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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

What next for the Niger Delta as the oil pipeline security guard contracts cancelled?

THE reported end to contentious pipeline surveillance and protection contracts awarded by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to sundry militant groups is a fitting end to a certain national shame. Of course, the contracts were akin to handing over national assets to armed gangs for protection, much against the collective interests of citizens.

A termination of the multi-billion naira contracts is also welcome against the background of current attempts to cut costs in governance and block wastages in public expenditure. This momentum must be sustained.

Until recently, the manner of disbursement of public funds for political patronage was embarrassing, underlining the country’s propensity for mismanagement, profligacy and impunity at every level.

The handover of the facilities was wrong right from the beginning and every public criticism of the untidy transaction has always met with unconvincing explanation by the immediate past government. From the initial contract awards to some leading militants in the Niger Delta, to the latter-day pact with militia leaders in the South West, the exercise was devoid of transparency and commonsense. Therefore, leaders of the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), which went public with notice of cessation of service the other day over complaints of non-payment for their so-called service, will do well to stomach their grievances and let Nigeria be.

The OPC in a statement exactly three months after the alleged March 15 contract signing claimed it was calling off its services as the NNPC had “abruptly sent SMS (short message service) message terminating the pipeline security contract.” That sums up the untidy and unserious manner in which the contractual agreement over a nation’s assets was handled. Indeed, the contracts’ termination by the Federal Government which reportedly drafted military personnel to reclaim control of the facilities is the ideal thing to do.

A spokesman of former President Goodluck Jonathan had once stoutly defended the pact with the militia men and described it as being in the country’s interest, because “crude oil production jumped up from 1.8 mbpd to 2.6mbpd…an income of over $700 million per day to the government. So when you compared what was paid to get this benefit, it pales into insignificance.” That was propaganda stuff and it was rather curious then that a presidential spokesman and not the NNPC was dishing out figures about operations in the oil industry. No doubt, the contracts were mere patronage for political hirelings.
However, if “oil majors were already engaged in community protection of pipelines” according to the government then, in addition to the civil defence and government task forces’ efforts, was there any need for private groups to be contracted again?

The question then is where is the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in all these when some officials decided private groups were best suited for the surveillance duties? Two years ago, one of the endless motions moved at the House of Representatives acknowledged the legal  existence of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps Act 2007 (as amended) which empowers the corps to perform certain specific functions.  Section 3(1) (e) of the NSCDC Act actually gives NSCDC the exclusive and explicit powers to protect all pipelines in the country and to arrest, detain, investigate and prosecute suspects arrested for involvement in pipeline vandalism.

The lawmakers were right in agreeing that the huge money spent in servicing the contracts to armed gangs could be invested in funding the NSCDC so the body can carry out its statutory functions effectively rather than fraudulently empowering a private security firm, contrary to the law.

A report had documented a yearly payment of N5.6 billion to former warlords for pipelines protection thus: ‘General’ Government Tompolo Ekpemuopolo, N3.6b; Asari Dokubo, N1.44b; ‘General Ateke Tom, N560m; and ‘General’ Ebikabowei Boyloaf Victor Ben, N560m. The figures are exclusive of other OPC leaders including Gani Adams, Dr. Fredrick Faseun and “another person in Ondo” as latter-day additions covering the three zones of the South West. That there was no unanimity of facts in the contractors’ claims on the deal speaks volume too. While one was sure the former President gave them the contracts because “Nigeria was losing N1.3 trillion every year to vandals,” another credited NNPC with the contract awards “when NNPC was losing N7 billion every month to vandalisation.”

What manner of government would cede public assets to outsiders or even ethnic militia leaders? This was the ultimate in tardy governance. Time is now for the immediate cancellation of all other such shady deals or contracts and a return to sanity.

Until now, despite high priority all countries with such facilities place on their assets, it has been notoriously difficult to achieve the protection of both land-based and under-water pipelines against sabotage or illegal tapping. In view of loss of significant revenue and damage to the environment, the ability to pinpoint the location of any incident is key to successful surveillance. And technology has offered a range of solutions in this regard. The NNPC should therefore look beyond now and take advantage of such innovations.

It is very wrong for any government official or company to commit the country to shameful, shady deals that cannot be defended. Those contracts were simply political patronages taken to ridiculous depths. Never again must Nigeria be seen to engage in such.

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