Recent accusation by Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, that the officials of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) were involved in aiding and abetting pipeline vandalism underscores the need for the corporation to deploy the limitless resources at its disposal to check this menace.
Since October 18, 1998, when a pipeline explosion occurred in Jesse community in Delta State, killing over 1,000 people, thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives through pipeline fire and its attendant explosion.
Apart from loss of lives to pipeline fire, disruption of supply and the attendant fuel crisis, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) recently disclosed that between 2009 and December 2012, it lost about N165 billion to vandalism.
The Federal Government, through the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, had also earlier disclosed that the country was losing over 180,000 barrels per day of crude oil, valued at $7billion yearly to vandals, who rupture pipelines to siphon oil.
While the authorities always claim that pipeline fire is caused by vandals, who deliberately rupture the pipeline to siphon crude oil or petroleum products, host communities allege that pipeline ruptures due to aging and neglect.
In August 2012, there was panic over impending fuel crisis when a pipeline fire caused by vandals at Arepo in Owode area of Ogun State disrupted the distribution of products in System 2B, which distributes about 12million litres of petrol daily across the South West part of the country.
The tension was heightened when the NNPC engineers sent to assess and repair the facility were killed by vandals.
Under System 2B, which is the most active pipeline network in the country, petroleum products are pumped through pipelines from Atlas Cove Depot in Lagos to the NNPC depots in Ejigbo also in Lagos; Mosimi in Ogun State; Ore in Ondo State; Ibadan in Oyo State and Ilorin in Kwara State.
However, few weeks after the Arepo pipeline was repaired, vandals struck again, setting the pipeline in Ije-ododo community in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State on fire and disrupting products distribution on the system 2B network.
As soon as the Ije-ododo pipeline was repaired, another explosion, which killed about 30 people who went to siphon petrol from the Arepo pipeline, occurred.
The fire was said to have started after vandals started fighting over the oil, with one of them firing a shot.
A special team from the Inspector General of Police Special Task Force on Anti-Pipeline Vandalism Unit, Force Headquarters Annex, Lagos, who were on patrol reportedly arrested a medical doctor and one of the survivors on their way to the hospital.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Mr. Friday Ibadin, who is in charge of the task force, said the explosion started at about 2am on Saturday. January 12, 2012.
Angered by the spate of pipeline fire incidents at Arepo, which is in his domain, the Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun blamed the NNPC for the incidents.
Speaking to journalists after visiting the scene of the fire, Amosun not only accused the NNPC of complicity but also alleged that the corporation was insensitive to the incessant cases of vandalism in the area.
"What happened here clearly shows that we are our own problem in this nation. We are our own enemies, because this is clearly a failure of governance. I have to say it here, and am saying it with all sense of responsibility that NNPC by their inaction is aiding and abetting the vandals. "Indeed, I want to believe that they are part of this pipeline vandalism with their inaction; because you can't have somebody there as Group Managing Director (GMD), NNPC or what have you and they will allow this to be happening," he said.
Amosun expressed dismay that a big National Oil Company (NOC) like the NNPC could not afford to buy a solar power canoe for its monitoring team to checkmate the activities of the vandals, adding that the corporation was inconsistent.
"If they want to stop vandals in this Ogun State, I don't know of any other state, they should come and we will rub minds because I don't want Ogun State to be on the front pages of newspapers for wrong reasons. I will write again to the appropriate authority like I have been doing before. This is not good for us as a nation. Every time, they will say that vandals have done this and that, what have they (NNPC) done? Some people will be in Abuja blowing big grammars, very ineffective. "Even the security people here are risking their lives. Look at the canoe NNPC is using in this age and time. Even when they say the place is combustible, they can use solar power canoe," Amosun explained.
Amosun pledged that his administration would support the NNPC to ensure easy access and proper surveillance of the pipeline.
"If they support, I will get this place cleared before the end of March. "This is not good for us as a nation, we are our own enemies. Any public thing nobody look after it. We should do the right thing. This is multi-billion-naira investment. How can we not spend money to maintain it? That is why I said that NNPC with its inaction is part of this problem. I want to believe that its officials are aiding and abetting these vandals. How can some vandals put everybody in this nation into problem? Just look at dead bodies littering the place. "There is no other access to the pipeline location except this waterway and these vandals armed with sophisticated weapons. What can the Police and other security agencies do? This is not to say that am in anyway supporting the activities of the vandals. I even understand that that was the same spot where the NNPC engineers were killed, so which officer will want to risk his life? If they are ready to partner with us, we will clear this place, by the end of March, you will not see anything here again. We would have started erecting the platform. They will put Close Circuit Television (CCTV) there and there will be a control room," Amosun further explained.
Reacting to Amosun's claims, the NNPC's General Manager, Governmental Relations, Ms. Tumini Green, alleged that the government of Ogun State was yet to respond to the corporation's proposal for the two bodies to collectively proffer security measures to the distressed pipeline location.
Green noted that the NNPC was shocked by the statement credited to the governor, adding that his administration has no justification to point accusing fingers at the corporation.
"It is sad that the Governor of Ogun State who should know the importance of national assets like pipelines and do everything in his power to protect them is engaging in a blame game when every responsible Nigerian citizen is wondering why Arepo which is in his domain has become such an attractive spot for oil thieves and pipeline vandals," she said.
