By Timothy Obiezu
Abuja, Nigeria — The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation says that weeks of an intense crackdown on oil thieves have significantly reduced the scale of oil theft in the oil-rich Niger Delta and that the country will soon boost overall oil production.
However, critics say the deeper problem of corruption has not been solved and question whether those behind the theft will be prosecuted.
NNPC Director Mele Kyari, speaking Tuesday during an energy and labor summit in Abuja, said that because of recent raids and collaboration with local security agencies to combat theft, he was optimistic that Nigeria would have access to more crude oil and revenue in the coming weeks.
Last week, joint operations by Nigerian security operatives and agents working for a former oil region militant, Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, cracked down on massive oil looting in the Niger Delta.
The government said the operations shut down 58 illegal taps on oil facilities, including a line connected to Nigeria’s Trans Forcados Pipeline that had siphoned oil for nearly a decade.
Gbenga Komolafe, head of the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, attended the energy summit. He told VOA via phone that “we’re working in collaboration with the security forces and the NNPC, and the nation may witness in [the] days ahead the restreaming of one of the major arteries for crude oil transportation – that is, the Forcados line.”
Contract for Tompolo
Nigerian authorities awarded a pipeline surveillance contract worth millions of dollars to Tompolo in August in a desperate bid to stop oil theft that was causing a loss of at least half a million barrels per day.
Authorities said the move was paying off, but some critics note that authorities have not publicly identified those behind the rampant theft.
Tompolo and his security agents say that oil companies, the military and local residents colluded to steal oil for their own profit.
Last week, authorities burned a vessel full of stolen oil without conducting an investigation — a move that generated fierce criticism but was defended by Nigeria’s defense chief.
Abuja-based energy expert Toyin Akinosho said that authorities were playing “cover-up” and that it was too early to be making boasts about increased oil output.
“I’m always having a bit of a challenge when it’s NNPC talking, because it’s a poorly run organization and its ways are not always sustainable,” Akinosho said. “I would rather that there’s a systemic way to these things than that we have — these optics. We always do those kinds of optics things. It doesn’t solve any problem.”
But Komolafe said naming oil thieves right now might jeopardize investigations.
“It’s a security issue,” he said, “and security persons are doing their best [in] that regard. When investigations are being conducted, they are not done in the media. The government is fully determined to end oil theft in Nigeria.”
Nigeria was Africa’s biggest oil producer until recently. In September, Nigeria dropped to fourth place on the continent. Authorities said oil theft was to blame.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said thefts were putting the country’s economy in a precarious situation.