In view of the startling discoveries made by the High Chief Government
Ekpemupolo led-onslaught against oil theft in the Niger Delta, National Chairman of Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas, HOSTCOM, Dr. Benjamin Style, in this interview, says the identities of those behind the crime aren’t hidden to them. He says the findings have vindicated host communities, who he said had long been accused of perpetrating the act. Style says more eye-opening detections would be made in Ondo, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers , Bayelsa and other oil-producing states
Within a short time, the Tompolo-led team has made startling findings about crude oil theft in the Niger Delta region. And these pipelines are domiciled in host communities where the natives live.
As National Chairman of HOSTCOM, what do you make of the findings in your communities?
What Tompolo and his team have done so far is commendable. We didn’t see their findings as a new thing or breaking news. As members of host communities, we have been talking about oil theft for many years.
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We know and understand our terrain better than any person coming from outside. All that is happening is happening in our vicinity. And we have been saying that the humongous oil theft killing the Nigerian economy is not being perpetrated by host communities. We have been saying that it is wrong to say that we are the ones committing the crime.
Before now, we have said that those in government, security agencies in place to secure the facilities, and the operators are the three actors that are sabotaging the economy of our nation, but they put the blame on host communities. That was not good enough. They even came up with a law that seeks to victimise the host communities.
Are you talking about the section of the Petroleum Industry Act ,PIA, that talks about host communities?
In Section 257 Sub Section 2, they came up with a law that if any act of sabotage occurs in our communities, the affected communities would forfeit the actual payment accruable to them in the PIA. Imagine how derogatory that word is. They inserted that section for our communities not to benefit from the PIA. And this is a crime we know nothing about and a crime they are committing. They are the players but turned around to insert that derogatory clause in the Act.
We will continue to call for the expunging of that clause because we are not responsible for oil theft in the Niger Delta. Today, we have been vindicated. I am waiting to see if they will retain the clause now that they have seen the magnitude of oil theft in the region. Look at what is playing out today. How can a local community that doesn’t have a welding machine be able to do that technical job , siphoning crude oil,? That is an expert’s job.
Maybe an expatriate may have made that connection. Community dwellers that haven’t been able to build a block house for themselves, living in thatch houses along the coastline, how can they be able to bring in vessels and connect a pipe that is four kilometres long to the sea? How much is the cost of doing that? How can such communities have the capacity to link the pipe to the sea?
The latest findings have shown that we know nothing about oil theft. Government just decided to insert those inimical portions of the PIA to punish us. We keep saying that it is an organised crime done by people in high places.
In July 2020, the current executive of HOSTCOM raised the alarm about oil theft in the creeks and a former Minister of Petroleum, King Edmond Dakoru, said host communities knew nothing about oil theft. He is a board member of HOSTCOM.
He said clearly that it is an organised crime because he is an authority in the oil and gas sector. He authoritatively said no community has the capacity to fund the kind of oil theft going on in the Niger Delta. He said moneybags are behind the crime. He also called on government to allow host communities to handle the surveillance jobs.
Yes, we as host communities can’t fight those perpetrating the crime, but we can provide valuable information to government. But government didn’t take our words seriously. As host communities, we have been saying that we have information to give to the authorities on the oil theft, but they don’t listen because they are involved in the crime.
Sometimes we try to mention the names of those we know are doing these in our communities, but government dismisses our information. What do we do in such a situation? Government never called us to discuss the information we provided before now on oil theft.
The speed with which the discoveries were being made left people surprised, especially given the fact that security agencies have significant presence in the creeks …
I just named the key actors in the oil theft business. They include the authority, security agents and operators. Those in government, the security personnel and operators of those facilities are the ones that commit this crime jointly, but they accuse the host communities.
They claim that host communities commit the crime because the pipelines are in their place. This is not a crime that is being committed by the locals. We knew all these for a very long time and we have been informing them. Since they are the actors, they sat on the information we provided.
Now that the contract has been given to Tompolo, he is delivering because if he doesn’t perform they won’t pay him. But these are the places the security agencies were guarding before now. It is happening in their presence and they give permission. Those involved often inform the security agencies about their operations.
They turn a blind eye to the stealing going on in the creeks. They are the ones that secure the vessels. That tells you how bad security agencies in Nigeria have become. We are not surprised at the findings because we knew before now. And we know all the spots where all these things are going on in the Niger Delta.
We have been telling them to give us the mandate and see if we won’t expose all those involved in oil theft. We can name those involved from top to bottom. We will name from the top to the least person including those that are retired and the ones in service.
All we are asking for is the mandate. If you do not have the mandate, the information you give to people in government means nothing. But if the person who gives you the job doesn’t come with clean hands, can you work effectively?
Having fingered government as being among those perpetrating oil theft, do you think ongoing efforts at curbing the menace would be fruitful?
What Tompolo and his team have done is just the tip of the iceberg. They are just starting. More discoveries would still be made. From Ondo, to Delta, Bayelsa, and Rivers more discoveries would be made. If an honest operation is allowed to take place, we are going to see shocking discoveries in the riverine areas.
The oil theft being done by those in the high places would drastically reduce if the operation goes on uninterrupted. It may not be curbed totally because oil theft is embedded in the system. It is an organised crime, so eradicating it may not be possible.
Government has been spending large sums of money on pipelines, but a small group of people benefits from the continuous repairs. Curbing oil theft is a collective job. The host communities have a 10-man executive in each of the communities across all oil-producing states. And we have the database. We can give you better information on oil theft than any other person.
We have presented this to the authorities in the oil sector. We told them that we don’t have the capacity to fight these people, but we can provide useful information about them. Whoever is going in and out of our creeks, we know the person and whatever he is doing. Whether what they are doing is legal or illegal, we know.
But the information we may give about them is not taken seriously by government. That was the reason we asked to be given the job of providing intelligence on what goes on in our communities. From Ondo to Cross River State, we have information about what is going on in the creeks.
You have expressed the readiness of host communities to name those involved if given the mandate, do you think government has the will to identify and prosecute culprits?
A lot of probes have been done in the past and nobody has been identified and prosecuted. With such a history of not prosecuting those found wanting, why would I name those that won’t be prosecuted?
We just feel that some people are bigger than the law in Nigeria. If a certain group of persons is bigger than the law, then our country doesn’t belong to all. It also means everybody isn’t equal before the law.
Until we make everyone equal before the law, the kind of operation being done by Tompolo won’t have a lasting effect.
Therefore, naming someone who won’t be tried leaves those who may not want to talk silent. In such a situation, no one would like to talk.
“The oil theft in the Niger Delta is an embarrassing situation for us as host communities. And we want to be involved in efforts at curbing oil theft. We have told the Upstream Regulatory Commission.
And I need to commend Ggbenga Komolafe for working with the host communities. We would like the mainstream and downstream to work with the host communities.
I have said that we have vital information to give them to ensure stability in the oil sector