Oil theft has long affected Nigeria, and as the September edition of Nigeria Focus highlights, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is intent on putting an end to it, while pointing out that it is not only Nigeria who are involved in the theft of the country’s oil resources. Questions, however, remain as to how Nigeria’s military can cope fighting on two fronts – with Boko Haram and oil thieves. Nigeria Focus also argues that it does not appear that Buhari will look to do away with an important tool in the war against theft, the Niger Delta amnesty programmes.

In addition to committing himself to bilateral efforts against piracy and oil theft during a meeting in Abuja on 12 September with Togo counterpart Faure Gnassingbe, President Muhammadu Buhari raised the matter of oil theft during a 7 September visit to Ghana. Specifically, he suggested to resident Nigerians that Ghanaian companies may be involved in diverting oil from Nigeria, a suggestion not without antecedent.

Last year, Texas-based Lushann International was accused of exporting stolen Nigerian oil through Ghana’s offshore Saltpond. Ghanaians or Ghanaian-owned vessels are periodically implicated in modest oil theft cases publicised by Niger Delta security forces.

Just as interesting is Buhari’s suggestion that Nigerian banks in Ghana may be holding significant oil theft proceeds. The dynamic between Buhari and Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama – whose ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) was thought to be close to former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and chagrined at Jonathan’s defeat – was also interesting. Rumours abound of donations to Mahama and the NDC from those within or allied to the PDP.

The operational side

On the operational side, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) managing director Emmanuel Kachikwu asserted earlier this month that Nigerian oil theft would be more or less eliminated within eight months with the assistance of improved community policing, improved security forces, and even drone technology. Last week a senior Nigeria Western Naval Command commander suggested that the navy had acquired Israeli ‘falcon eye’ technology to monitor oil thieves.

Claims that soldiers will be brought in to protect pipelines, replacing militants where appropriate, raise questions about the strength of Nigeria’s military resources while Boko Haram is still at large, as do assertions that the air force will significantly assist the navy with joint operations against oil thieves.

The amnesty programme

The above plans do not mean that Buhari and the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme chief, Brigadier-General Paul Boroh (rtd), are planning to withdraw support for the programme in the near future.

At the end of August, Buhari demanded that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) pay the tuition fees of amnesty beneficiaries studying overseas. CBN officials indicated that over 1,000 beneficiaries studying at Nigerian institutions have already received fees and allowances. Nevertheless, disclosure that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had apparently frozen the accounts of two companies connected to former Niger Delta militant Chief Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) has been described by a local Ijaw group as ‘barbaric, unlawful, and obnoxious.’

One of the companies was Global West Vessels. As mentioned in the June issue of Nigeria Focus, a civil society group had asked Buhari to cancel a contract allegedly worth over US$100 million granted by Goodluck Jonathan to Global West, itself the centre of a scandal over its acquisition of decommissioned Norwegian warships.