•How Sylva, NNPC Kyari brokered new deal; the Senator Omo-Agege connection
•Misguided backlash from Arewa youths, counter attack
•Ex-militant leader to collaborate with JTF, engage ex-agitators, stakeholders
“It is indeed disturbing that under the APC administration, according to official reports, oil thieves are having a field day stealing up to 400,000 barrels of crude oil every day. This amounts to a daily siphoning of about $40m
..”There is no way they will arrest the big-time oil thieves under the current set up because those in-charge of security are part of the cartel and those you have sent to stop them are part of the business.”
IT is not hidden information that a sophisticated mafia of powerful Nigerians and foreigners, including top military operators, government officials, highly-placed and retired oil industry personnel, politicians and businesspersons are the big-time oil thieves and financiers of oil bunkering syndicates, which over the years have to suck the life out of the country’s economy.
Their oil bunkering cartel working with insiders steal crude directly from major crude oil pipelines in the Niger Delta, while officials pump crude to the different Terminals. They know the time and duration of pumping and exact pipelines.
The damage inflicted by small-time oil bunkers in Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa and other states, who illegitimately refine crude oil in the Niger-Delta region is a child’s play compared to the havoc the connected cartel that owns giant vessels and equipment wreak on the economy.
There are local thieves who also siphon from major pipelines and later sell their product to the big players, who use superior tubes and experts to drain off crude oil.
The biggest advantage of the cartel is that they have security operatives that provide security on the instruction of top officers for vessels laden with stolen crude, which sail outside the country’s waters to ready buyers with foreign collaborators
Every security officer involved in the business is well ‘taken care of’ and so, secrecy is maintained. Security operatives who mount sentry on waterways also collect levy from small–time bunkerers and many want to serve in such lucrative beat. They also make returns to superior officers.
An informed source hinted that at least 80 per cent of the crude oil being pumped to the oil terminals in the country ends up with big-time oil thieves.
”If you pump 239,000 barrels of crude oil into either of the Trans-Niger Pipeline or the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (these are some of the major pipelines that convey crude oil to the terminals for export), they will receive 3,000 barrels. It got to a point where it was no longer economically sustainable to pump crude into the lines and a force majeure was declared,” he stated.
“With security operatives as escorts, they lead them outside the country’s waters and leave the crew and other members to proceed to purchasers in foreign countries. The vessels are basically labeled as untouchable in Nigerian waters because of the caliber of the owners, causing the country to lose billions of dollars,” he explained.
Outcries by Shell, Elumelu, others
Shell Petroleum Nigeria Limited, Chevron Nigeria Limited, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, as Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC Limited then was, and others had raised the alarm about sustained and increased oil theft for some period now, but the big-time thieves continued with the Federal Government doing little.
Country Head, Corporate Relations, SPDC, Igo Weli, told newsmen in Port Harcourt, Rivers state that underprivileged people could not afford the kind of equipment deployed by oil thieves in unabated oil theft and assets vandalism.
”Equipment required to carry out oil theft are so expensive, poor people cannot afford to set up oil theft and illegal refining businesses. Only those with deep pockets can and they are killing you and I, destroying the economy.
“If we keep destroying our environment, the type of company that would want to come to this country that will give our children value proposition and contribute positively to our economy will not come. That is why I give credit to the Rivers State Governor because some months ago, he showed leadership.”
Chairman, United Bank for Africa, Tony Elumelu, late last year, tweeted that the country was losing over 95 percent of its production to oil thieves and recapped his worry about the matter, February.
Former Chief Executive Officer of Seplat Energy and Executive Chairman, AA Holdings, Austin Avuru, also forewarned that Nigeria’s oil production had reached an emergency critical status, recommending that NNPC and regulators should set up a “war room” strategy to deal with the rising issue of oil theft in the country.
With the amplified oil theft between 2021 and June 2022, it was not surprising when the Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, NUPRC, reported, recently, that the nation’s oil output dropped by 12.5 per cent to 1.4 million barrels per day, mb/d, including condensate, in the first half (January – June) of 2022, from 1.6 mb/d in the corresponding period of 2021.
