The controversy surrounding the award of contracts by the Federal Government to some ex-militant leaders for the protection of oil pipeline facilities in the Niger Delta has been dominating public discourse for a while. In the absence of any official position on the issue, it doesn't appear as if the controversy will go away. The speculations are that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) awarded contracts in the sum of about N5.6Billion to some former Niger-Delta militants to guard the oil pipe-lines within the region. Report of the security engagement with the ex-militants was first published in the American Wall Street Journal and was then rehashed by the local media. The report gave a break-down of the militants involved in the contracts as Mr. Government Ekpumopolo (aka Tompolo) ,N3.6bn; Mr. Asari Dokubo, 1.44bn; Mr. Ateke Tom, N560m and Mr Ebikabowei Victor Ben (aka Boyloaf), N560m.
The Federal Government, it has been further revealed, had awarded a contract through a memo from the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency, (NIMASA) which was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on January 5, 2012. The memo titled, "Award of Contract for the Strategic Concessioning Partnership with NIMASA to Provide Platforms for Tracking Ships and Cargoes, Enforce Regulatory Compliance and Surveillance Of the entire Nigerian Maritime Domain" was originated by NIMASA. Under the said contract arrangement, Tompolo's company, Messrs Global West Vessel Specialist Nigeria Limited (GWVSL) was granted a 10-year concession agreement.
The term of the concession is renewable for a two term of five years. GWVSL is expected to provide platforms for effective policing of Nigeria's maritime domain and ensure compliance with international maritime conventions on vessels and ships voyaging the country's waters. Ordinarily, there is no issue with Nigerians being awarded contracts and we do not subscribe to the argument that the former militants should be excluded from doing business with government. What we consider perplexing is that the president was said to have forwarded a bill to the National Assembly, urging it to replace an earlier one submitted by his late predecessor which was intended to create a coastal guard, comprising all security agencies, to man the country's maritime domain.
So what may have fueled the controversy over the pipeline security contract is not necessarily the rational of the venture but, rather, the apparent lack of transparency and openness with which it was handled. The only explanation that has come from the government side was from the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe who was quoted as having said that since the exercise began, crude oil production has jumped from 1.8mbpd to 2.6mbpd. This explanation, however, flies in the face of the current massive crude oil theft in the Niger Delta while the figures quoted by Okupe on daily returns from oil sales are not correct.
The idea of pursuing a community-based initiative nto deal with pipelines vandalisation in the Niger Delta is one that has been well debated and sanctioned nby stakeholders in the petroleum sector. It is also on record that oil majors were already engaging some communities in the protection of pipelines and it appeared there was no better way to secure the pipelines than to employ those who inhabit the community where the facility is built.
However, what many critical stakeholders deplore is the apparent lack of transparency and due process in the current transaction. Much more worrisome is how to ensure or rather convince Nigerians that the process adopted was right and that it was not contrived essentially to reward some primordial interest at the expense of security for the nation's vital oil assets.