Since his appointment as National Security Adviser (NSA) by President Bola Tinubu, Malam Nuhu Ribadu has been emphasising the importance of curbing crude oil theft and losses to the country.
On his official assumption of duties, he promised to look at what his predecessor, retired Major-General Babagana Monguno had done and build on it because securing the nation is a continuous process.
Judging by recent developments, it appears that in the areas of fighting crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism, Ribadu is doing exactly what he promised.
We can recall that at the tail end of the previous administration, Monguno inaugurated a Special Investigative Panel on Oil Theft/Losses in Nigeria on 6th of December, 2022.
The panel, chaired by retired Major-General Barry Ndiomu, traversed the country, especially the Niger Delta region, in search of answers to the questions posed by the incessant crude oil theft, which has characterised the exploration and marketing of Nigeria's petroleum resources.
According to a statement by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), during the submission of the panel's report on 28 March, some initial observations were made.
For instance, the panel observed that crude oil losses arose from a lack of the proper reporting of crude oil production, illegal refining, theft from well-heads and diversion from sophisticated pipeline networks.
The panel also attributed losses to the absence of a robust industry-wide metering system and an unworkable security arrangement.
The confusing roles of regulatory agencies were also cited as one of the reasons the detection of theft/losses was difficult.
Last year, the country's crude production struggled to exceed one million barrels per day, leading to concerns over loss of revenue, environment degradation, pipeline vandalism and the general impact on the economy.
However, through a collaborative effort coordinated by ONSA, there is a positively hopeful prospect that the present administration can stem the tide of the heinous crime called oil theft.
In June, the Nigerian Navy said it had intensified its war against oil theft and related maritime crimes on the waterways in the Niger Delta.
True to that assurance, a combined team of anti-oil theft troops recently uncovered a major illegal oil refining site at Owahwa community in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State.
During the raid, the troops discovered 35 modular ovens, three fabricated reservoirs, 30 dug-out reservoirs and 75 galvanised pipes.
Experts say, apart from revenue loss, operators of illegal refineries cause environmental degradation because after stealing small quantities of crude oil from vandalised pipelines they leave volumes to spill and pollute the environment.
Hearteningly, according to the June 2023 crude oil production report of the Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, Nigeria's crude oil earnings rose to over N1.68tn in June 2023 following an increase in the country's output in May.
The report majorly attributed the increase to concerted efforts by security officials and oil operators, which means the fight against oil theft is gaining momentum.
But NSA Ribadu is not cheering yet.
While recently leading a presidential delegation to inspect oil and gas facilities in Abia and Rivers, Ribadu said the country was still losing 400,000 barrels of crude oil daily to local and international thieves.
Part of the strategy the new NSA is deploying to address the issue is collaboration (he called it a "united front"), which security experts say is key in the fight against oil theft.
The NSA said during the inspection: "We are working hard with the security forces and those employed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited to secure our facilities and end this madness called oil theft."
The Minister of Defence, Baduru Abubakar; the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa; the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Hassan Abubakar; Minister of State for Defence, Bello Matawalle, and Minister of State (Oil), Petroleum Resources, Heineken Lokpobiri; the Minister of State (Gas), Petroleum Resources, Ekperipe Ekpo; and Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, Mele Kyari were all on the delegation.
Stakeholders say the weight of the delegation indeed signifies a "united front" against the message which poses a serious threat to overall national security.
No doubt, protecting Nigeria's critical infrastructure and safeguarding its sources of revenue are important elements of its national security.
The U.S. National Security Strategy (2010), stated that the freedom to exercise choice of policies to develop a nation's economy in the manner desired invites economic security.
It also emphasised the importance of economic security when it said: "Economic security today forms, arguably, as important a part of national security as military security.
"The creation and protection of jobs that supply defense and non-defense needs are vital to national security."
This is why the Minister of State for Petroleum (Oil), Sen. Heineken Lokpobiri was correct when he said oil theft and pipeline vandalism are an existential threat to Nigeria.
"I believe that it has become an existential problem and we need to fight it. We need to fight these criminals to submission," he said.
Nigeria's own National Security Strategy (2019) identified energy security as critical to the economic growth and prosperity of the country.
Chapter 3 of the policy document reads: "Crude oil-related crimes such as illegal bunkering and refining, pipeline vandalism, as well as crude oil theft pose a threat to Nigeria's economy... Our national security strategy will therefore focus on ways to curb and eliminate these crimes for the improved economic well-being of our country."
Understandably, President Tinubu has prioritised oil theft, insurgency, and separatist agitation in his security agenda.
Stakeholders say the momentum gained in the fight against oil theft should be seen as part of efforts to boost Nigeria's overall maritime security architecture, in accordance with the National Security Strategy.
It is believed that almost all the components of the Tinubu administration's eight-point agenda aimed at "moving the Nigerian economy forward", depend significantly on ending crude oil theft and losses.
This is why the fresh approach spearheaded by Ribadu should not wane.
Zakari U. Mijinyawa wrote from Abuja.