With the recurring incidence of pipeline vandalism, especially with regards to the Arepo attacks that have continued unabated, Juliet Alohan, in this report, takes a look at why the issue seems to be getting out of control.
The continuous attacks on the nation's pipelines have become a matter of national threat, with government seemingly helpless in finding a lasting solution to the ugly trend which is costing the country the loss of billions of naira yearly.
The development has remained on the rise despite the various partnerships entered into by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and security agencies, needless to mention the pipeline security contract awarded to private companies.
The killing of three personnel of the NNPC at the now notorious Arepo Village axis of the system 2B pipeline, in Obafemi/Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State last year, took the issue to a frightening level.
The NNPC had dispatched the team of pipeline engineers and technologists to the ruptured products pipeline site in Arepo after the incidence cut off product supply to the pipeline from the Atlas-cove at the time.
According to the Corporation, the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC) team were on the verge of gaining access to the damaged point to commence proper assessment of the scope of work when they were ensnared in an ambush and three of them killed while others sustained various degrees of injuries from the gun shots.
The Corporation had in a statement, called on Nigerians to identify with the NNPC, "and recognise that it is our collective responsibility to work towards securing the nation's oil installations which are our collective national asset. It is no news that our economy relies heavily on what comes out of these pipelines thus our economic destiny is tied to our pipelines."
It added that, "it is therefore imperative for us to strive to protect these installations in order to ensure continuous flow of oil for the benefit of the Nigerian people."
However, the admonitions definitely fell on deaf ears, as several other attacks have been carried on that particular spot unabated, with the most recent occurring just about a week after the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Andrew Yakubu, visited the site to assess the damage done in the last attack.
The NNPC boss stated during the visit to the scene that the four points that were ruptured by the oil thieves have been clamped, adding that the Corporation was also working out a way to make the pipeline less accessible to oil thieves and vandals.
He stated that officials of the NNPC have already clamped the four points that were ruptured, adding that there was no fear of disruption of product distribution. "This is a stop gap measure. We just made some observations now on how to make the pipeline less accessible.
"If we are able to achieve that within the day we will start pumping," the GMD had said, but the same point was vandalised again in a matter of one week.
The development even led to a blame game between the Corporation and the Ogun State government. While the Ogun State Government blamed the NNPC for negligence, the Corporation retorted blaming the state government for not doing enough to help protect national assets in its domain.
The Acting Spokesperson of the Corporation, Ms Tumini Green, expressed shock at the statement credited to the governor of Ogun State alleging that the incident was as result of negligence on the part of NNPC.
"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 in a statement.
She urged governor Ibikunle Amosun to emulate his Abia State counterpart who has mobilised security officials to protect the pipelines in his domain to sustain product supply to the state rather than engage in unnecessary rhetorics.
However, beyond these blame games and unending reassurances of plans to bring the development under control, government is yet to unveil any robust strategy to check this rising ugly trend.
However, experts who spoke with LEADERSHIP said poverty eradication and total privatisation of the petroleum downstream sub-sector of the oil and gas sector was key to bringing the crisis to an end.
According to the Executive Director of the Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group, Mr. George-Hill Anthony, fighting poverty meaningfully and equipping the security agencies for better performance will go a long way to check pipeline vandalism.
He said, "poverty is playing a very critical role in how people easily vandalise pipelines. That's one aspect. Another aspect is that government is paying people to protect these assets and at the same time, there seems to be inside collaboration, because an outsider cannot just come into a community where there is supposed to be security and break into pipelines.
"However, if poverty is fought meaningfully and jobs are created and security agencies are on top of their jobs, that should serve as a deterrent to pipeline vandalism," Anthony added.
In the view of another expert, the total collapse of the downstream sub-sector of the oil and gas in Nigeria has resulted in the thriving pipeline vandalism business. The expert explained that the fundamental reason why pipelines were installed in the country was to move products from one point to another, "but since government was no longer encouraging local production of petroleum products rendering the pipelines redundant, this has helped to increase business for truck and depot owners," he said.
The people who are being paid to make the refineries work are happy that the pipelines are not working "because if it works, it makes them not to have jobs to do. It is a very complex issue, but the bottom line is that we do not have a robust downstream oil sector in Nigeria. It has been invaded by crooks," he said.
On the solution, he said privatisation of the assets was the only way out, explaining that the private owners will look after them and make sure they work. "They should privatise the entire downstream oil and gas sub-sector, the depots, petrol stations, if we don't privatise them, as long as government is dominant in the downstream sub-sector, products will never flow through the pipelines, products will never be distributed in the country in the right manner, it will continue to be black market," he said.
The expert stressed that corruption was the reason why all government owned depots and storage facilities have all been destroyed while those belonging to the private sector are very functional with one man owning about 40 per cent of storage facilities used in the industry.