Christian clerics ask Nigerian government to address oil theft, illegal refining

“The quantity of oil stolen daily is estimated to range from 100,000 to 150,000 barrels.”

Christian clerics on Tuesday asked the federal government to urgently address oil theft and illegal refineries in the country.

The Chairman, Church and Society, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, Lucius Ugorji, was one of those that stated this during a roundtable discussion on “Oil Theft and Illegal/Artisan Refining” on Tuesday in Abuja.

According to him, unless these challenges are well addressed, the key drivers of this illegal business will undermine the oil and gas industry as well as destabilize the nation’s economy.

“Over time, worrisome revelations have been made on deliberate third party incursions into oil and gas facilities, resulting sometimes in avoidable fatalities to themselves and unsuspecting citizens,” he said. “The quantity of oil stolen daily is estimated to range from 100,000 to 150,000 barrels.”

The bishop stated that about 25 per cent of the stolen oil was sold and refined by local artisans whose less-effective measures of processing crude oil left high volumes of unrefined oil wastes. He said that the wastes which were consistently dumped into the environment heavily polluted the waters and posed great threat to the ecosystem and welfare of Niger Deltans.

Mr. Ugorji stated that solutions to oil theft could not be provided by one individual or group alone, adding that there was the need for stakeholders to jointly face the challenge and stop shifting responsibilities.

He expressed worry over the lack of commitment to eradicate oil theft and illegal refining of oil which, he said, would endanger Niger Delta citizens and overstretch the health and welfare sectors. He, however, challenged the Federal Government to do what was necessary to stem “this hemorrhage and address the plight of the people of this region and the entire nation.”

The Metropolitan Archbishop of Calabar, Joseph Ekuwem, in his speech, decried the spate of pollution in oil-producing communities and its effect on the people.

According to him, pollution arising from oil theft and illegal refining of oil has far worse impact on the environment and livelihood of the ordinary people than any other activity.

Mr. Ekuwem said that the inability of government to respond effectively to the menace by holding individuals, groups or compromised security officials involved in the shady deals accountable, was alarming. He said that CBCN was aware that numerous culprits in the unwholesome business had been arrested overtime but that majority of them had not been prosecuted.

“The gap gives the impression that the government is either unable or unwilling to act to save the environment and the people that live in it.

“Artisanal refining is condemnable because it exposes the operators and other community members to unimaginable health risks in the short and long term,’’ he said.

In his remark, the Special Adviser to Bayelsa State Government on Environment, Inemo Samiama, said that education would help to resolve the issue of oil theft in the Niger Delta.

According to him, most of the remote areas in the region have very poor education and were in need of better schools.

“I would also urge government to educate the people; in some of the remote areas, education is still very poor, so, there is need to provide better schools that are free.

“This is because if it is free, some of the youths will educate themselves and give themselves more chances in terms of getting jobs and avoid having to tamper with the pipelines in order to steal oil,’’ he said.
He called on the government to develop the oil industry and refine petroleum products in the country to help provide jobs for the people.

Mr. Samiama stressed the need for oil thieves and illegal refinery operators to be prosecuted, adding that they should not be allowed to walk away without being punished.

“In Nigeria, it is very rare for people to be punished for corruption; so, my suggestion is that if people do the wrong thing, even if they are highly placed, they should be penalized.

“This is because until you do that, it is not going to be enough to just be harassing a couple of young boys operating illegal refineries in the Niger Delta region.

“Security alone is not the answer; the government should provide alternative livelihood solutions for these young men.

“There is also security presence in the Niger Delta; so, it is either that the security forces are blind or the surveillance equipment are not working,’’ he said.

The roundtable attracted clergymen from various Christian denominations and stakeholders in the oil industry.


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