By David Iorja (ABUJA)
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says tackling crude oil theft and sabotage remains a major concern of the Federal Government and those in charge must be accountable because, besides economic consequences, institutional and personal reputations are at stake.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this on Tuesday in his remarks as Special Guest of Honour at a Stakeholders Conference on Oil Theft and Losses in Nigeria held at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.
According to the VP, “so grievous a crime cannot simply be a subject of summitry; people must do their jobs and if they are unable to do them, then there must be an accounting for such failures. Institutional and personal reputations are at stake.”
Prof. Osinbajo expressed concern that “oil theft and sabotage of oil and gas assets are a clear and present danger to our economy and national security. Not only do they pose a serious threat to oil exploration and our energy economy, but they also impact negatively on revenue accruals to the Federation and the business prospects of investors in the oil sector.”
Noting that the Federal Government prioritised the development of the Niger Delta, as well as the protection of oil assets, the VP stated that “the theft of crude oil and the accompanying attacks on our energy infrastructure, especially in the Niger Delta, have since the inception of our administration, been of utmost concern.”
Against the backdrop of huge production cuts and revenue losses, the Vice President also highlighted the work done by the National Economic Council, which he chairs.
He stated that the Council set up an Ad-hoc Committee to ascertain the magnitude of oil theft and losses in Nigeria and recommend appropriate remedial measures.
“Most of the recommendations of the Ad-hoc Committee informed the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021 and are being implemented. Even so, acts of vandalism of oil and gas infrastructure, oil theft as well as low production yields are still being reported in damaging and unacceptable proportions,” he further said.
Prof. Osinbajo noted that President Buhari had enacted the Petroleum Industry Act of 2021 aimed at revitalizing the oil and gas industry.
“Among other things, the Act stipulates elaborate provisions to accommodate the needs of the Host Communities in the oil and gas producing areas. The aim of these provisions is to assuage their sensibilities, give them a sense of belonging and foster unity of purpose with oil companies for the mutual benefit of all,” he explained.
Speaking on the theme: ‘Protecting Petroleum Industry Assets for Improved Economy’, the VP said “this administration is confronting these acts of economic terrorism on multiple fronts and with a range of tools.
“We have invested significantly in scaling up our maritime security architecture. In June 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari flagged off the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure Project otherwise known as the Deep Blue Project – a collaborative multiagency effort involving the armed forces, the police and the Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency (NIMASA), jointly led by the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Defence.
“The project provides air, naval and land assets for surveillance, policing, and search and rescue operations in our coastal waters and our exclusive economic zones.
Afterwards, the VP recalled that he was at the Navy Headquarters “where I commissioned Falcon Eye, a maritime surveillance facility that networks sensors installed along our nation’s coastline. It is designed to provide actionable intelligence in real-time on maritime security threats and enable the swift and preemptive interdiction of criminals.
“Taken together, these two initiatives are huge investments in making our waters safe for energy commerce and inhospitable for the criminals that violate our vital economic interests,” Prof. Osinbajo added.
Aside from scaling up our maritime security architecture, Prof. Osinbajo also highlighted the efforts of the administration through its New Vision for the Niger Delta initiative.
The Vice President recalled how the country’s oil installations were sabotaged by militant groups within a year of the Buhari Administration being in office.
He observed that given the importance of oil and gas for federation revenues and export earnings, “it was no surprise that the economy went into recession in 2016 for the first time in twenty years with the economy contracting by -1.6 percent that year. It was clear to the government at the time that to speedily exit the recession, we needed to ensure that oil production went back to its over 2 million barrels-a-day levels.”
The VP further recalled that in 2017, on the directive of the President, he undertook “a tour of all oil producing states especially in the Niger Delta to engage with stakeholders and get a measure of the grievances that formed the backdrop to the sabotage of the oil installations.”
Following the Vice President’s tour of the region, the Buhari administration’s New Vision for the Niger Delta was developed in 2017, as a forthright partnership between the Federal Government, State Governments, Private Sector and Local Communities, through which the people of the region can maximally benefit from the wealth of their land.
“As a result of those engagements and based on the feedback we had received from the communities, we were able to draw up the New Vision for the Niger Delta which helped to calm the situation and stem the attacks on oil facilities. These efforts led to significant success.
According to the 2018 Nigeria Oil and Gas Industry Annual Report, the VP said crude oil production at the time went back up to an estimated daily average production of 2.12million barrels per day. But he added that this upward trend was upended later by the COVID-19 crisis.
Prof. Osinbajo noted that one of the pivots of the New Vision initiative was the establishment of modular refineries to curb illegal artisanal refining in the region and create employment opportunities for the region’s youths.
According to him, following the recommendation by an Ad-hoc Committee of the National Economic Council, it was determined that “creating employment opportunities for the youths of the oil-producing communities and making petroleum products available in these communities will go a long way to reduce hardship and criminality in the region.”
Continuing, Prof. Osinbajo stated that “one of the ideas we pursued under the New Vision for the Niger Delta was licensing modular refineries to discourage illegal artisanal refining. The refineries were designed to be privately owned but with a small percentage of shares owned by the host communities. It was hoped that this could draw in the illegal refiners and thus shut down one of the most potent sources of sabotage of oil assets especially the destruction of pipelines.”
The Vice President then assured that the Buhari administration remains committed to “captaining the ship of governance to the very last hour,” noting that “we committed to leaving our best actions, thoughts and ideas for use of the next administration and the benefit of our nation.”
The Vice President commended the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno, CFR, for his dynamism, and the Chairman of the Special Investigative Panel on oil thefts and losses, Major General Barry T Ndioumu, and members of the Panel for organizing the Conference.
Dignitaries present at the conference included heads of government agencies, oil and gas industry players and traditional rulers.