By Rotimi Ijikanmi, Port-Harcourt.
The Federal Government has announced the arrest of 210 suspects in its efforts to combat crude oil theft in the Niger Delta.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the arrests on Friday in Port-Harcourt after undertaking an aerial assessment of some hotspots along the Right of Way of the Trans-Niger Pipeline.
The minister, who was accompanied by some journalists, embarked on the surveillance trip which also covered the Nembe Creek Trunk Line leading up to the Bonny Oil and Gas Terminal that has been under force majeure since March 2022.
Briefing the newsmen after the 90 minute-aerial survey, Mohammed also disclosed that the continued efforts by the government security agencies had led to the confiscation of 20.2 million litres of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO), also known as diesel.
According to him, over 461,000 litres of Premium Motor Spirit (Petrol), 843,000 litres of Dual Purpose Kerosene DPK, and 383,000 barrels of crude oil have been confiscated.
The minister said that an additional 365 illegal refining sites were destroyed, with about 1,054 refining ovens, 1,210 metal storage tanks, 838 dugout pits and 346 reservoirs also destroyed.
Mohammed said that the activities of vandals and economic saboteurs had severely impacted on Nigeria’s crude oil and natural gas production.
“Since the post-COVID pandemic recovery of crude oil prices, Nigeria has been unable to meet its OPEC production quota, hurting the Nigerian economy.
“Due to the nefarious activities of vandals, Nigeria has been losing out on producing approximately 700,000 barrels of oil daily.
“This volume is split between crude stolen and production deferment (shut-ins), due to legitimate fear of losing substantial volumes in transit.
“Terminal receipts have persistently declined, leading to decisions such as the Force Majure declared at the Bonny Oil and Gas Terminal in March 2022,’’ he said.
To check the activities of the saboteurs, the minister said that the NNPC Ltd had set up a new security architecture to serve as a solid response to detect, deter, and respond to the activities of vandals.
He said that the security architecture leveraged collaboration between the upstream operators, industry regulators, Government Security Agencies (GSA) and Private Security Contractors (PSC).
Mohammed said that in line with the approval by President Muhammadu Buhari, Private Security Contractors (PSCs), with the required capability, were contracted.
He said that the PSCs, which were to provide community surveillance within the oil-producing regions, were identified and engaged after comprehensive vetting by the DSS and EFCC.
They are also to provide local intelligence on all illegal crude ventures happening within the region and security surveillance services for safe and seamless operations along the nation’s pipeline networks.
Besides, the minister said that the Command and Control Centre of NNPC Ltd. was set up to conduct round-the-clock monitoring of petroleum operations and activities within the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone.
According to him, all vessel movements within the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone as well as all ship-to-ship activities within the same zone were monitored/
He said that the Command and Control Centre had also launched various online tools to enable public participation in the fight against crude theft.
He added that the tools included the establishment of the Whistle-Blowing Portal. to enable patriotic Nigerians to report illegal activities and Crude Sales Document Validation Portal, to validate all crude sales documents.
Mohammed said that the centre, which had Incidence Reporting and Management Application, was also developing a Vessels Reporting Application.
He reiterated the Federal Government’s determination to put an end to the crude oil losses.
The team, conveyed on the aerial surveillance in two Sikorsky S76D Choppers, witnessed first-hand a number of illegal refineries destroyed by the military.
In the course of the surveillance, the team also saw first-hand, the high level of damage to the environment as a result of the activities of the economic saboteurs.