Expert proffers solution to escalating incidents of oil theft, pipeline vandalism

Oil and gas expert Olabode Sowunmi has proffered a solution to the escalating incidents of oil theft and pipeline vandalism in Nigeria.

According to Mr. Sowunmi, a reorientation of the people on the economic and intergenerational implications of oil theft and vandalism to the country’s economy has become imperative.

He made the advocacy while speaking virtually at the Center for Fiscal Transparency and Integrity Watch’s (CeFTIW) weekly engagement which sought to interrogate oil theft and sundry challenges in the nation’s oil and gas sector.

Sowunmi was responding to a recent report by the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) which disclosed that the nation lost 3.27 billion dollars worth of oil to vandalism and oil theft in the past 14 months.

The expert said that the nation’s oil sector was in a transitory stage which required the cooperation of all stakeholders to maximise the industry’s value chain.

“The industry belongs to all of us as Nigerians, and it is important we contribute to ensure that the economy stays alive and that the nation can compete economically among comity of nations.

“The subject of oil theft touches not just the soul of the economy, but the life of everyone,” he said.

The oil and gas expert, who noted that oil and gas accounts for close to 90 per cent of the nation’s forex earnings, described oil theft as ‘economic sabotage and a treasonable offence’ giving its long term implication.

Mr. Sowunmi said that oil theft, like illegal drugs and diamonds, were global issues, but called on authorities to expedite actions so it did not get to a stage where the soul of the nation’s economy would be deeply affected.

The expert, who is a consultant to the Senate Committee on Oil and Gas, identified economic, political and host community struggles as factors responsible for oil theft.

Mr. Sowunmi enjoined the government to explore technology options so as to safeguard the nation’s oil infrastructures.

He also added that the option of marking the nation’s crude oil to the extent that illegal crude sales could be identified and culprit apprehended, was one of the options that had been discussed in the past.

“The recipients and buyers of such illegal crude should be engaged and punished, especially in line with the basic principles of criminal laws which prohibit buying of stolen products,” Sowunmi added.

Sowunmi consequently called on host communities to support law enforcement agencies on efforts towards ridding the sector of criminal elements who were known community members.

He said that failure of such efforts would amount to the country “playing cat and mouse game.”

On low investors’ confidence, he said that the implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act would restore their confidence.

According to the oil and expert, it is not the systems that matters, it is human beings that operate the systems that make systems work.

“The Amnesty programme was a strategic attempt to give people who were militants’ skills that will make them economically productive.

“However, no matter the skill a man has, if he does not have a mindset of work, he may not use that skill for work.

“What has happened is that the theft and other sundry challenges are rooted as cultural problems; in other words, there are people who see sabotaging the system as normal and the right thing to do.

“It is that culture that needs to be engaged and discussed, and until that changes, the system would remain as it is.

“There is also the need to crush the entitlement mentality of the people who believe that they can just have everything on a platter of gold because they are hosting IOCs,” he submitted.

CeFTIW, the engagement series, called for immediate strengthening of security around oil infrastructures to deter vandals, while those paraded to have been responsible for oil theft and vandalism by the Navy should be prosecuted to serve as deterrent.

The center further advised that the government should deploy technology to monitor oil infrastructures as a long term measure to save the soul of the nation’s oil and gas industry.