Checks by Vanguard showed the oil thieves stole between 200,000 and 400,000 barrels of crude daily during the period.
In 2021 alone, oil thieves caused the country a loss of over $4.01 billion and by NNPC statistics, regular production in 2020 stood at 1.77mb/d, before sliding consistently to 1.6 mb/d and 1.4 mb/d in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
The oil output was relatively high in 2020 when Covid-19 and lock-down that followed hampered the movement of goods and persons from one place to another, resulting to the production of 2.49 mb/d on April 17, 2020.
Available record indicated that the rate of oil theft kept rising as the price of crude oil recovered in the market “until March 2022 when there was zero recovery from all the volumes that were pumped into the line”.
It also showed that oil theft “is more endemic with Joint Ventures assets and those that belong to the Independents than with Production Sharing Contracts assets. This is likely because of the nature of the JV assets, which are mainly onshore or in swamp/shallow waters.
This makes the evacuation pipelines more accessible than those of the PSCs which are offshore and in deep waters.”
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, NUPRC, Gbenga Komolafe, who reportedly described the development as a national threat, stated that the total value lost for the period spanning January 2021 to February 2022 was about $3.27 billion, as average monthly value loss for the period is about $233.99 million with a daily average of $7.72 million.
Presently, the nation is unable to meet the quota of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, currently standing at 1.826 mb/d.
Who are the big-time oil thieves?
If truth be told, government has not demonstrated tangible inclination to fight the big-time oil thieves and whatever tough measures said to have been adopted have not put off the cartel.
To proclaim that the cartel is unknown is to stand the truth on the head because government knows the big oil thieves. But probably paid scant attention to their activities until the nation was terribly hit and unable to meet Organization of Petroleum Export Countries, OPEC quota.
A knowledgeable source informed Saturday Vanguard that the cartel, over the years, successfully sold a decoy making the Presidency to believe that oil theft was being carried out by small-time oil bunkerers and Niger-Delta militants bent on destroying the country’s economy, and so they must be eliminated. The Presidency believed while the big-time oil thieves continued their business with protection from security operatives.
Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, recently, said the federal government would soon go public with the identity of highly -placed Nigerians behind oil theft in the country.
He also stated that it was embarrassing for Nigeria not to meet up with the quota given to it by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
His words: “Oil theft is being tackled. The big problem we have in this country is that we ought to see more commitment from communities in assisting law enforcement agents. In some cases, where some actors in the law enforcement are complicit, it becomes bad.”
“We used to fight the OPEC for more quotas; now, they have given us and we are not able to meet up. This is embarrassing. Security agencies are fully involved in stopping this act. I am hopeful that in the next few days, the office of the National Security Adviser will be presenting to the country, big men who are promoters of this kind of business as they are being caught and illegal refineries are being bombed out.
“The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited is also installing a monitoring capacity to detect or advice immediately when sabotage of oil pipelines happens.”
With the level of oil theft and damage it has caused the country, industry watchers and stakeholders are baffled that the federal government was merely threatening to go public “with the identity of highly-placed Nigerians behind oil theft in the country”, instead of arresting them to face the music.
Supposed military involvement
In 2019, the governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, bravely told the nation that top military men were involved and sponsoring oil bunkering in his state.
He fingered a General Officer Commanding, GOC, who he alerted, had raised a team of soldiers to steal and sell petroleum products in the region.
Not many believed him because they thought he was playing politics, but Wike spoke from information available to him as the chief security officer of Rivers state.
The governor, however, did not substantiate his allegation but what is known is that the big oil thieves have the support of top military generals, who instruct their subordinate commanders in the area of responsibility, AOR, not to disturb his “friends” and the benefits go round.
Policemen and operatives of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, reportedly clashed in Rivers state over protection of an alleged oil bunkering site in Rivers state, but both security agencies gave different versions of their involvement in the episode.
Reps raise dust over bunkerers’ escapade
Just as the country’s economy is hemorrhaging, one of the top oil bunkering syndicates , few weeks ago, audaciously sneaked into the nation’s territorial waters with a 3-million capacity super tanker, MV Heroic Idun, to illegally lift crude oil as usual.
