Members of the Joint Task Force (JTF) stationed in the Niger Delta to fight the illegal activities of oil thieves have been identified as part of the oil theft cartel in a recent report that details the complex activities of the economic saboteurs. The report published by Stakeholder Democracy Network specifically accused top military officers and others of colluding with the oil thieves for pecuniary considerations. Even when we concede that these are mere allegations, they are damaging enough to provoke serious investigations from the relevant authorities.
The report, based on 12 weeks of field research by a team that visited nine illegal refining operations in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States and supplemented with 120 key informants' interviews with oil companies, government representatives and members of civil society groups, estimates that Nigeria is losing about 150,000 barrels of crude oil daily to oil theft. Yet only few people would claim to be surprised by the revelations given the gravity of the theft that we are now told accounts for almost a third of Nigeria's oil production.
According to the report, at the apex of the criminal cartel is the tapping point, the most lucrative part of the business chain, in which some high JTF officers own shares alongside technicians and couriers. "This research suggests that a relatively small number of senior officers must have criminal ties to the tap point owners, unions and camps managers as these are where most profits are made", the report said. It also noted the involvement of junior officers in the low earning segments of the business: "Because of the relatively small size of protection payments for vessels, it is likely they leave other lower ranking officers to share the relatively small 'transportation taxes' from distributor vessels as a supplement to their official wages."
While we enjoin the federal government to look into this report, we must state that it only goes to confirm our recent position that "the problem persists because there is some form of official complicity in what has become an organised crime." That the relevant authorities seem clueless about how to contain these acts of sabotage that have serious economic and security implications for our country can now be attributed to the alleged criminal complicity of some unscrupulous officials within the JTF, except of course the government can come in quickly to address the problem.
"A consortium typically made up of at least three key parties (security, technical capacity and operational access) own each tap point. During the tapping process, the JTF ensures the surrounding waterways are clear so workers can install the tap without disturbance," the report said. It added that outside the tapping points, some members of the JTF and marine police collect cargo-by-cargo "transportation taxes" from boats carrying stolen crude or illegally refined products. "Essentially a kind of protection money, these fees grant vessels open passage through the transport corridor. During their routine patrols of the inland waterways, officers will stop vessels and demand payments in cash," the report further noted.
While we reiterate our position that these are mere allegations, we believe that the report is detailed enough to provide the necessary starting points for investigations. That the criminal cartels are getting more and more emboldened by reportedly investing in barges, canoes, speed boats and large wooden boats which they use in their illicit business, suggests that they enjoy some form of official protection. That a quarter of Nigeria's crude oil production is unaccounted for while local refineries are also springing up with all the dire implications for the environment (given the pollution that come with the activities) should be source for a serious concern. Beyond the threat to the nation's economy that oil theft poses, it is a dangerous thing if the security apparatus put in place to curtail such crime is already heavily compromised.