•Inside story of the cartel that steals crude with impunity
•How Sylva, Kyari convinced Buhari to hire Tompolo
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South and Emem Idio (Yenagoa)
FOR many years, security personnel deployed in the Niger Delta to guard oil installations and stop crude oil bunkering had turned themselves into oil bandits in collusion with some International Oil Companies, IOCs, government officials and oil bunkers.
They all blamed community folks and minor bunkers for illegally refining crude with amateur technology in the creeks.
There was nobody to speak out for the endangered communities until the Minister of State for Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, and Group Managing Director of NNPCL, Dr. Mele Kyari, under immense pressure from President Muhammadu Buhari, to stop the increasing oil theft, thought out of the box.
Sylva and Kyari had been in contact separately and mutually with the former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, for more than a year over the worsening theft.
Their discussions convinced the duo that he could be a magic wand, but each time Tompolo’s name came up in Aso Villa, and private meetings, some top security officials pooh-poohed the idea.
It was easy for Buhari, who, in 2016, canceled a “no cure no pay” contract that Global West, a company in which Tompolo served, as a technical partner, without a lucid understanding of the surrounding intrigues, to agree with the naysayers.
However, with each passing day in their discussions and intelligence from Tompolo on the connivance of security and industry officials without which the massive thieving would not be possible, Sylva and Kyari approached Buhari with accessible facts.
They did not find it difficult getting the buy-in of the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor, who already had the instructions of the Commander-in-Chief to confront the situation head-on and bring the perpetrators to book.
Finally, a converted President approved the hiring of Tompolo, especially as the private surveillance contractors, who had been on the job, in the last few years, had done little
The trio of Irabor, Sylva, and Kyari are together, ever since, in the battle.
Tompolo’s engagement by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) triggered quite some controversy, but Sylva and Kyari were unmoved by the many distractions.
What was clear to them was that the illegal bunkering points had to be discovered and clamped; conspiring security and industry officials also had to be identified and disciplined, and the entire surveillance system overhauled for oil production to pick up once again.
Sunday Vanguard learned that some top security officials serving in Lagos and Abuja were part of the oil-bunkering consortium with their foot soldiers in the oil-rich region.
The oil cabal allegedly sponsored a campaign of calumny against Tompolo, recruiting some youths to protest against the ex-militant leader handling pipeline surveillance contracts in their areas.
It was not surprising when the former militant leader, who boasted that he knows the in-and-out of all the creeks in the Niger Delta, started making startling discoveries, less than a month, after his company, Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited, TSSNL, was engaged.
Working with selected security officials, Tompolo’s men uncovered large-scale and sophisticated oil theft machinery going on in the deep swamps at Yokri, close to the Forcados Terminal.
According to reports, experts use high-powered technology to steal crude oil from the trans-Forcados pipeline, which belongs to the NNPCL and its partners, and convey it through a four-kilometer underwater pipeline to a platform in the sea, where they loaded into vessels and sell overseas.
So far, Tantita has discovered at least 58 illegal connections to the trans-Escravos, trans-Forcados, and other major trunk lines by oil bunkers in Delta and Bayelsa states.
On October 6, operatives of the ex-militant leader laid ambush for a suspected oil syndicate, and apprehended the captain and seven other crew members, while they were pumping crude oil from an illegal connection they affixed to a Chevron pipeline in the Warri River.
Why the authorities permitted the burning of the 87-meter-long ocean-going vessel, MT Deino, and over 650 cubic meters of crude oil recovered from the crew, which ought to be evidence for the prosecution of the suspects, remains a puzzle
Suspected members of the oil syndicate, who are already feeling the heat of Tompolo’s involvement in pipeline surveillance, have reached out to him through decoys to simmer down while more desperate ones sent threatening messages to him and some of his boys to back off.
Besides security officials, IOCs and major bunkers, ex-militant leaders and locals are part of the thieving racket.