Fortunately, the Nigerian Navy, according to report, detected the vessel and kept track on its movement, but despite security watch, the bunkerers outsmarted the Navy and fled the country.
Though the authorities said the oil thieves did not achieve their target, how they outsmarted the Nigerian Navy and sailed to Equatorial Guinea until that country’s Navy apprehended the ship remains a mystery until date. However, it was learned their accomplices in the security network reportedly provided cover for the embarrassing escape.
The Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives expressed alarm at the massive oil theft in the country, which has become an organized racket under the All Progressives Congress, APC-led administration, calling for open investigation.
Minority Leader, Rt. Hon Ndudi Elumelu, in a statement, said: “The Minority Caucus is disturbed by reports of alleged complicity by certain corrupt government officials as evinced in the clandestine entrance and berthing of a 3-million-barrel capacity super tanker, MV. Heroic Idun in Nigerian waters to criminally load millions of barrels of stolen crude oil from our country.”
“Such reported complicity is also evidenced in the failure of the Nigerian authorities to effectively intercept and arrest the criminal tanker and its crew, which successfully left the Nigerian waters only to be apprehended by the Equatorial Guinea Navy.
“This shocking development underscores the massive sleaze in our nation’s oil and gas sector under the APC administration, with consequential crippling effect on our overall national economy and social well-being.
“It is indeed disturbing that under the APC administration, according to official reports, oil thieves are having a field day stealing up to 400,000 barrels of crude oil every day. This amounts to a daily siphoning of about $40m (given the current average global oil price of around $100 a barrel) accrued revenue meant for the well-being of Nigerians.
”The Minority Caucus, standing with Nigerians, demands for an immediate, independent and open investigation into the issue of oil theft in the country with particular reference to the circumstances that facilitated the reported illegal operation by MV Heroic Idun as well as its escape from our waters.
“Who granted the vessel entrance into the Nigerians water? Who granted it facilities to illegally berth and pump stolen crude oil? What circumstances facilitated its escape from the Nigerian waters? Who is the vessel working for and who are those behind the illegal operation?
Onslaught on small-time oil thieves
Since their appointments as Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and Group Managing Director, GMD, NNPC Limited respectively, Chief Timipre Sylva and Melo Kyari, have been saddled with the responsibility of putting in place measures to stamp out oil bunkering in liaison with President Muhammadu Buhari and the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, General Lucky Irabor.
NNPC Limited entered into collaboration with the Nigerian Navy, the European Union and other security agencies to tackle issue of crude oil theft, which according to findings have started yielding results, saving the country the theft of N25bn worth of crude oil.
The collaboration was launched on April 1 through ‘Operation Dakatar Da Bararrwo.’ Figures released showed that 23,110,102.59 litres of diesel had been seized while crude oil was put at 39,664,420.16 litres or 230,882.73 barrels.
For kerosene, about 649,775.38 litres were confiscated; while PMS had recovery of 345,000.49 litres, Sludge 380,000 litres, and LPFO 66,000 litres
During the operation, 85 suspects were arrested with 72 Boats while 23 vehicles were also seized.
Personnel of the Navy, working with the NNPC Limited also destroyed 127 ovens, 102 large pits, 148 storage tanks and recovered 41 outboard engines.
Some months ago, Sylva, Irabor and Kyari visited the Niger Delta for an on-the-spot assessment of the damage done by vandals.
Shortly after the visit, a military operation followed immediately to smoke vandals out of the creeks.
Weeks ago, Kyari led the European Union delegation, top officials of the NNPC Ltd as well as representatives of security agencies to again visit the Niger Delta Creek to assess the ongoing fight against crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and vandalism of oil and gas installations.
The delegation was also accompanied by the Commander, Joint Task Force, JTF, known as Operations Delta Safe, Rear Admiral Aminu Hassan
How Tompolo came into the picture
But the real challenge is not the small-time oil thieves; it is the influential cartel that is strongly connected and has continued to operate with impunity despite the security measures in place.
