Crude oil thieves are being sponsored by the Federal Government, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, has said, insisting that the crime is not being perpetrated by ordinary criminals, but by those who enjoy the backing of government.Tambuwal, said this at the inauguration of the House Ad-hoc Committee on Crude Oil Theft in Nigeria in Abuja, noting that the only way to fight the crime is for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to arrest and prosecute suspected crude oil thieves in the country.He said the House would ensure that law enforcement agencies were well equipped to carry out investigation of those engaged in the illicit business.“This House must use its influence to ensure that the law enforcement agencies approach their investigation of the criminals engaged in oil field theft from a more sophisticated angle.“We need to put in place the right kind of legislation to improve the monitoring of on-shore and off-shore areas in order to discourage vandalism.“We need to establish a robust regulatory framework to plug all loopholes through which all sorts of official and unofficial corruption thrive in the oil sector,” he said.He said that oil theft had reached a level that required the assistance of every Nigerian to check the dangerous trend.“Oil theft in our country has now reached an industrial scale, we need the concerted efforts of all stakeholders who must be invited and heard at a scheduled 5-day public hearing.“There is also no doubt that we must try, as much as possible, to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), as soon as possible,” he said.He urged members of the committee to scrutinise the report by the Royal Institute for International Affairs, which alleged that Nigeria’s oil was being stolen not just from pipelines, but also from tank farms and export terminals.The Chairman of the committee, Bashir Adamu (PDP-Jigawa) said illegal bunkering costs Nigeria an estimated N780 billion annually.Mr. Adamu said unless government summoned the courage to fight the menace, the situation would further worsen the country’s economic woes.The legislator explained that the rising level of crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism, particularly in the Niger Delta region, had assumed higher dimensions.He said that the ugly development had made operations in the oil and gas Industry one of the most expensive in the world.“Attacks on production facilities have led to several shut-downs and declaration of force majeure by the international oil companies (lOCs), ultimately resulting in loss of revenue to the government,” he
said.Adamu recalled that in April 2013, oil giant – Shell Petroleum Development Company – shut down the 150,000bpd Nembe Creek oil pipeline due to the urgent need to clear illegal connections.He called for serious efforts to combat the menace, adding that the trend had become more complicated because of its international slant.“Cooperation between the government and private sector is vital to achieving effective maritime security and prevent crude oil theft within the nation’s maritime domain”.It would be recalled that the House, during its sitting, set up a 14-man committee to investigate people or institutions behind oil theft in the Niger Delta.The House had earlier called on President Goodluck Jonathan to immediately overhaul the operations of the Joint Task Force (JTF), in the Niger Delta to ensure a more proactive security check of all oil installations in the country.Adopting a motion introduced by Aliyu Sani Madaki (PDP-Kano) on the issue yesterday, the parliament, without debate, resolved to set up an ad-hoc committee to look into the propriety of contracting the protection of the country’s waterways and oil pipelines to private firms, among others.It also mandated the committee to investigate the allegations made by the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Patrick Akpobolekemi, of the involvement of influential people in oil theft and the fact that the organisation had seized ships belonging to the oil thieves and report back to the House within two weeks.The Federal Government had in the discharge of its constitutional responsibility, awarded pipeline surveillance contract to protect the country’s waterways so that crude oil theft could be curbed.But the House said engaging a private firm to man the country’s waterways had worsen the level of the oil theft thereby making its presence unnecessary.It noted the revelation by the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who said the illegal oil theft (bunkering) could be as high as 400,000 barrels per day.This, according to her, led to a 17 per cent fall in official sales of the crude oil in international market.The House last October accused President Jonathan of doing too little to curb increasing oil theft, and said the government’s reluctance to deploy improved methods to end the theft was tantamount to “economic sabotage”.A spokesperson for the House, Zakari Mohammed, said the government had no explanation for not addressing the theft with new technologies available, but choosing to offer excuses.
GOWON EMAKPE, Abuja
Source: Radio Biafra.