The Nigerian Navy needs a purge to easily win the seemingly unending battles against oil theft and illegal sales on our waters
Watchers of the Nigerian oil and gas sector may have gotten used to grandstanding and tough talks against oil thefts by successive Chiefs of the Naval Staff.
Ibok Ete-Ekwe Ibas
Chief of Naval Staff
Like his predecessors, Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Ekwe Ibok-Ette Ibas, has assured the country in a recent statement that oil theft and sales to foreign vessels will be made impossible under his watch.
Its not the first time that naval chiefs are making statements like this,but there seems to be a difference with the directive banning 113 foreign vessels from Nigerian waters. With this Admiral Ibas may be on the way to beating the thieves since buyer ships wont come in.
The complaint of inadequate operational platforms by the Nigerian Navy which is obviously true is not the only reason oil theft flourished with Nigeria becoming notorious for having the highest degree of stolen crude across the globe.
A former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba, on March 26,2013 had accused some officers and men of the Nigerian Navy of complicity in crude oil theft and illegal bunkering activities in the Niger Delta, warning that anyone caught would be sanctioned.
Ezeoba, said this while addressing men and officers of the Central Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy in Yenagoa, as part of his annual inspection tour of naval formations in the country.He identified the Brass/Akassa corridor of the nation’s waterways under the Central Command’s as particularly notorious for pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft.
Ezeoba’s intention may have been noble to advance national economic cause, but his men outsmarted him as he wasn’t able to track and arrests compromising naval operatives believed to be complicit in the illegalities.
Between then and now oil theft has remained a recurring issue in our national economic life appearing not to have a quick end in sight.
Vice Admiral Ibas being jointly decorated by President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo
Earlier in February 2015, former President Goodluck Jonathan had commissioned four new ships into the naval fleet which the former naval chief, Vice Admiral Usman Jubrin.The ships NNS Centenary, NNS Prosperity, NNS Okpabana and NNS Sagbama were handed over to various commanding officers.
The former CNS deployed NNS Okpabana as a frigate for protection of vessels on transit with capabilities for long endurance patrol of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The NNS Centenary’s main mission includes maritime surveillance, EEZ, patrol and response task and protection of offshore resources and infrastructure.
The Centenary is deployed to provide aid to civil authority when called upon to do so in period such as civil unrest and natural disaster among others.
NNS Sagbama is a river town patrol vessel, while NNS Prosperity is a naval training ship for junior officers and ratings.
Fmr. Chief of Naval Staff
Breach of trust and long chain of compromising security personnel led by the navy had made stealing and selling of our crude easy under what appears to be a planned,organised and jointly executed process of illegality.
It is no secret that some naval operatives deployed to this sensitive national assignments are richer than what their legitimate earnings can attain as they see policing oil installations as juicy beats to cover where they make and sustain friendships with the barons involved in the thefts.
The several arrests made by the navy are of those who may not have paid their way before embarking on the stealing and buying of stolen crude voyage.
On Ibas stands the burden to standout by ensuring that his recent threats to fight oil theft is real and not one of the many rhetoric for which the navy has been noted over the years.
Ibas had said the navy is also putting in place other tactical strategies to curb oil theft, piracy and attacks on oil and gas installations on the nation’s waterways and maritime environment.
Ibas had recently expressed naval readiness to frustrate sales of stolen oil but sounded reserved in on the area of preventing the theft.
“We are recapitalising our fleet and building capacities by way of getting our docks, yards and shipyards to be operational, so that, we will be in a position to perform better.
“Efforts put in by the navy (with assistance from other security services) in 2014 resulted to drastic reduction of crude oil theft from about 1.2 million barrels per day to about 250,000.
“The navy has come up with patrol strategies and creation of more choke points, so that, when oil thieves steal whatever they have to steal, they cannot have access into the open sea,” he said.
Ibas said though government had done much in the provision of resources but the navy still lacked the capacity to monitor all wellheads, pipelines and other facilities due to difficulty of the Niger Delta terrain.
A visit to the coastal town of Ibaka in Akwa Ibom where a Forward Operations Base of the navy is sited further unveils naval complacence. Some of the local fishermen who spoke on condition of anonymity averred that naval personnel in the area are on a money making venture.
They alleged that naval operatives know the nooks and crannies where stolen crude are illegally refined and they weekly move round for bribes . Worrisome to the fishermen is that, they(fishers) are also compelled to part with some monies too even from the meager earnings they make from their lawful activities of fishing.
” You cant transport stolen crude on the waters here anytime of the day without being seen or caught by the navy.They (the navy) can trace , chase and interdict any vessel on the waters even when such vessels switch off their transponders” a community leader said.
He added ,” Not until the navy gets rid of oil thieves and collaborators within its ranks, no amount of equipment or trained manpower will stop the business’
Another respondent said,” If you know the time it takes for a vessel or barge to move from one location to another and get into the high seas,successfully come in contact with a receiving tanker vessel and transfer the stolen product before returning, you will agree its not a hurriedly done process that cannot be interdicted”
”It takes days and the ships coming to our waters to buy the stolen crude are not small vessels.Other security agencies operating on water knows and they get settled. In all the navy gets the lion share ” he concluded.
The fishermen added that this cycle of extortion has been on for years . At Ikot Abasi and Opobo covered by NNS Jubilee the naval operational base at Ikot Abasi , the fishermen described the navy as friendly and not involved in extorting them.
They were however silent on the operations of illegal refiners of crude and possible naval complicity in the illegality.
A satellite surveillance system installed and operated at the headquarters of Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), which commenced operations last year aimed at helping the nation in capturing the presence of any vessel that calls Nigeria’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ)has not been able to expose any naval misdemeanor .