Barons Behind Oil Theft

Scooping oil from vandalised pipeline

A group which claims to be a resurrected Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta fingers security and intelligence chiefs and politicians as barons behind oil thieves

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Nov. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

ANYONE who thought that the last had been heard of the violent activities of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, following a generous 2009 amnesty programme must think again. In recent weeks, the militants group has claimed it was behind the upsurge in attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta region. Earlier in October, MEND released a statement threatening to launch a violent campaign against oil production facilities, with offshore fields being the likely targets.

On October 22, the militants attacked the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, by setting the refinery on fire. The militant group said it set the plant ablaze in fulfilment of its earlier threat to hit oil installations.

Andrew Yakubu, NNPC GMD
Andrew Yakubu, NNPC GMD

In an email statement signed by Jomo Gbomo, its spokesperson, MEND said its intention was to raze the entire refinery. The group warned that as long as President Goodluck Jonathan continued to rely on an unsustainable and fraudulent amnesty programme, peace would continue to elude his government in the region.

The group said the attack was part of its ‘Hurricane Exodus’ to show that the campaign was on course. “The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta takes responsibility for the sabotage this morning, Tuesday, October 22, 2013 inside the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s refinery in Warri, Delta State of Nigeria. Hurricane Exodus was intended to burn down the entire refining facility. As long as President Goodluck Jonathan continues to rely on an unsustainable and fraudulent Niger Delta Amnesty Programme, peace and security will continue to elude his government in the region. Hurricane Exodus is on course,” the group said.

The fire, which gutted the top unit of the refinery, started at the early hours of the day, while crude oil refining process was on at the 125,000-barrel per day plant. The entire Warri town and environs were said to have been engulfed by the smoke bellowing from the inferno. The fire was also said to have lasted for a few minutes before it was put off by fire fighters and safety officials of the company.

But Tumini Green, acting group general manager, group public affairs division, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, in a statement, confirmed that there was a fire outbreak in the top unit of the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company. She said the fire was promptly brought under control through the combined effort of the fire department and other workers of the refinery. Green explained that the fire, which started about 11am, was successfully extinguished without any fatality. She said the unit involved was promptly isolated and shut down for safety, adding that the exact cause of the fire was being investigated by the management of the refinery.

Azubuike Ihejirika, Chief of Army Staff
Azubuike Ihejirika, Chief of Army Staff

According to her, appropriate steps would be taken to forestall a future occurrence. The NNPC spokesperson noted that preparations were under way for re-streaming of the affected unit. “We wish to seize this opportunity to reassure members of the public that the NNPC continues to hold sufficient stock of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) and other petroleum products, and, therefore, there is no cause for panic buying,” Green said.

In another development, MEND, said it was also responsible for oil spills in some parts of the Niger Delta, stating that the incidents were part of operations it embarked on months ago. The movement said its efforts at sabotaging facilities in the oil sector had been inadvertently complemented by oil thieves in the region with the connivance of security operatives. The group in a statement said its activities had seriously damaged the Trans Niger Pipeline, TNP, and other feeder pipelines in the region.

“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, regrets the collateral damage to the environment in Ogoni land and other communities in the Niger Delta caused by ravaging crude oil spills and gas leakages as a result of ‘Hurricane Exodus’. This first plague of blood is a sacrifice for freedom we will all have to endure. Since our last update, ‘Hurricane Exodus’ continues to gather strength as it sweeps through the swamps and creeks in the Niger Delta leaving seriously damaged Trans Niger and Feeder pipelines, harassed security operatives and scurrying oil workers in its wake. Our efforts at sabotaging the oil sector is being complemented inadvertently by industrialised oil theft, aided and abetted by the security forces in the region such as the Joint Task Force, JTF, Eastern Naval Command, the Marine Police, the State Security Service, SSS and the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Administration Agency, NIMASA.”