Tantita officials confided in Sunday Vanguard, last week, that more revelations were coming as the company would dig out more obscured undertakings.
The involvement of military personnel in oil bunkering in the region is an open secret; the only difficulty, all these years, is who will be bold enough to say it.
By his moral fiber and training, Tompolo is not afraid of the military, which was why Sylva and Kyari reportedly chose him for the delicate assignment.
SPDC resumes operations
Interestingly, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, SPDC, has showed willingness to resume crude oil export at the 48-inch Forcados Export Terminal in Delta State after Tompolo discovered the illegal connections.
SPDC’s Media Relations Manager, Abimbola Essien-Nelson, in a statement, Wednesday, said the company would resume after completion of ongoing essential repairs by the end of this month (October)., adding: “We are working to remove and clamp theft points on the onshore pipelines to ensure full crude oil receipt at the terminal.
“The active illegal connections to SPDC joint venture’s production lines and facilities in western Niger Delta and the inactive illegal connection to the onshore section of the 48-inch Forcados Export Line are in the company’s ongoing programme to remove illegal connections on the pipelines that feed the terminal”.
The real oil thieves – Nengi
National Coordinator, Association of Rural Chiefs for Peace and Development and National Vice President (II), Ijaw National Congress, INC, Chief James Nengi, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, weeks before Tompolo discoveries, said he and his team had arrested some military men involved in bunkering and called their superiors to identify them.
Nengi’s words: “The security personnel are complicit, it is not hearsay. I served as Chairman of the Oil and Gas Committee in the oil-rich Nembe Kingdom.
“As Chairman, I and my team had apprehended severally military personnel and invited their superior officers to come and identify them.”
The former Chairman of Nembe Kingdom Oil and Gas Committee went on, “I will continue to mention it; this crude oil theft is an organized crime by the military and some political bigwigs.
“In fact, this crime is even more dangerous than the petroleum subsidy. Ships and vessels loaded with crude oil are freely going out of the nation’s territory to neighboring countries where they refine and bring it back to us.
“They are using local refineries to cover up. We cannot compare the volume of crude oil stolen by local refineries to the ones loaded in vessels and siphoned.
“Community people are not involved in this organized crime; they are only involved in the surveillance job.
“The major players in this crime are those who own the vessels and military chiefs in the Ministry of Defense, Navy and Army.
“All these coded operations, Pulo Shield, Operation Delta Safe, Joint Task Force, JTF, are just to deceive the people that they are working. Why have they not left the Niger Delta, it is an occupational crime?
“The information they give that they have destroyed several bunkering camps, let me tell you, they are not destroying any camp; any time there are issues, they will come up with such a story to deceive the public that they are working.
“If they really want to change the situation, it is not even the surveillance that they are talking about. Let us not deceive ourselves in this matter, the criminality is top to bottom, and they should stop pointing fingers at the community.
“Why are military officers in the creeks and Niger Delta richer than their own formations? Some have estates and properties. Ask yourself, why does the military have much interest in the Niger Delta instead of fighting terrorists?
“Anywhere bunkering activity is going on; you will see several patrol vehicles and checkpoints where they are collecting bribes. They are even those on illegal patrol; they charter taxis and chase those carrying bunkering products upland, these are the local ones.
“The greatest theft and criminality is in the high seas. That is why oil companies are divesting and going offshore where they can load freely without monitoring. The security people there are only sharing money; they are not monitoring or securing anything.
“They should seriously investigate all the military personnel in the Niger Delta. There should be proper prosecution. How did they come about the properties they acquire every day? How can a junior officer be sharing money with his commander, is it not because there is no discipline and everybody is sharing the booty?
“From the sea to the Defense Headquarters, monies are shared. They are living above their means. They should monitor these military personnel, something like policing the security personnel, and you will see properties they will recover.
“All these military invading and raiding communities in the Niger Delta are just to blackmail the communities and cover up their criminal activities to show Mr. President that they are working. The military people are the economic saboteurs”.