OIL THEFT: Paying The Price For Lame Maritime Security

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The recent alarm by Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives that Nigeria is losing about N7 trillion annually to insecurity in the maritime sector and other revenue leakages arising from oil theft has reinforced the view of experts that inadequate harnessing of the potentials in the sector is costing the nation dearly writes IZUCHUKWU OZOEMENA.

Yakubu Dogara's disclosure came after a Court of Appeal judgment upholding a Federal High Court conviction of five years in prison each passed on nine foreigners. The nine foreigners, five Filipinos and four Bangladeshis, bagged the prison terms after they were found guilty of stealing Nigeria’s oil. This particular case is one out of so many unreported instances. Coming at a time when the global family is battling to check growing incidences of oil theft and maritime insecurity, Dogara’s concerns represent the first time the issue has attracted genuine attention within government circles.

PIX1: Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Reps

To arrest leakages and insecurity, Dogara advised that it is now time the country strengthens the security surveillance architecture of her maritime domain by addressing the issues of lack of capacity and the prevalence of weak laws. 

As statistics have revealed, cases of oil theft and maritime insecurity in Nigeria have continued to be on the rise despite efforts by the Nigerian Navy and other security agencies to ensure they are curtailed. As it stands, the situation now appears to be overwhelming the agencies statutorily charged with the responsibility of securing the country’s maritime domain. Is the situation a pointer to the fact that the extant laws or certain provisions therein may have lost their relevance and bite in the current dispensation? Stakeholders are of the opinion that factors go beyond weak regulations.

Illegalities on Nigerian waters are perpetrated virtually every day. In fact, the stealing of oil within the country’s territorial waters is not limited to foreigners. It is a business chain involving so many actors within and outside the country. From security personnel directly involved in enforcement of regulations to the top military brass and politicians, it remains a thriving business. In fact so prevalent and pervading has it become that it has been given a name that seeming gives it a garb legality - oil bunkering.

PIX2: Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, President, Court Of Appeal

Against the backdrop of a robbery attack on board a tanker vessel anchored at the Lagos General Purpose Anchorage on August 19, 2017, maritime security experts have tasked the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to focus more on curbing sea robbery.  Other security agencies have also received marching orders to be alive to their responsibilities. According to Mr Britus Bulama, the Chief Executive Officer of Giant Stride Security Limited, the most practicable way Nigeria can demonstrate to the international community that viable trade can flourish within her territory is to ensure safety in the maritime domain at all times.

Bulama who noted that the nation’s waters had witnessed an upsurge in cargo traffic in recent times, stated that whatever progress the country is making in the area of maritime security should not be allowed to fade away through the evil deeds of a few people.

“If we are serious to make the non-oil sector the hub of the economy, there is the need for security operatives to redouble their efforts in ensuring that Nigeria’s waters remain attractive to investors.

"As stakeholders, security operatives should know that the country is relying on their ability to effectively police the maritime domain to widen her revenue earnings especially now that government is intensifying attention to the non-oil sector. Incidents of oil theft should be nipped in the bud through prior intelligence gathering. When this happens, shivers are sent into the spines of would-be perpetrators", Bulama said. He urged security operatives to arm themselves with up-to-date information on the schemings of sea marauders and fashion out ways to foil their plans.

The oil theft saga is compounded by the fact that Nigeria’s territorial waters have a yet-to-be enumerated river craft. This deplorable situation gives room to several pertinent questions which have remained unanswered. Are there ways out of the challenges posed by oil theft and maritime insecurity in the country? Is there any solution to the rampant theft of the country’s oil? Will it ever come to an end? Are there truths in allegations that certain security people vested with the responsibility of protecting the nation’s maritime domain sometimes collude with local and foreign cabals to steal the golden liquid? Is the political leadership complicit in the intractable issue?

PIX3: Dr. Dakuku Peterside, NIMASA DG

The inadequate of extant laws to address headlong the problem of oil theft has been fingered as one of the factors responsible for the continuous stealing of Nigeria’s oil wealth. Those involved in the illicit deal have often exploited the loopholes in the existing laws of the land to escape justice. One of the ways out of the problem, it is suggested, is for the National Assembly to enact a fresh law that will address the present loopholes in the existing laws relating to oil theft and maritime insecurity. In line with this thinking, the Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, recently said his agency would soon present what he called “Anti-Piracy Bill” to the National Assembly.

It is common knowledge that security agencies saddled with the responsibility of policing the waterways often work at cross purposes. A situation whereby each arm of the security services would want to claim credit for any successes achieved in the fight against oil theft or give an impression that it is working more than other sister agencies gives the perpetrators the leeway to execute their notorious acts.

Collaboration rather than working as separate entities, a chief executive of an indigenous shipping company said, will help to ensure that everyone is carried along to confront a nagging problem. Co-operation and application of an inclusive intelligence-gathering strategy will enhance operations and give the government agencies an edge in the fight against the oil cabal.

PIX4: Bitrus Bulama, CEO Giant Stride Security Ltd.

The identification of all river craft in all waterways also needs to be pursued vigorously. If this is achieved, it will curb the present situation where many vessels cannot be accounted for in terms of the cargo and the crew, port of origin and port of destination. Moreover, an intensive enlightenment campaign should be carried out by the relevant government agencies, especially in the coastal communities so that they can be in a better position to give support in the fight against oil theft and maritime insecurity.

There is also need to get those who are highly knowledgeable about the fight against oil theft and maritime insecurity at the helm of affairs. A professional calling the shots will not only take the right decisions in terms of good policy initiatives in addressing the problem but also pursue the implementation with vigour and precision. This is imperative in the search for solution to what has become a national security concern. And until the federal government sees it as such, there will be no solution and Nigeria will continue to lose on all fronts.
 

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