March 1, 2024

Oil theft in Nigeria, key challenge before the Deep Blue Project


EnergyDay Editorial Board

The Niger Delta with its oil providing 70 per cent of Nigeria’s government revenue ought to be of interest to us all. The theft of crude oil for us at EnergyDay is concerning, thus the legitimacy and otherwise of crude oil theft in Nigeria’s Niger Delta is of more concern to all patriotic Nigerians.

According to a report by Transparency International, there is a lucrative and organised illicit oil trade in the region.
Painfully, the report reveals that the country loses 200,000 barrels of oil every day due to this illicit act which is said to involve military personnel.

The report stated, “Participants in oil theft, also called “oil bunkering”, steal oil from pipelines, refine the oil, and then sell it to local, regional and international markets. It is a profitable criminal industry that cost the Nigerian government 3.8 trillion Nigerian naira (approx. USD$105 billion) in 2016 and 2017.” The report, published recently, is a preliminary findings based on interviews and focus group discussions conducted in the Niger Delta between February and July 2018.

Obviously, the situation has not changed. Independent reports have also confirmed that the illegal oil industry in the Niger Delta has continued to thrive, leading to revenue losses as oil is siphoned off and stolen while the human cost and environmental pollution soars .

Some experts have suggested that the regular oil spills in region are arguably caused by oil theft and sabotage. Unfortunately, the Niger Delta water way and the entire gulf of Guinea have for long presented a peculiar security challenge and dire consequences of the insecurity in the region to the Nigerian economy, vis-a-vis the oil and gas sector can only be imagine.

Meanwhile, the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) sub-region has large deposits of hydrocarbons and other natural resources. This has made it a target of international and local criminal groups. Normal global practice involves nations empowering their Navies to secure their waterways, but this is achieved via deployment of adequate and necessary resources.

However, assessment of sub-regional naval forces, including Nigeria- based on their Order of Battle, shows that most of the navies cannot police their territorial waters efficiently not to talk of its international waterways. This state of affairs has called for a more integrated and advanced security measures.

Towards this end, the flag off the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure project in Nigeria, called the Deep Blue Project, by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 2 , 2021 is a welcome development.

The project is a combination of the maritime industry regulator and the security operatives. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) represents the Ministry of Transportation, while the Ministry of Defence is represented by the Navy, Army, Airforce, the Police and the Department of State Services (DSS).

All agencies will see to the running of the project, but it is the responsibility of NIMASA to fund it. Basically, the Deep Blue Project aims to protect Nigerian waters up to the Gulf of Guinea. The project involves deployment of 16 armoured vehicles for coastal patrol, two special mission vessels, 17 fast interceptor boats, two special mission aircraft for surveillance of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), three special mission helicopters for search and rescue operations, and four unmanned aerial vehicles.

The two special mission vessels are equipped to remain at sea for up to 35 days. They check vessels that come into the country’s waters, capture evidence and monitor all illegal activities that go on in the waterways, such as dumping of toxic wastes, illegal fishing, smuggling and oil bunkering.

The Maritime Security Unit is made up of 600 specially trained troops. It is believed that effect of the Deep Blue project will cut across Nigeria and the entire Gulf of Guinea, hence will increase Nigeria’s mutual benefits with other marine nations.

With this project functioning, NIMASA will have capacity and capability to enforce and regulate activities in Nigeria’s maritime domain. Prior to this project, a report by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and International Maritime Bureau (IMB) ranked the Gulf of Guinea the world’s piracy hotspot.

The Gulf of Guinea accounted for 43 per cent of all piracy incidents in the first three months of 2021. The report said this marine space is dangerous for seafarers, after accounting for all 40 kidnap crew incidents, including the sole crew fatality.

At the launch, Buhari said the maritime security project offered a standard for other Gulf of Guinea countries in terms of strategy and collaboration. Referring to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act, which he signed into law in June 2019, the President said, “I am confident that the project, which provides a robust maritime security architecture, will enhance maritime domain awareness capability and improve law enforcement action.”

Buhari said the flag-off of the Deep Blue Project was “an important step in the continuing shift in strategic action about regional maritime security.
“It will serve as a benchmark for member states in the Gulf of Guinea and other relevant stakeholders to further develop innovative strategies and align efforts with the subsisting framework to improve maritime security in the region.”

He stated that the launch marked an important milestone “in our collective effort to tackle security challenges in the form of piracy and other maritime crimes in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. It is also a demonstration of government’s strong commitment to ensuring security.
“This intervention, no doubt, will facilitate a conducive environment for the maritime sector to thrive and contribute to the diversification of the Nigerian economy.”
As a media organization, we can not but congratulate President Buhari for this feat, as this is laudable. Beyond the hoopla and frenzy of the launch, now is the time to get down to brass tacks and make the project work.
This unique security project must not be treated like the typical Nigerian project that comes with fanfare and much publicity after which it is allowed to lose steam before fizzling out.
We are all aware of the risk and the economic sabotage involved in our side of the international waters, thus this project provides unique opportunity to change the narrative of security at the gulf of Guinea.
Those saddled with management of the outfit must be officers with impeccable integrity and should be shorn of politics.
It is sad that in the security architecture of the country as at today, there’s much political consideration and allegations of lopsidedness by which entire architecture is in the hands of a section of the country.
This factor must not be allowed to come to play in the case of Deep Blue Project, as the danger and risk of failure may be too overwhelming, thus there’s need to get the project right.
And the only way to do it is to select the best personnel to run the project.

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