A retired security expert said: “There is no way they will arrest the big-time oil thieves under the current set up because those in-charge of security are part of the cartel and those you have sent to stop them are part of the business.”
Separately, Sylva and Kyari have understudied the system and came to the understanding, more than a year ago, that one person that can help government to stop the cartel is ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo because of his mastery of the creeks and confidence that he would refuse to be compromised by anybody.
However, Tompolo had a case, now dismissed by the Federal High Court, Lagos, after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had declared him wanted for alleged corruption over the revenue collection job that Global West Vessel Specialists did in collaboration with NIMASA, which he was a technical partner to Global West and sale of his diving institute to the Federal Government under former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that for some reasons, some top persons in the military hierarchy kicked against the move by Sylva and Kyari to contract Tompolo for pipeline surveillance. Some governors of Niger Delta states and top politicians also opposed the move to contract Tompolo.
But the two men, Sylva and Kyari, satisfied with how the ex-militant leader handled surveillance of oil pipelines in Delta state, sometime in 2014 and early in 2015, in conjunction with Chief Emami Ayiri and Chief Michael Diden, aka Ejele, under the Oil Facilities Surveillance Limited, which they incorporated then, want him on the job.
Sylva, as a former governor and Niger-Delta leader knows the capacity of Tompolo, and courted him when Buhari appointed him minister. On his part, Kyari was also convinced that Tompolo can do the job for them to meet up the country’s quota in oil production
A source familiar with the arrangement, told this paper: “Sometime last year, the NNPC GMD visited Tompolo at Oporoza, the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta state, to rub minds, but it was just back and front, due to the Nigeria factor.”
Luckily, they have the CDS on their side and have been able to persuade President Buhari to change his mien towards Tompolo.
”Some people were against the move to draft Tompolo while others supported, so on and so forth. Even the military hierarchy was against it, some governors in Niger-Delta were also opposed. Most of them were against it, but no matter how you suppress truth, one day, it will come up, and that was how the matter finally materialized to what you saw about two weeks ago.
”So, it was not surprising when news came three weeks ago that Tompolo has been contracted to guide pipelines in some parts of Niger-Delta by the Federal Government through NNPC Limited..”
“Sylva and NNPC GMD have actually been on the matter for close to or more than a year and I guess they understand Tompolo and were convinced of his capability and sincerity before they took the matter to President Buhari,” he said.
Omo Agege connection
Deputy President of Senate and APC governorship candidate in the state, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, also played some role in getting the Federal Government to give pipeline surveillance job to Tompolo, knowing his competence.
No link with dismissed Global West contract
On why Buhari gave the nod to Tompolo after the 2015 Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA/ Global West Specialist episode, our source said: “Yes, Buhari was the one that terminated NIMASA/Global West contract, which Tompolo was a technical partner to the owner of Global West. You see, there are lots of things people do not understand, they came to Tompolo to do the job, and he is the one bent on doing it.”
“Buhari cancelled a revenue collection contract of NIMASA/Global West without making known the reason and his government. Those who did not want Tompolo when Buhari took over power ensured that pipeline contracts were given to other contractors in the region and they are still doing it, but the truth is that oil theft has not halted. It has soared. Even some of the oil companies have their internal arrangements.
”First thing I want you to know is that contrary to the thinking of many, the current contract is not the same revenue collection contract that Global West Specialists did in the past with NIMASA. The work that Global West did for NIMASA was not pipeline surveillance; it was purely revenue collection for NIMASA. It has a duty to collect levy from vessels doing business in Nigeria’s water territory, they could not do it very well, and needed a third party.
“That third party came in as a form of concession and the concession then was for Global West to put facilities in place so that the levy NIMASA was collecting would increase, that is levy from ship
“I think the role of Global West was like push up the levy to 100 per cent and anything above 50 per cent is what they could share at the ratio of 60-40, it was successful and the Managing Director of Global West, late Captain Romeo, who lived in the USA understood the business and believing it could be replicated in Nigeria, sold the idea to NIMASA
“He pushed for it and Tompolo was like his technical partner because he understands the terrain and how the oil thieves work. He was the backbone of Global West then.
