The federal government, security agencies, Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited are partnering with Governor Hope Uzodimma and oil producing communities in Imo State to ensure that the fight against pipeline vandalism and oil theft in the State is sustained.
Speaking at the Stakeholders meeting held at the New Executive Chambers, Government House Owerri, Monday, Governor Uzodimma described the consequences of crude oil theft as ‘’very alarming and too much to be tolerated.’’
He noted that the problem has not only led to the drop in earnings for the government but has also created environmental pollution and other health hazards.
The meeting is part of industry wide interventions to curb crude oil theft in Nigeria. It afforded the Governor the opportunity to host a high powered delegation comprising the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, the Minister of State Education, Rt. Hon. Gooduck Nana Opiah, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor and the Group MD/CEO NNPC Limited, Mele Kyari and other stakeholders of Imo State that include traditional rulers and representatives of the Oil Producing Community.
The Governor expressed worries by Stakeholders over banditry and oil theft in the South East and Imo State in particular and thanked the Armed Forces for their concerted efforts in the fight against the crime in the past years.
While welcoming them to Imo State, the Governor described the visit as a very important one “meant to discuss national issues bordering on national security, economy, national peace, and unity of Nigeria.”
He acknowledged that two years ago, oil production in Imo State and in most places where oil theft was a business, was almost at a bottom level and commended security agencies for their dexterity and efforts in the fight that has brought production back to near normal.
He canvassed the need to cooperate with the oil companies and the management to enjoy the rich natural resources endowed to the States that produce oil.
On the suggestion to engage private security contractors, the Governor described the idea as “a delicate one,’’ noting that “for such to take place the Nigeria Security Agencies must take interest and profile the security contractors to ascertain their genuiness before engaging them.”
He emphasized that those to be engaged “must know the geography, the policies and programmes and the workings in the places they are to operate in before engaging them to avoid engaging some of the thieves as security contractors.”
Governor Uzodimma added: “Crude oil theft is run by a cabal and a cartel that are ready always to resist the security agencies. This, in other words, informs that the oil thefts and pipeline vandals are sophisticated in their operations, which means there is the need for a strong support to the Armed Forces and other Para-Military Agencies that are involved in the protection of the Nigerian oil economy.”
Emphasizing the need and essence of the stakeholders discussion and its benefits, the Governor said that “it has come to a point where all hands must be on deck to save Nigeria, save the economy, create jobs, discourage banditry and the pollution of our environment and the water resources.”
He noted the need to strengthen the environmental laws to save the environment and society from extinction.
Governor Uzodimma promised that the Imo State Government will do her best to support and work with the Federal Government, the Army and Oil Producing Companies to achieve the fight against the hydra-headed monster of pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft.
He also thanked the NNPC for the 200 bed hospital the company is building at the Imo State University Teaching Hospital (IMSUT), Orlu and prayed them to speed up the project with the target of commissioning it soonest.
Earlier while briefing the Governor and the Stakeholders, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva said that “the problem of crude oil theft has reached a level of national emergency” and that “the situation cannot be handled in Abuja alone.”
The Minister said: “It is a national emergency because the theft has grown wings and has reached a very bad crescendo. This is because the thefts are taking place in the Communities that host the oil pipelines and as a result, it has become necessary to involve the Stakeholders, especially the host Communities.”
Sylva said Nigeria looses over 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day to oil thieves.
“And because of the height and the orchestrated nature of oil theft Nigeria could not take the advantage and opportunities that abound in gas production because no investor would want to invest where there is incessant insecurity and vandalism of the infrastructure.”
He therefore canvassed the need to come together, and collaborate to solve the problem “and avoid the problem killing us as a Country.” He added: “And to achieve the above there is the need to involve the State Governments and the people at the grassroot.”
He thanked the Governor for putting a lot of efforts to ensure that Imo is safe and the economy is not closed down.
“The sit-at-home is not working in Imo State as against the thinking out there,” he said.
Adding his voice, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, appreciated the Governor for his efforts in supporting the Armed Forces towards containing the escalated actions and all criminality along the oil producing areas in South East.
He called on the State Government, the Stakeholders and the Communities to “be involved in the fight against oil theft to a reasonable percentage and leave the rest for the Armed Forces,” assuring that “the Armed Forces are always available to receive further support to fight banditry and all other forms of criminality in Nigeria and Imo State in particular.”
Present at the visit were the Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku, the Speaker Imo State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Kennedy Ibe, members of the State expanded Executive Council, the Chairman, Imo State Council of traditional rulers, HRH Eze (Dr) Emmanuel Okeke and stakeholders of the oil producing Communities in Imo State.