By Bassey Udo
Concerned about the growing incidence of oil theft and its impact on the country’s economy, the umbrella union of the senior workers in the country’s oil and gas industry, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Association (PENGASSAN) on Thursday commenced a nationwide rally to protest the inability of the Federal Government to curb the menace by arresting and prosecuting culprits.
On Wednesday, the PENGASSAN president, Festus Osifo, told journalists in Abuja that the protest rally was scheduled to begin simultaneously in Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos and Warri.
Osifo said the oil workers were fed up with the government’s poor handling of the menace of crude oil theft and vandalism of oil industry facilities, warning that if some drastic was not done to curb the situation at the end of the rally, the Group would have no option to order the immediate withdrawal of their services.
PENGASSAN President said the top hierarchy of the security agencies responsible to secure the oil facilities have been indicted for the roles in sustaining the menace.
He called on the leadership of the Nigerian Army, Navy and Air Force and other security agencies in the country to take immediate steps to identify, prosecute and jail their officers accused of conniving with criminals to perpetrate the crime.
“In other climes, governments deploy high technology systems to fight such heinous crimes of sabotage. But despite the damage of oil theft and pipeline vandalism to the nation’s economy, the Federal Government appears to be helpless,” the oil workers leader noted.
Specifically, Osifor said the oil workers are seriously affected by the menace of oil theft, as oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region were forced to retrench their members on the payrolls as a result of incessant losses incured due to massive crude oil theft.
Government, he said, must develop the muscles and political will to go after oil thieves.
Making reference to the Group CEI of the NNPC Limited, the Mele Kyari, who who said last week that all the security agencies were involved in the oil theft, vandalism, Osifo said some oil and gas workers, host communities and some other Nigerians were included.
“So, it is total collusion and connivance. That means that security agencies cannot be exempted from the on-going oil theft,” he said.
“Nigerian security men and women now struggle and lobby to posted to the Niger Delta to protect oil pipelines and waterways.
“A few days ago, we learnt the Chief of Naval Staff made some beautiful statements concerning the situation in the Niger Delta. But this issue is beyond such statements or blame games. As a Chief of Naval Staff, you send people to the Niger Delta to go and man the waterways. But the crude oil is still being stolen on a daily basis on the same waterways.
“Maybe at best, out of the 10 vessels that are stolen, you bring only one and say you have caught the people stealing crude oil, what then happened to the rest? So, the rhetoric must stop. This is the time for us to act.
“Government must wake up and do something, because there must be consequences to the mismanagement of crude oil security. You cannot send Naval officers, men and women of Nigeria Army and Civil Defence officers to the creeks of Niger Delta and you don’t develop a mechanism to hold them accountable.
“Accountability is key. When you send people to a terminal and oil is being stolen there, how many of the people in that terminal are prosecuted and sent to jail? If there are no consequences to the mismanagement, there won’t be solutions to the menace.
Osifo admonished the Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff and the Air Force to hold the soldiers and officers they send to protect the waterways and pipelines accountable, and anyone found guilty of involvement in the crime should be sent to jail to serve as a deterrent to others.
“What PENGASSAN is saying is that there is total connivance and collusion in the oil theft menace in Nigeria,and the lip service by the government must end.
“Government is not being responsive to do what it ought to do, the government is not showing the required political will to fight this criminality, and we will withdraw our members and let the country run aground.
“We can no longer sit and watch people who do not know how this oil is produced steal and sell and become billionaires in dollars overnight. We can no longer sit and watch our members lose their jobs.”
Osifo decried a situation where, and as a result of oil theft, Nigeria can no longer meet its Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota of 1.8 million barrels of crude oil daily, and is struggling to produce a million barrels, because the products are being stolen, while companies are forced to shut down production.
The union, he said, would continue to dialogue with critical stakeholders, agencies of government and service chiefs on how to curb oil theft, despite current efforts not yielding the desired result, due to the activities of cartels in the industry.