Saturday, 22 September 2012

NIGERIA: Ex-militants Battle Oil Thieves In Delta

THE thinking was that with the involvement of ex-militant leader and founder of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, in Oil Facilities Surveillance Limited, OFSL, a pipeline surveillance company, contracted by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, to police oil pipelines in Delta State, oil thieves would scamper to their holes.

However, that appears not to be the case, as oil thieves and their sponsors, whose thousands of illegal refineries were demolished by OFSL workers in different parts of the state, are proving intractable and have mobilized to fight back.

Oil thieves threaten  us daily – Pondi
General Manager of the company, Mr. Keston Pondi, said  in Warri, last week, that oil thieves and barons were threatening the lives of top officials and workers of the company.

He said formal reports were made in all cases to the office of Area Commander, Police, Warri. His words, "The lives of works of OFSL have been threatened on a daily basis by these criminals and sponsors who see their activities as legal and are resolved to fight to the last breathe any form of resistance.

"We normally report the threats to the police authorities. Most of the threats come from unknown persons. They call us when we go for operation that we should leave their businesses alone or they would attack our families and us.  There was an occasion in which one of them, a woman, came to the office to warn me that she would die with me".

Pondi continued:  "However, with the effort and assistance of the Joint Task Force whose services were employed in most of our operations, we were able to succeed in the execution of our operations. The presence of these men who were always available at major locations was a strong impact in combating the physical threats that workers of OFSL are faced with.

"It is imperative at this juncture to ask the Nigerian government to provide more Mobile police officers to the OFSL workers in order for them to carry out their job successfully". He said the company had written police authorities to deploy police officers, especially those in the Anti-Pipeline Vandalization Task Force to it.

Illegal refineries being destroyed.
"You see these people are armed and by the terms of our contract, we do not carry arms, we get information and we go with the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta for now, but we need more security. The policemen we have with us now are not enough".

Sunday Vanguard that what would have been a fatal expedition for the unarmed security outfit was averted recently following a tactical decision of the operators of the outfit not to confront a crude oil bunkering syndicate in Escravos area of the state.

Men of the Joint Task Force on the Niger-Delta, codenamed, Operation Pulo Shield, took up the gauntlet and recovered five loaded AK 47 rifles and 204 live ammunition in the residence of one of the kingpins, about two weeks ago. Pondi said it would have been disastrous if unarmed personnel of the company were deployed to burn down the illegal refineries of the syndicate.

Illegal refineries  destroyed
In the last one month, Pondi disclosed that 150 illegal refineries were destroyed in Isapama creek, 15 at Asugbu creek and 40 at Opumani creek.

In August when he briefed reporters at Oporoza, the headquarters of OSFL in Warri South-West Local Government Area, he  revealed that over 80 illegal refineries had been destroyed and he displayed bunkering materials, including speedboats confiscated from oil bunkerers.

Oil theft reduced
"We are not boasting, before we started, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation was getting just between 60-65 per cent of the crude oil pumped from Escravos to Warri, but now, they are getting almost 99 per cent. And the balance 1 per cent as one of officials told me may not really be as a result of theft, but could be as a result  of some other technical matters", the OSFL' boss asserted.

"Go and find out, before OFSL was contracted, NNPC was suffering between 25-35 per cent losses in Delta state, but after the company was engaged, NNPC is getting 99 per cent success, as oil bunkering is near zero in the state".

He said OSFL has practically chased the oil thieves out of business in the state, but they regrouping. "What is happening is that when we destroy their oil refineries in certain parts of the state, they move to an entirely new area to set up new ones. However, we are in the localities with them, so as they move, we get information and move against them.  This is why they are fighting us".

Information at the disposal of Sunday Vanguard showed that crude oil theft has actually reduced in the state.

On the claim by multinational oil companies that between 180, 000 -200,000 barrels of crude oil was lost daily to local oil bunkerers, he accused  multinational oil companies of exaggerating the barrels of crude oil lost to  crude oil thieves in a bid to continue defrauding  the Federal Government on their actual production figures.

He also stated emphatically that oil theft was been carried out in the high seas by highly placed people and oil companies that are in the habit of overstating lost barrels and challenged government to properly monitor the actual production by the oil companies and oil cabal.  According to him, when the bubble would burst on the cabal, it would be like the Colombia drug war.

Threat to down tools
Investigations by Sunday Vanguard, however, show that there is tension in the waterways over the threat of the OFSL to down tools.

It was gathered that the company, which was incorporated in 2009 entered into a one-year contract in February 2010, with Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, to provide security for oil pipelines and related properties in Delta state, but since the contract expired in February, 2012, it has not been renewed. Tompolo and other directors of the company have been paying the workers and footing other expenses with the hope that NNPC would renew the contract without much ado.

In August, Pondi said OFSL would disengage the services of its 5,000-man workforce in three months if its contract was not renewed. A month has gone since the threat was made and he told Sunday Vanguard the company was standing on its ultimatum.

On why the company was still carrying out surveillance operations when its contract has not been renewed, he said, "We are still working just to help because Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is the President and it is not good to abandon the work we have started".

According to him, out of the one year contract that was signed, the government had  only released money for payment for seven months with five months still outstanding, while the operations since the expiration of the contract in February, 2012, have been funded by the operators.

He appealed to NNPC to renew the contract so as not to loose on the gains so far recorded by the surveillance company in the state.

Why oil barons want contract revoked
It was gathered that oil barons and those whose illegal business were affected by the activities of OFSL would not want NNPC to renew the contract,  but our source said the NNPC was working on  renewal of the contract, as the company has done well so far.
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone provided by Airtel Nigeria.

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