Between OPEC quota and oil thieves — Opinion — The Guardian … – Guardian Nigeria

Members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASAN), during a protest over crude oil theft, with the THEME: ëChasing Oil Thieves and Vandals out Of Business and ëOil Theft Is Illegalí
After many months of hiatus and heavy pilferage, Nigeria’s oil production was reported to have returned to 1.6 million barrels per day (mbpd) with much relief to the country and its distressed economic outlook. However, the rebound is still a far cry from the OPEC production quota expected of member countries, neither does it compensate for compromises and stealing of the commonwealth. Despite promises to tackle corruption, President Muhammadu Buhari would be remembered as the Commander-in-Chief that presided over an extremely corrupt oil industry as its minister and yet depended on a private contractor to stem oil theft despite a well-equipped Navy.

Nigeria’s oil production was lately reported to have surged to 1.6 mbpd, though the latest data from Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) for November puts the figure at 1.18mbpd without the addition of condensate. While the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited would want Nigerians to celebrate and rejoice over this feat, the question on the lips of many is how long this feat would last and why did the government allow the country to descend to this level before taking any tangible action?   
For many months this year, oil traded at a premium leaving many oil producers and companies with huge profits and savings. It is a sour story for Nigeria, having not only dropped in production volume but loses on many ends through an opaque subsidy system and unending theft. The NNPC explained how the national oil company was able to ramp up crude oil production, which had fallen significantly, following the return of Forcados and partial restoration of the Trans Niger Pipeline (TNP), with the collaboration of the security agencies, regulators, oil producing communities, and other stakeholders. 
Nigeria, for months, failed to meet OPEC production quotas due to massive oil theft and other production challenges. The Federal Government in its recent draft fiscal strategy paper for 2023 through 2025 said that oil revenue underperformed due to significant production shortfalls such as shut-ins resulting from pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft. The country’s 2022 budget was anchored on 1.88 million barrels per day of crude oil production. In a bid to curb crude theft, the NNPC launched an application in August to monitor incidence of theft and vandalism. The NNPC also awarded a multi-billion naira pipeline surveillance procurement to a former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, Government Ekpemupolo.
For many months that oil traded at a premium, Nigeria was unable to record any tangible savings, as oil revenue was barely enough to sustain the country’s ballooning bills and loans. The quantity of crude stolen daily and yearly varies from one stakeholder to another, meaning we do not even know the exact quantity stolen. The thieves’ methods are not fully understood and have different dimensions. Though the NNPCL stated that its new security architecture was anchored basically on rectangular architecture layered on technology, Nigerians will not be surprised to hear of another round of oil theft soon. Many believe that the highest level of government officials, powerful business people, security personnel, oil industry operators and the host community stakeholders are involved. The crude oil thieving cartels are highly organised, sophisticated and at the same time complicated. Nigeria is lucky not to be insolvent despite the scale of theft and abuse it has undergone and undergoing.

The current situation in Nigeria is not only embarrassing but it also stifles and suffocates the ambitions and aspirations of its people, raising doubts about Nigeria’s very survival. While the Nigerian economy slowly implodes, individuals in charge of acting on our behalf renounce their obligations and assign blame. As a result, these behaviours are starting to pass for the norm rather than the exception. The President got the popular votes because people believed he would do better than Goodluck Jonathan. As the minister of petroleum and commander-in-chief, the bar has been set so low that no one can query him for the setback in the oil sector even while setting a dangerous precedent for the next occupier of his office.
One question that has lingered over the years remains if the president is experienced enough to double as petroleum minister? A look at history showed that in March 1976, the Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Buhari as the Federal Commissioner (position now called Minister) for Petroleum and Natural Resources. When the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation was created in 1977, Buhari was also appointed as its chairman, a position he held until 1978. Buhari also served as the chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), a body created by the government of General Sani Abacha and funded from the revenue generated by the increase in price of petroleum products, to pursue developmental projects around the country. Going by his antecedents, one could say Buhari is experienced but should he have combined the office with the rigours of being a President?
With the many failings of the office of the Minister of Petroleum where the entire buck stops, no one can be held accountable. After all, who query the President? Except the people task the National Assembly to go beyond partisanship and put the interest of the nation above self-serving interests, especially at a time where the country’s common wealth is being pilfered by the privileged few. The Senate, which is supposed to be the people’s last refuge, seems to have forgotten its main responsibility and turned into yet another agency of the government. Nigerians can only hope that massive stealing is curtailed before the country’s economy collapses totally.

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