By Lateef Adegbite
When Asari Dokubo, an ex -Niger Delta militant told President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, last June that a cabal within the Nigerian military are behind the 99% oil theft in Nigeria nobody took him seriously. The Nigerian President may have known that what he had said was not far from the truth as he was said ‘’to have promised to investigate the allegations of huge oil bunkering deals by some alleged notorious naval Commanders that are kingpins in the Niger Delta region’’.
The Niger Delta ex-militant had said that the oil thieves are very powerful cabals operating from Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. He had said that the oil thieves have got their match in President Tinubu, promising to use his boys, who are all over the place inBayelsa, Delta, and Rivers state to assist halt to halt the activities of the oil thieves.
Until Dokubo’s visit to the Nigerian President where he had opened up on who the real oil thieves are in Nigeria, former President Muhammadu Buhari had awarded a N4 billion monthly pipeline surveillance contract to a former Niger Delta militant, Government Ekpemupolo, popular, Tompolo ‘s security Company, Tanita Security Services Limited, TSSL.
Between, October 2022 and now, the private security outfit had remained a thorn in the flesh of the oil thieves. The Delta state born former militant who had had won the multi-billion naira contract to protect the country’s oil pipelines from the oil thieves was said to have repeatedly intercepted vessels allegedly carrying stolen crude oil. The latest of such operations that was said to have yielded result was the capture of a vessel allegedly carrying stolen crude around the Koko port area of the Niger Delta state.
The vessel, tagged MT. PRAISEL was said to be flying a Togolese Flag allegedly being escorted by Naval Boat led by a Naval Commander. An official of Tanita security services revealed that they were met with stiff resistance from the Naval Boat occupants escorting the vessel. The TSSL staff disclosed that the Naval personnel on board the vessel had threatened to deal decisively with them if they refuse to turn back from following them. They may have been disappointed as the Private security operatives who were armed as well were aid to have refused to back down.
Aware that their god fathers are no longer in government, a top official of the TSSL, was said to have contacted Tompolo, who in turn had contacted Nuhu Ribadu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police and now , National Security Adviser, NSA, and Rear Ad Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla, the Chief of Naval Staff, CNS, who were said to have intervened to save the situation from degenerating into exchange of bullets by the two parties. Th duo were said to authorised officials of the private security outfit to inspect the suspected vessel to ascertain what it was carrying.
Given the approval secured by TSSL, from the NSA and CNS, to inspect the suspected vessel, the Company officials were said to have boarded the ship, under heavy tension. Going through the documents, they were said to have noticed that the vessel was authorised to carry Crude oil by the Navy which did not get any approvals from the Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority, MDPRA.
The MDPRA, which was carved out from the old Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, now baptised, Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, with the signing into Law, of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PB, passed by the 9th National Assembly , in August , 2021 by the immediate past Nigerian President was said to have taken the responsibility of giving approvals for lifting of products.
Th NNPCL, was assigned the responsibility of marketing of Crude and overseeing the country’s 445 ,000b/d refineries located at Onne, near Portharcourt, capital of Rivers state, Warri and Kaduna, in the north western geopolitical region. The 1.17 tons vessel intercepted by Tanita security services operatives on Wednesday, August 2, 2023, was said to be loaded with 8,1000 barrels of crude.
In what could have been a celebrated seizure of a foreign vessel, loaded with alleged stollen crude oil in the Niger Delta region, by TSSL, Commodore A.O. Ayo-Vaughan , the Naval Director of Information, had opposed the claims by the Tompolo owned security outfit that the vessel loaded with the alleged stolen product was acting without authorisation.
The Naval Commodore had made Nigerians to believe that ‘’MT PRAISEL was duly approved by NMDPRA, to load 1,114,721Litres of High Pour Fuel Oil, HPFO, from Greenmac Energy Storage /Tarus Jetty , Koko, from July 8 to August , 2023.
He noted that in line with the standard of operating procedure, SOP, to ensure strict compliance with the NMDPRA approval, NN personnel were deployed aboard to monitor the discharge of the product by MT PRAISEL at a facility at Bonny in Rivers state.
The Naval spokesperson was said to have faulted TSSL, claims to have acted on intelligence gathering, which had alleged on August 2, 2023, that the vessel was laden with stolen crude oil. The Naval Chief had confirmed that officials of the private security outfit had approached an element of Operation Delta Safe to board the vessel in order to verify the allegedly stolen product.
Given an insider information, he had said that the NN, had directed the vessel to Forward Operating Base Escravos anchorage for further investigation of the product on board. . He had said to in a Statement that the samples of the product onboard the vessel MT PRAISL was collected on Thursday, August3, by five undisclosed security agencies including NNPCL, NMDPRA and also TSSL, in line with the laid down procedures for Laboratory tests and verification of the Claims.
The Tinubu Administration had raised alarm that the illegal trade in Nigerian crude in 2022, alone inflicted significant economic loss to the country to the tune of N2.3 trillion. Last July, the Tompolo owned security Company, had intercepted a suspicious vessel loaded with a cargo 800,000 barrels stolen crude oil.
Many believe that insistence of the Tanita operatives to follow the Naval personnel escorting the intercepted MT PRAISEL, may have destabilized the NN Personnel as they did not have the opportunity of setting ablaze the vessel .
Recall that a Joint Task Force, Operation Delta Safe in Collaboration with the Tompolo, private security security outfit had intercepted a vessel carrying an undisclosed quantities of stolen crude oil around the Escravos area of Delta state in 2022. The vessel was said to have been set ablaze by a military helicopter.
The vessel, allegedly owned by a Nigerian registered company, was said to be heading to the Central African country of Cameroun with the stolen Nigerian crude oil when it was intercepted at an offshore location with the Captain and Crew members on Board the vessel.
Captain Warred Enisuoh, Executive Director , Operations and Technical at Tanita security Services and Rear Admiral Olusegun Ferreira, Commander of the Joint Task Force, Operation Delta Safe, the stolen oil cargo was illegally sourced from a well-jacketed offshore facility in the south western state of Ondo state with no valid documentation at the time of the arrest. The said vessel, according to the Joint Task Force Commander had operated in stealth mode in Nigerian waters to lift stolen crude for more than 12 years, before it played into the hands of the Task Force and Tanita Security services operatives.
Gen. Luck Irabor, the immediate Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, had admitted that the vessel set ablaze was caught in the act, noting that ‘’no investigation is needed to carry out the action.
The destruction of the alleged vessel carrying stolen Nigerian crude oil to the oversea Customers was said to have generated controversy quarters .Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria , SAN, and other aggrieved Nigerians were said to have fumed at the action of the military to set ablaze the vessel which ought to have been preserved as an exhibit to prosecute the owners of the vessel.
It is on record that since the Tanita Security services it the ground in 2022, over 58 illegal oil loading points have been discovered on the water ways of Delta and Bayelsa states. Last year, NNPCL, had shocked Nigerians when it claimed that it has uncovered an illegal oil connection from Forcados terminal that had operated for an uninterrupted nine years, with the country losing 600,000 b/d.