She urged Amosun to emulate the Abia State government which has mobilised security measures to protect pipeline and petroleum products facilities within the domain of the state and also sustain product supply to the state rather than engage in what she called unnecessary rhetoric.
JTF's Similar Allegation
Despite the counter claim by the NNPC, Amosun was not alone in his criticism of the national oil company for alleged inaction against increasing cases of vandalism.
The Joint (Military) Task Force JTF) in the Niger Delta, Operation Pulo Shield, in May 2012 echoed similar sentiments when it accused the NNPC and its Joint Venture partners of not doing enough to curb oil theft in the Niger Delta.
Briefing journalists at the Brigade headquarters, the Commander of the 2 Brigade of the Nigeria Army, Port Harcourt, Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, reportedly alleged that his command had discovered 56 oil bunkering sites operated by the oil majors.
"Oil theft is a major issue. It is an issue of national concern. If all the oil companies and indeed the NNPC will co-operate and work together, I want to assure you that we are going to completely stamp out oil theft in the Niger Delta. I want to say that the major stakeholders in the oil industry are not quite sincere in the approach towards fighting oil theft in the Niger Delta. We had an assessment of the pipelines in the past. We discovered over 56 of those illegal bunkering sites and they belong to an oil company and the NNPC is a major shareholder in that oil company. Unfortunately as I talk to you, I have not been told that even one of the people involved has been picked. So where will you get the solution to oil bunkering?," Buratai, who spoke through the Brigade's spokesman queried.
However, the late spokesman of NNPC, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, described the allegation as unfounded and challenged the JTF to make public the identities of those they arrested.
"The allegation is unfounded and it shows that the JTF has abandoned their duties to play politics. They should show evidence to support their allegation. The JTF should show proof of NNPC's complicity by making public all those they arrested and demonstrating to Nigerians that such thieves have any link either directly or indirectly with the NNPC," he said.
Time for Action
The administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the first to raise the issue of pipeline vandalism to national consciousness.
Apparently disturbed by the spate of vandalism in the Lagos area, Obasanjo had ordered all the heads of the country's security agencies to provide increased security around the pipelines.
The former president had also directed the NNPC to work out modalities to ensure that the pipeline linking the Atlas Cove Depot and Mosimi was laid deeper, so that it would be beyond the reach of vandals.
The then Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Funsho Kupolokun, had also raised the alarm on the menace, calling on the security agencies to increase their surveillance of the pipelines as the vandals were getting more sophisticated and daring in their attacks.
He stated that the corporation would work more closely with the Marine Police to patrol the Atlas Cove - Mosimi Depot axis, which had become prone to vandalism in recent times.
On claims that the pipelines were getting weaker due to age, Kupolokun stated that the age of the pipelines had nothing to do with vandals burrowing deep into the facilities to rip them open to steal products.
"The depth of the pipelines we have is the depth applicable internationally. People should just be responsible enough and keep away from our lines," Kupolokun reportedly said.
Reacting to the incessant pipeline fire incidents at Arepo, Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) suggested strong national legislations and legal frameworks to prevent the incessant attacks.
HURIWA also tasked state governments to put proactive measures to prevent incessant cases of petroleum pipelines' vandalism perpetrated by hoodlums in their areas of jurisdiction.
The group challenged President Goodluck Jonathan and the 36 state governors to save the country the international embarrassment of being one of the nations in the world where pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft take place and cause economic adversity to its people.
The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) has called for the establishment of a Pipeline Protection Agency that to protect and provide security for the pipelines.
The union tasked the government to equip the proposed agency with helicopter gun-ships, gun-boats as well as trained men and women to police the pipelines in the country.
It condemned the present arrangement of using operatives of the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps to check vandalism, saying the measure has not yielded positive results.
Pipeline vandalism has indeed become a national embarrassment, which requires urgent actions from the relevant stakeholders, especially the NNPC.
With the resources at its disposal, there is no doubt that the NNPC has all it takes to implement the various suggestions of the other stakeholders to curb pipeline vandalism.
Facilities ranging from the Solar-powered Canoe and Close Circuit Television suggested by Governor Amosun, to Helicopter Gun-Ships and Gun-boats suggested by NUPENG, as well as other state-of-the-art facilities are within the reach of the NNPC.
These facilities will help to monitor and police the entire pipeline network, especially the most strategic ones.
Former President Obasanjo was said to have directed the NNPC to lay some of the strategic pipelines deeper beyond the reach of vandals but no conscious effort was made to implement the directive.
It is no longer time for rhetoric and blame game but time for action on the part of all the relevant stakeholders.
Some stakeholders have wondered if NNPC would have left its network of pipelines across the country at the mercy of vandals, if the corporation were a privately-owned company.
The era of using operatives of Civil Defence Corps with manual-powered Canoes to patrol the creeks and monitor the pipelines is over.
If the NNPC had shown enough commitment to fight pipeline vandalism, Governor Amosun or the JTF would not have had cause to accuse officials of the corporation of complicity.
The National Assembly should also ensure that adequate legislations are enacted to discourage vandalism.
The singular efforts of Abia State to check this act of economic sabotage have shown the relevance of state governments in the joint efforts to curb vandalism.
Other states, including the local governments should take a cue from the shining example of Abia State.