Tantita, Navy spat sign of a failing state

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TRENDING accusations and counter-accusations between the Nigerian Navy and Tantita Security Services, a private company employed to help rid the Niger Delta of oil theft in collaboration with the security agencies, succinctly capture the decadence in Nigeria’s oil industry and governance.

TheNavy accuses Tantita, owned by Government Ekpemupolo, a former militant leader, of colluding with thieves to steal crude oil off the coast of Ondo State. Tantita countered that some Navy personnel were aboard the MT VINNALARIS 1 when it was accosted at Awoye. This incident showcases Nigeria as a failing state, whose government has lost control.

The accusations are messy. According to Navy spokesman, Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, it arrested the vessel with 15,000 metric tonnes capacity, following an intelligence report that it was illegally loading crude oil. At that point, Ayo-Vaughan said it had stolen 500MT. It blamed the theft on Tantita since that location is within the company’s area of coverage.

On its part, Tantita explained that the vessel was intercepted by a combined team of soldiers, Tantita, and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps operatives, but said the Navy refused to hand over the vessel for a joint inspection. Tantita, which has a pipeline protection contract with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, said it had forwarded video evidence of the incident to the NNPC. Therefore, the NNPC must come out openly on this.

The economy is tottering partly because of the industrial scale oil theft in the Niger Delta. The immediate past Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, once said Nigeria was losing 700,000 barrels per day to theft. During a recent visit to the Niger Delta, the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, said theft remained at 400,000bpd, representing a loss of $4 million daily.

For a country that is broke and indebted, and reeling under a forex scarcity crisis, the leakage is severely damaging. Between 2009 and 2020, NEITI said Nigeria lost N16.25 trillion to oil theft.

Worse, Nigeria cannot meet its OPEC-assigned production quota of 1.78 million bpd, recording just 1.35mbpd production in October. Instead of eradicating oil theft, successive administrations pay lip service to it and resort to borrowing. In contrast, thieves steal between 5,000bpd and 10,000bpd in Mexico, the second highest victim of oil theft globally behind Nigeria. In Indonesia, oil theft hovers between 2,000bpd and 3,000bpd.

Consequently, the NNPC cannot meet the demands of domestic refiners, including the 650,000bpd Dangote Refinery, its own 445,000bpd refineries (if they were to be in operation), the upcoming 200,000bpd BUA Refinery and other modular refineries. Refined petrol imports hurt the economy.

Stakeholders, including Nyesom Wike, former Rivers’ governor and incumbent FCT Minister, and ex-militant, Asari Dokubo, have accused the military and police of abetting oil theft. Bizarrely, the Navy has resorted to swiftly burning vessels suspected of oil theft, destroying evidence that can be used to nab the barons. Disappointingly, the Bola Tinubu administration tolerates this travesty.

The scale of oil theft in Nigeria is inexcusable. With technology, Saudi Arabia effectively monitors every drop of oil throughout its territory from a command centre.

Evidently, official complicity aids the theft in Nigeria. The magnitude of the leakage signifies state failure. Tinubu should arrest this grave assault on national sovereignty. The Navy, the primary force assigned to protect Nigeria’s territorial waters, has failed.

The President should overhaul the military operations in the Niger-Delta, root out all the personnel currently deployed there, and replace them with personnel, who should be there only for short periods, and closely monitored.

He should set strict timelines and targets to eradicate oil theft and pay close attention to the problem. The haemorrhage should no longer be tolerated.

Culled from Punch of 19th December 2023

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