For many years, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, depots at different locations around the country havesuffered severe product shortage due to the nefarious activities of vandals who destroy the pipelines feeding the facilities. This way, consumption of the product has been adversely affected due to inadequate supply. Even where they are available, they are often sold at cut-throat prices.
Andrew Yakubu, NNPC Group Managing Director, GMD, put the number of pipeline breaches between August and early January this year at 1,498. He told newsmen in Lagos last week: “Between Atlas Cove and Mosimi depots, the NNPC recorded 181 break points; from Mosimi to Ibadan, it had 421 ruptured points; and from Mosimi to Ore, it recorded 50 vandalised points. Also between Ibadan and Ilorin, it had a total of 122 break points.”
Yakubu, who was on a fact-finding visit to Arepo in Ogun state, the scene of constant vandalism and fires in recent times, decried the unending incidents of pipeline hacking and product theft, which, he said, were currently posing great danger to the efficient distribution and supply of petroleum products in some parts of the country. The GMD said if vandalism was left unchecked, the activities of pipeline marauders could cripple the smooth operation of the downstream sector of the industry.
Also last week, the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company Limited, PPMC, said the economy had lost about N165 billion in the last four years to pipeline vandalism. This includes the cost of repairs and products theft. Haruna Momoh, the Managing Director of PPMC, noted that “the activities of vandals at Arepo and products theft across the country had become a recurring national embarrassment and had cost the country N165 billion between 2009 and 2012.”
Giving an insight into the activities of the ubiquitous vandals, Momoh said: “In one case, the vandals killed one of our personnel who had gone to fix a vandalized pipeline, and buried him in an unknown grave. It took the intervention of the management of PPMC, which pleaded with the community for several days, before they could show us the grave, allowing us to exhume the body so as to give the (staff) a befitting burial.”
Between 2010 and 2012, Momoh said, 76 fire incidents were recorded in the country. According to him, more than 87 per cent of these were as a result of the nefarious activities of vandals along PPMC’s pipeline right of way. He gave the recurring decimal of Arepo as a typical example of such incessant fire outbreaks the organization has had to grapple with. Nigeria has about 15000
kilometres of oil pipeline.
‘Bad enough, even the NNPC does not seem to have a good and reliable record of Nigeria’s total oil output and sales. All that is being fed to the public is mere apocalyptic guesswork!’
There is no doubt that pipeline vandalism is one of the biggest challenges confronting the country today. The harassment, intimidation and perennial killings of PPMC personnel by these vandals underscore the desperation, viciousness and callousness with which this booming business is being carried out. The illegal business is also believed to have led to the death of no fewer than 6,000 people due to fire incidents that resulted from pipeline vandalism in the last five years.
While some people blamed the fire incidents resulting from petroleum pipeline vandalism on the ruptured pipelines, the affected oil companies, in their own defence, always attributed it to the activities of pipeline vandals. Regrettably, the activities of the vandals might have led to
the unplanned exit of some oil companies in the country, which in turn has a drastic effect on the economy.
The economic downturn in the country could have made many people to seek alternative means of survival through crime and criminality. In this regard, the very lucrative oil business must have been of topmost priority for them. Pipeline vandalism, therefore, has become almost an
all-comers’ game because of the seeming ‘ease’ of stealing petroleum products. Though the pipelines are buried deep inside the ground and many in swampy forests, the vandals have devised various ingenious methods to breach the pipelines. Once this is done, they divert the products for their illegal business.
In most cases, trucks are used to load illegal products to be sold to willing buyers in the black market. The buyers could be owners of filling stations or other unscrupulous Nigerians acting as middlemen for end users. When it is not convenient to use trucks, drums or jerry cans are used,
and then taken in large quantities to secret places where the buyers come to take delivery. It is in the process of siphoning these products that ‘avoidable’ fire incidents occur.
Since the first fire incidents in Jesse, near Sapele in Delta State, on October 17, 1998, where an estimated 1,200 people died, many more people have died, particularly as a result of the activities of pipeline vandals. These people met their untimely death through sudden and devastating explosions resulting in huge infernos. Men, women, old and young, even toddlers have been roasted alive.
What is more saddening is that, try as the government may, with constant advertisement in the media pointing to the dangers inherent in scooping fuel from burst pipelines, nobody seems to be listening or perturbed. The simple reason is that those engaged in vandalism have formed a terror
gang or cartel to keep themselves in business. Those living around or close to the pipelines, could possibly be aiding and abetting this heinous crime. At worst, they could be accessories to this act of vandalism. Also, a probe of the owners of several mansions that dot these landscapes around the pipelines could lead to some startling discoveries. Most of these mansions could have been built from the proceeds of this crime.
I have heard stories about some unscrupulous Nigerians who have built houses inside villages and settlements close to pipelines route. Such houses usually go with high walls to keep prying eyes at bay. Inside these high walls, they bring oil tankers under the cover of darkness to take fuel siphoned from burst pipelines which are then neatly stored in huge storage tanks in the houses waiting for buyers. This is why I believe that the security agents must do more of intelligence gathering in order to unmask these enemies of the nation. Perhaps, one should add that the possibility of some unscrupulous security agents acting as shield for some of these criminals cannot be totally ruled out.
In a society where money is worshipped and where poverty is widespread, the tendency to look the other way when these crimes are being committed is always there. This is more so if would-be or potential whistle-blower is given a piece of the action to keep body and soul together.
Each time pipeline vandals are paraded on network television, it is usually the foot soldiers from the dregs of the society, who run errands for the barons that get caught. The godfathers usually lie low, while their stooges are being paraded half-naked in public.
Oil theft, generally, is a very lucrative business in Nigeria. That is why many people are involved- from Nigerians to foreigners. The other day, it was some Ghanaians that were caught with illegal crude oil on the high sea; some Russians followed; so also were some Filipinos; now some Indians have joined the ‘deal’. And the soul train continues.
A Yoruba adage says, “It is the rat at home that informs the one outside that there is food in the house”. It is Nigerians who act as fronts for all these foreigners who are falling over themselves in their bid to plunder our oil resources.
Don’t let us talk about the Niger Delta area where illegal oil refineries have sprung up like mushrooms. Rightly or wrongly, it is estimated that the quantity of oil stolen from Nigeria through various dubious methods might far outweigh our officially declared national output or legal sales. Bad enough, even the NNPC does not seem to have a good and reliable record of Nigeria’s total oil output and sales. All that is being fed to the public is mere apocalyptic guesswork!