The alarming cases of pipeline vandalism across the country are said to be posing huge threat to the operation of the oil and gas industry downstream and upstream.
Decrying the effect of activities of the hoodlums on the nation's oil and gas sector, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Austen Oniwon, noted that the activities of pipeline vandals are currently endangering the smooth operation of the petroleum industry.
Oniwon warned that if urgent and drastic measures were not taken, Nigeria may be heading the way of Mexico and Columbia where organised criminals now call the shots in government after stealing so much from the system through under world operations.
Raising the red flag on what he termed "sustained nefarious activities of oil pipeline marauders, the NNPC GMD maintained that if left unchecked, Nigeria would wake up one day to discover that pipeline thieves have taken over the country.
"These criminals steal both crude and refined petroleum products and sell same to enrich their pockets, we must work collectively to stop them,'' Oniwon stressed.
He informed that the nation had in the last few months lost millions of dollars in shut-in oil wells as a result of the activities of oil thieves who breach crude lines to steal oil.
The activities of the oil thieves have become a huge menace to the downstream sector where increased vandalism of petroleum product pipelines has made it almost impossible to pump products to the depots across the country through the pipelines. Despite efforts to revitallise the refineries for optimal operations, the sector still depends on product distribution with trucks due to the activities of pipeline vandals.
According to Oniwon, failure to curb the trend would mean inadvertently empowering the criminals to "take over our local government areas and by the time they do that they would move on to take charge of the States since they now have the resources to decide who gets to power and one day we may as well wake up to discover that they have taken over the entire country."
Similarly, while appealing to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, to urgently work out measures to tackle pipeline vandalism, Chairman of the Port Harcourt Refinery In-House branch of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Comrade Tony Nwoha, called for the restoration of the pipeline right of way which has been seriously encroached upon through the years.
Even the international oil giants have joined in the call for Nigeria to protect its crude and product pipelines and check the activities of the under-world criminals. According to the Managing Director of Shell, Mutiu Sunmonu, Nigeria loses $5 billion yearly to crude theft, a situation he described as detrimental to the economy.
Sunmonu who stated this during a meeting with the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, said there was urgent need for the country to focus more on stopping oil theft that is costing the country $5 billion yearly.
"If we don't stop this now I can guarantee you that the revenue from oil business to the government in particular will continue to dwindle," Sumonu warned.
Therefore, the recent partnership reached between the NNPC and the Nigerian Police towards combating the menace of pipeline vandalism and security threats to key oil and gas facilities in Nigeria is indeed a step in the right direction.
The NNPC helmsman called on the Police to assist the Corporation in the push to eradicate the intractable incidence of encroachment on pipeline right of way which has over time assumed a frightening dimension.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, while pledging the readiness of officers and men of the Force to work with the NNPC in achieving its mandate to the nation has announced the formation of a special Police anti-pipeline vandalism squad dedicated to the protection and security of the nation's vast outlay of oil and gas pipelines. He has also declared zero tolerance and no laxity on the issue of pipeline vandalism. It is expected that these moves will help see an improvement in pipeline security thereby resulting in less dependence on the use of trucks in product distribution and put an end to the thriving oil bunkering business in the interest of the country's economy.