WORKERS’ unions have threatened to shut down crude oil production if the government fails to take decisive steps to stop the over 250,000 barrels per day being stolen in the Niger Delta.
The unions, Petroleum and Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), lamented the level of stealing of crude oil which the government estimates to be about 10 per cent of the country’s total production of about 2.5 million barrels per day. According to the workers, the stealing remains a serious threat to national security because the people who are making such large amount of money from the illicit business can destabilise the country.
PENGASSAN industrial relations officer, Chika Onuegbu, gave the hint of the impending industrial action in a paper which he delivered at a forum organised by Space for Change on the Petroleum Industry Bill in Port Harcourt yesterday.
Onuegbu explained that workers are worried that if crude oil theft is not expeditiously contained, it will obviously lead to divestment by the oil and gas companies and the attendant socio-economic crises and significant job loss. He cautioned that the situation in Warri which has witnessed the relocation of major oil companies to other parts of the country should be a sad reminder of the shape of things to come if the menace of oil theft is not seriously addressed.
“I want to clearly inform you that if nothing concrete is done to stop oil theft, the oil workers unions (PENGASSAN and NUPENG) may be forced to suspend production of crude oil and supply of petroleum products until appropriate action is taken. The impact of this ultimately on overall revenue from oil accruing to the Federation Account should be negative and severe as was alluded to by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) recently.
“Our country is bleeding and needs help! Various solutions have been proposed and one of such is the involvement of Petroleum Host Communities as being proposed in the 2012 Petroleum Industry Bill,” he said.
Onuegbu noted that although the Section 8 of the Miscellaneous Offences Act provides for life imprisonment for anyone stealing crude oil or petroleum products or vandalising the pipelines, hardly has anyone been caught or prosecuted. He reckoned that “it is obvious the oil thieves have powerful allies in government. And worst still, the security agencies seem to be complicit as far as this menace of crude oil theft is concerned.”
“It is believed that rather than continue churning out products that would end up being stolen by some cartel, it is better to stop production completely, to stop oil from flowing through the pipelines, making products unavailable for theft. Though this is very logical but it has serious implications for the health of the oil industry and indeed the nation’s economy,” he said.
To curb the menace of crude oil theft, he suggested that the Federal Government must set clearly defined targets for the Joint Task Force for the purpose of ending oil theft. He insisted that the JTF unit commanders whose units cannot meet those target should be investigated and disciplined as the reduction and stoppage of oil theft must be taken as a war.
The PENGASSAN official said further that politicisation of the “petroleum host community” in the PIB should be stopped immediately, urging the National Assembly to use the opportunity of the PIB to order the genetic fingerprinting of Nigeria’s petroleum assets so as to stop the big oil thieves. This, according to him, will enable the identification of stolen crude oil from Nigeria in the international market.
He advocated the training of locals in the areas of security capability and use of technological skills for protecting the oil installations in their communities. According to him, it is important that the locals are brought to an appreciable level of knowledge of the relevant technology for mounting surveillance on such installations, dictating break points and perform intelligence gathering.
Onuegbu called for the disbandment of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) and transfer of the yearly budget provisions for the NSCDC to increase in the Petroleum Host Community host fund once the PIB is passed into law.