“It was a 10-year contract and at the end, Global West was to handover to NIMASA, which was the arrangement. Awarded in 2012, but when Buhari came, they had done barely three years or so, but government terminated the job, prosecuting then NIMASA DG, and dragged Tompolo into it.
2014/15 Tompolo, Ayiri, Ejele pipeline job in Delta
“The pipeline surveillance job that Tompolo and others did back then was awarded sometime in 2014 to different the persons, a kind of blanket award that they should take care of all the oil facilities in the Niger Delta, but specifically Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers.
“What they did was they gave Delta to Tompolo, APC chieftain, Chief Emami Ayiri and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stalwart, Chief Michael Diden, aka Ejele, and they formed Oil Facilities Surveillance Limited. They were the shareholders. Similar contracts were awarded to some persons in Bayesla, a former governor of the state had hand in it, then Macaiver, an ex-militant leaders; In Rivers state, Farah, Alhaji Dokubo Asari were involved. Ateke Tom was in charge.
“That job was one year in contract and terminated early 2015 and election was close then and there was need to continue the job, the government then awarded another three months to these same persons. They were not paid for work done in these three months up till now, the one of Delta was even controversial, the new government said let it pay just one month, but Tompolo refused, that he was the person actually doing the job and spent a lot of money. It automatically terminated and not renewed by government.
“After then, government now engaged the Ocean Marine Solutions Company, owned by the late Captain Hosa Okunbo; and some other persons in Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, who were just doing it and appeasing some persons, but nothing really until they awarded these ones now.
Current surveillance contract for 5 companies
“The current pipeline surveillance contracts in Niger Delta is like a job owned by about five companies, but Tompolo has interest in two of the companies, covering part of Rivers, part of Bayelsa, part of Delta, part of Imo, part of Edo and Ondo states. It has the largest share in the contract, but there are other companies.
“Late Captain Okunbo job remains but this current pipeline surveillance contract is more of a comprehensive one because there are specific details on how to go about it; based on kilometers of pipelines and it is on major pipelines that they steal crude oil when pumping.
Other companies are still involved in the job, the one of late Captain Okunbo being supervised by a top Niger Delta monarch. Okunbo’s company still has work in Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. Somebody else is handling Rivers state
”The problem is that that government has not seen somebody that will really do the job for them honestly other than Tompolo, they know his capacity. And he is going to work with the military and other security agencies, especially JTF.
“I told you that before now, the oil companies have their internal arrangement on pipeline surveillance, there is one in Bayelsa state owned by David Lyon who is working for Agip; Shell has some arrangement with their host communities; Chevron is also doing theirs. In fact, there is a popular pipeline in Delta that is not part of the new job, Chevron is running that pipeline.
In this country, like when the present DG of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, came on board, he mentioned that when Tompolo was providing that service for them, they had increased revenue. People know what he had done and they knew that the one year and three months surveillance contract that they did, it was only Delta that was successful because he was in charge.
But some people play the spoiler role so that the federal government would not patronize him because of their interests.
Arewa youths clatter
Nevertheless, following the award, some Arewa youths, who did not fathom how Tompolo became part of the contract, under the auspices of Amalgamated Arewa Youth Groups, attacked the government, Sylva and NNPC for giving him a pipeline contract, but a Coalition of Arewa Civil Society Groups, during the week, upbraided the faceless Arewa youths that kicked against the crude oil surveillance contract awarded by the Federal Government through the NNPC Limited to Tompolo.
Spokesperson of the coalition, Mallam Aminu Abbas, in a statement, distancing the people of northern Nigeria from the baseless attack, said “It’s important to note that the era of shadow chasing is over, what is expected of any concerned Arewa Group at this critical time is to engage all concerned stakeholders from within and outside our region on how best to address the lingering problem of insecurity and bring it to a logical end.”
