The report that naval personnel have uncovered 3,181 25-litre kegs laden with Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) suspected to have been vandalised from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) pipelines indicates how little has changed despite strident efforts to contain the criminal enterprise. Naval patrol team deployed in Atlas Cove Island, said to be acting on intelligence, reportedly swooped on the Akaraba Island, Lagos, on July 4, where they found the kegs concealed in makeshift structures built some 200 metres away from a holiday resort. Leader of the naval team and Commander NNS BEECROFT, Commodore Ibrahim Shettima, put the value of the products at about N11.5 million.
That the illegal activity on the scale reported could happen within the proximity of Atlas Cove which serves as the main distribution facility for the country’s fuel imports says a lot about the degree to which that stretch is ungoverned. We are talking here of some ragtag hoodlums breaching that vital asset to siphon fuel.
More worrisome is that the scale of the illegal activity suggests that the business not only has a huge network of patrons and so could not have sprung up overnight; but is a thriving business done with active connivance of the communities adjoining the pipelines network. More unimaginable is that the Pipelines Product Marketing Company (PPMC), owners/operators of the facility was either unaware of the theft going on or could not be bothered even for the losses reckoned in quantum of millions of naira. After all, the only time a rupture along the pipelines network hit the headlines is when such is accompanied with massive conflagrations and loss of lives such as the one experienced at Ijegun, Igando/Ikotun Local Council Development Area, Lagos State, on July 4.
Only last year, the NNPC actually reported an alarming increase in the spate of pipeline vandalism across the country. Specifically, in October 2018, the corporation recorded a 42.9 percent increase in vandalism incidents compared to September 2018 – that is from 125 incidents in September to 219 in October, with trouble spots identified as the Ibadan–Ilorin and Aba–Enugu axes accounting for 81 (40%) and 39 (18%) vandalised points, respectively.
A lot has certainly been written on the need for a rethink of the technology as indeed the modalities for securing these national assets. One major element of the problem long identified is pipelines’ integrity given the ease with which many have reportedly given way under pressure doe to their obsolescence. That neither the NNPC nor PPMC has thought it fit to address the matter in any comprehensive way can only mean that the matter is not of utmost priority to them. The other element is the existing framework for containing the menace through direct enlistment of the locals for their policing. Much as many have argued on the pragmatism of the approach, it has, in reality, not delivered as many of the locals have been known to collaborate with the criminal elements.
Surely, things cannot continue this way. Aside having direct national security implications, the fact that the country currently pays premium for its imported fuel makes the sabotage intolerable. The Federal Government will therefore need to address the problem as fast as possible. By this we mean that the facility at Atlas Cove and the pipelines serving it deserve maximum protection.
As for the NNPC and PPMC, the task at hand is hardly about re-inventing any wheel; it is simply about fixing the pipelines and putting in place an appropriate technology to ensure the detection of any breaches along the entire network.
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