The Federal Government has, at last, yielded to calls by well-meaning Nigerians to investigate the crude oil theft which has left our economy haggard, despite the oil boom that other oil-producing economies experience.
The Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, had in October this year, prevailed on the Federal Government to institute a Judicial Panel of Enquiry into the matter, but the National Security Adviser, NSA, retired Major General Babagana Monguno, announced the Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, retired Major General Barry Ndiomu, as the head of an 11-person investigative panel.
Crude oil theft has been a major problem bedevilling the economy, especially in recent years when, coupled with oil infrastructure vandalism which is rampant in the creeks, has made it impossible for Nigeria to meet its Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, quotas. For the first time in history, an oil boom that has lasted over three years has not been felt in the Nigerian economy.
Apart from this uncontrolled oil theft, insecurity has taken over our creeks, with the Nigerian ocean waterways rated as one of the most pirate-infested zones in the world. It has not only contributed in rendering the Eastern seaports at Port Harcourt, Onne, Warri and Calabar unfit for business, the area has also become a dumping ground for unusable vessels of all types.
In August 2022, the worst month in oil theft record this year, a foreign vessel capable of lifting over two million barrels escaped from Nigerian waters but was arrested by Equatorial Guinean maritime security forces.
Nigeria has a myriad of regulatory and security agencies which have proved incapable of halting the criminals. These include the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPC Ltd.; Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Development Commission, NUPRC; and Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, NMDPRC.
We also have security agencies such as the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Customs Services, NCS; Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency, NIMASA; Nigerian Inland Waterways Agency, NIWA; and other uniformed and plain clothes security agencies operating in and around our oil industry and installations. Yet, the mindless stealing continues. This is possible because bad eggs among these agencies collude with local and foreign criminals to perpetrate this economic sabotage.
This probe, coming with only six months to the end of the Buhari administration, does not inspire confidence. Nigerians have seen probes conducted even on live television, and after all the high drama (as in the NDDC probe) nothing comes of them. Until we see this panel naming names, getting culprits arrested, tried, jailed and proceeds of crime recovered, it could be just another time-buying gambit.
President Buhari doubles as the Minister of Petroleum under whom all this stealing is taking place. Most of these federal agencies are manned by his kinsmen. How far can this probe go?