“The people sponsoring the said group are ignorant of the current realities on how those involved in oil theft and bickering have affected our nation’s economy. It is worrisome and disgraceful that when government took such timely decisive positive action on what will have a positive impact on our country’s economic prosperity, a faceless group like the so called Amalgamated Arewa Youth Groups could be attacking them and then causing disaffection within the citizenry.”
“Nigeria as a country depends on the proceeds from the sale of crude oil and when such facilities are being destroyed on a daily basis, the production and sales of oil reduce drastically, We as the Coalition of all Civil Society groups in the Northern part of this country have decided to come out in mass within seven days to thank Mr. President for taking the decision that would secure our National assets.”
”High Chief Expemuoplo is a son of the soil and he has all it takes to bring about the significant visible improvement in that particular task. Therefore, we commend President Buhari for his approval and we equally pass a vote of confidence on the state minister of petroleum resources and the GMD of NNPC limited for following due process in awarding the said contract,” the coalition added.
Why Tompolo accepted FG offer – Okpe
Speaking in same manner, president of a Niger-Delta group, Voice of Burutu People, VoBP, Felix Okpe, who shed light on government’s decision to use Tompolo against oil thieves, said: “High chief Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo Alia Tompolo is a trust worthy son in the Niger Delta, the people in the region have great respect for him because of his stand for the truth and his desire to liberate the people from marginalization.”
“Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan awarded the oil pipeline surveillance job in Delta state to Tompolo in 2014, and he immediately swung into action to stop all oil thieves in the state. Oil companies operating in the state regained total stability in their oil production.
“Unfortunately, when President Mohammed Bohari took over from Jonathan in 2015, he misunderstood the good intention of Tompolo for the region, terminated the contract and declared him wanted and thereafter, Niger Delta Avengers emerged to disrupt oil production in the region by vandalizing oil pipeline and gas facilities.
“The problem lingered for about two years and the government directed the military personnel to safeguard oil pipelines. Today, those who promised to safeguard oil pipelines and very distinguished personalities in the country are directly involved in oil bunkering.
“Consequent upon this, the oil and gas production rate fell drastically, and the federal government has no other option than to borrow money to survive because crude oil is the main source of income in the Nigeria.
“The federal government has made many attempts to beg High Chief Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo. to come to their aid because oil production is falling every day due to oil thieves and bunkering .
“Tompolo, because of what he went through in this present administration refused to listen to the federal government but being a patriotic citizen, he, recently accepted the offer and federal government awarded the pipeline surveillance contract job to him again.
“The reason is that only Tompolo has the capability to curtail oil thieves in the Niger Delta because he is tested and trusted,” he said.
Ex-militant leader to collaborate with JTF, other stakeholders
More eyes on Tompolo because of his status as leader of the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of Niger-Delta, MEND, and many expect to get jobs and other benefits, including politicians and security agents, who all have roles to play.
Saturday Vanguard has it on good authority that the JTF commander was in Oporoza, penultimate Sunday, where he assured Tompolo that Operation Delta Safe would work together with him.
Tompolo, who has a lot of boys on ground in the creeks, is expected to checkmate the big oil thieves because he recognizes how they steal crude oil and the topography. He is not seen as somebody that can be intimidated to back-off; particularly on a legitimate course he is fighting.
Will succeed in his new assignment, especially as all eyes are now on him and there are other contractors on the job. Clearly, it is not going to be easy for the oil bandits are connected and loaded and their boys are also armed. But Tompolo’s advantage remains his waterway credibility.
He seems to know what to do as the first thing he did was to invite stakeholders from across the region to inform them about his new contract, their roles and benefits, saying he would work out modalities to ensure the jobless get employment and the people benefit as much possible.
Tompolo has met with the ex-agitators, communities, leaders, pressure groups, and stakeholders in the Niger Delta region at his country home in Oporoza community to inform them about his new contract, their roles and benefits, saying he would work out modalities to ensure the jobless get employment and the people benefit as much possible.
He has also dialogued and advised oil bunkerers to stop illegal local refineries and oil bunkering in the region, cautioning that those who treat the advice with levity will have themselves to blame because he is coming after them.
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