By Dikachi Elemba, Owerri
The Federal Government, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited and security agencies are partnering with the Imo State government and the state’s oil-producing communities in the fight against pipeline vandalism and oil theft in the state.
The meeting had in attendance a high powered delegation comprising Timipre Sylva, minister of state for petroleum resources, Goodluck Nana Opiah, minister of state for education, Lucky Irabor, chief of defence Staff, Mele Kyari, group MD/CEO, NNPC Limited, other stakeholders and representatives of oil-producing communities.
Speaking at the meeting, Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma expressed worry over banditry and oil theft in the South East and Imo State in particular but thanked the armed forces for their concerted efforts to curb the crimes in recent years.
Uzodimma described the consequences of crude oil theft as “very alarming and too much to be tolerated”, noting that it has not only led to drop in government earnings but has also created environmental pollution and other health hazards.
He said there was the need to cooperate with oil companies and the management to enjoy the rich natural resources endowed to the States that produce oil.
“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 thieves 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,” the governor said.
“It has come to a point where all hands must be on deck to save Nigeria, save the economy, create job, discourage banditry and the pollution of our environment and the water resources,” he said.
Uzodimma promised that Imo State government would do its best to support and work with the Federal Government, the Army, oil companies and oil-producing communities to achieve result in the fight against pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft.
Earlier, while briefing the governor and the stakeholders, Sylva said “the problem of crude oil theft has reached a level of national emergency” and “the situation cannot be handled in Abuja alone”.
“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,” the minister said.
Sylva said Nigeria loses over 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day to oil thieves, adding as a result of the height and the orchestrated nature of oil theft Nigeria could not take the advantage and opportunities that abound in the 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”.
On his part, Chief of Defence Staff Irabor appreciated the governor for his efforts in supporting the armed forces in the fight against all criminality along the oil-producing areas in South East. He called on the state government, 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”.