RECENTLY, the United Nations (UN) indicated that Nigeria lost an estimated $2.8 billion in revenues in 2018 largely due to oil-related crimes. In a statement entitled ‘Report by the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS)’ released in New York, United States and covering July 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018, the UN said: “Maritime crime and piracy off the coast of West Africa continued to pose a threat to peace, security and development in the region. Oil-related crimes resulted in the loss of nearly 2.8 billion dollars in revenues last year in Nigeria, according to government figures. Between January 1 and November 23, there were 82 reported incidences of maritime crime and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.’’
By any standards, the estimated loss from oil revenue in 2018 is both huge and frightening. It is striking that the country lost such a humonguous figure to oil theft in the same year that it was designated the global headquarters of poverty. Among other factors, the latest expose by the UN once again illustrates the place of security in national development and well-being. A state unable to police its borders and waterways and prevent criminals from cornering public resources to themselves with relative ease cannot aspire to the much-touted sustainable development goals, the singsong of the current tenants in the corridors of power, let alone command the respect of the international community. With $2.8 billion invested in well thought out poverty alleviation programmes, it is certain that the current despair and agony in the land would have been mitigated to a large extent.
Besides, it is staggering that in spite of its now apparrently feeble anti-graft war, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has actually not fared better than its predecessors with regard to the management of the country’s oil resources. Without doubt, crude oil theft involves an elaborate network of organised crimes involving local criminals and their foreign collaborators, compromised personnel of the security agencies, criminals in government, and oil workers. Over the years, the Federal Government has claimed massive success in curbing piracy, but it is difficult to determine how this success was measured. If the government has curbed oil theft, why is the largely oil-based economy haemorhagging steadily with massive oil-related crimes?
Has the government fished out those within the security circles that are enabling oil theft? Beyond the ritual of routinely busting ‘illegal refineries’ and ‘bunkering’, has the government actually curbed oil theft? What is the modus operandi of the oil thieves and what concrete measures have been rolled out to render them impotent? How was oil worth an estimated $2.8 billion siphoned without the Navy, police and other security agencies being able to stop the criminals in their tracks? Have the security agencies been fully equipped operationally, tactically and organisationally to fight oil-related crimes decisively and with utmost professionalism? Has the battle really been taken to pirates, pipeline vandals and their collaborators within the formal and informal sectors of the economy?
Apparently, there is no way the current situation in the oil industry can be divorced from the larger Nigerian paradox of agony, hunger and despair amid plenitude in public office. Unemployed youths can easily be lured into oil-related crimes, especially with the manner of lifestyle adopted by those in public offices and the belief that the easiest way to live the big life is to have access to oil wealth by whatever means necessary. The country therefore has the unique misfortune of being plagued by oil thieves on two levels: in public office, by way of looting the resources accruable largely from oil, and in the informal sector, by way of banditry, piracy, oil bunkering and allied crimes. While this goes on, the misgoverned and hapless populace continues to bear the brunt of leadership failure, without respite and without the slightest glimmer of hope.
It must be sufficiently clear from the foregoing that any strategy designed to arrest the current drift must be multi-pronged, addressing social, economic and legal issues. There is as yet no such strategy in place even if the Navy and agencies like the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) must be commended for the little that they have been able to achieve in curbing oil-related crimes. The country’s borders and waterways remain porous and conducive to oil-related crimes. This has to be addressed, lest the country suffers greater loss. We call on the Federal Government to take the UN report very seriously and rise up to the responsibility of protecting the country’s oil resources from pirates and bandits in whatever guise. Governance, after all, is problem-solving.