, prosecution rate has been low so there is no deterrent for people that want to go into the practice even as he raised alarm that the security implication of the trend is grave and can destabilise the country hence the need for a stricter maritime patrol.
Sumonu did not however rule out the possibility of connivance between the thieves and oil company workers.
Meanwhile, the Commandant-General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has lamented that the corps is poorly equipped to effectively check illegal oil bunkering.
"We are helpless, handicapped andill-equipped. Other stakeholders look down at the corps as if we are not supposed to be there. We arrest trucks but our personnel imprisoned and beaten. We suffering the hands of fellow stakeholders simply we want to protect the people ",he said.
He said that the oil theft is in the hands of a cartel. "It has been internationalised, it is no longer local because they have international contacts".
Highlighting success made so far by the NSCDC, he said they had over30 trucks in the creeks were arrested while over 300 Nigerians on Portharcourt alone and 30 Ghanians have been arrested for illegal oil bunkering but condemned the attitude of courts of delaying cases involving oil thieves arrested by the corps.
He cited an instance where a syndicate was caught and arrested with 33 trucks of stolen crude oil. When apprehended, he said the owner offered a bribe of N5million which the corps collected and deposited in the treasury but still arrested the culprits. Unfortunately, when the case got to court, the judge released the thieves and asked the corps to refund the bribe money to them.
He however stressed that the corps remains undeterred and would not compromise its position to check activities of oil thieves but called for the effective implementation of existing laws to check illegal oil bunkering.
In his speech, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Waziri Tambuwal, represented by the deputy whip of the House, Hon Ahmed Muktar, said that the National Assembly would continue support the committees in checking illegal oil bunkering.
Tambuwal assured of the readiness of the House in particular and the National Assembly In general to respond to the enormous challenge of oil theft while noting that activities of oil thieves constituted security risks and environmental degradation to the country.
Chairman of the Petroleum Resources (Upstream) committee, Hon Muraina Ajibola, called for strengthening of relevant institutions by way of allocating more fund for purchase of equipments.
He said that the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) needed to step up it's operations to check maritime theft.
However, Ajibola expressed dismay with the absence of some key officers of some agencies at the hearing and warned that, the committee would not hesitate to invoke relevant laws against such officers.
Other stakeholders at the hearing are, NPA, EFCC,NIMASA, NNPC among others.
The ministers of Petroleum Resources and Environment and the chief of Naval staff were absent.