Mohammed Abubakar, Police IG
Mohammed Abubakar, Police IG

It also accused top security operatives of receiving payments from security operatives posted to the region and also top politicians and staff of the NNPC of being involved in the racket. “As the Niger Delta is seen as a lucrative posting by personnel of the aforementioned agencies, financial returns are made on a monthly basis to the Service Chiefs, Inspector General of Police, Director General of the SSS and NIMASA as well as the minister of defence. Politicians at the highest level of government and some unscrupulous staff of the NNPC are also involved in the racket. Oil majors are being chased away, abandoning their onshore assets or selling them off. This is our honest advise to unsuspecting buyers in a Niger Delta where the government of President Goodluck Jonathan has refused to dialogue on the root issues, opting instead to delude itself, bribe a few miscreants and deceive the world that all is well because of misleading assurances and bad advice from a few selfish, greedy and myopic individuals.”

Meanwhile, repentant militant leaders in the Niger Delta, under the auspices of Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative, LPCDI, on October 23, said that MEND died in 2009 and added that any claim or threat from a faceless group claiming to be MEND should, henceforth, be ignored by Nigerians. Reuben Wilson, president LPCDI, denouncing the claim by MEND that it was responsible for the explosion at the Warri Refinery. The ex-militant leaders, in a statement, said: “MEND ceased to exist from the day we accepted the amnesty offer of the federal government. Nigerians should henceforth disregard any claim or threat by MEND because the group died in 2009.”

According to him, the acclaimed spokesman of MEND, Jomo Gbomo, never existed. “We make bold to say that there is no organisation called MEND. Yes, we used MEND and the name Jomo Gbomo for our propaganda activities when we were in the creeks. But from the very day we accepted the amnesty offer in 2009, MEND died. We challenge the person called Jomo Gbomo to show his face if he exists. For the avoidance of doubt, there is nobody bearing that name. Everything about MEND was a creation of the computer and the internet.

Patrick Akpoblokemi, NIMASA, DG
Patrick Akpoblokemi, NIMASA, DG

“All of us that used the name of MEND have since accepted amnesty and have left the creeks. So, MEND is dead. A person or an organisation that does not exist cannot be responsible for the explosion at the Warri Refinery. The claim attributed to MEND is false and Nigerians should not believe any report about MEND for any reason. While we sympathise with the federal government, the NNPC and Nigerians on the Warri explosion, we hasten to urge security operatives to investigate the incident. If sabotage is detected, the culprits should be prosecuted. Nobody should hide under the guise of a so-called MEND to sabotage the nation’s economy,” he said.

The group, restated that the amnesty programme of the federal government was working and that the beneficiaries were happy that they were given the privilege to come out of the creeks to contribute to the peace and development of the country. “We know those who were in our various camps and we also are aware that all of them surrendered their arms. Since we disarmed, oil production activities have been carried out without hiccups. We cannot list the gains of the amnesty programme because they are amazingly innumerable. There may be people that are not happy that the Niger Delta now knows peace and may be fighting hard to discredit the amnesty programme. But we know that Nigerians and, indeed, the whole world know that the amnesty scheme is a huge success.”

The Joint Task Force, JTF, in the Niger Delta has vowed to clamp down on the purported MEND over its activities in the region. Reacting to the claims by MEND that it was behind the killing of soldiers in a community between Rivers and Bayelsa states and the hijack of a vessel and kidnapping of two American sailors, the JTF described those behind MEND as drowning gangsters feeding Nigerians with fabricated stories. Onyeama Nwachukwu , media coordinator, JTF, said MEND did not cause the fire incident at the Warri Refinery and argued that the soldiers killed in Andoni local government area of Rivers State were not killed by MEND. He stated that the JTF would soon descend on MEND just like it had been able to smoke out other criminals causing instability in the region in the recent past.

“These claims are a reflection of the grandiose illusion of drowning gangsters. It is no longer news that their insatiable and desperate desire to conjure up a seeming apocalypse in order to make the world see the Niger Delta as insecure has again failed, as they have continuously fed the public with lies of a grossly failed ‘Hurricane Exodus.’ The NNPC Warri refinery fire incident, which the NNPC has clearly stated was accidental and occurred when their engineers were working in the top unit of the refinery, is a crystal clear example of the false claims of these criminals. Our troops in the Andoni incident defended the civilians they escorted gallantly by ensuring their safety.

Niger Delta Militants
Niger Delta Militants

“How come the so-called MEND did not claim responsibility before now as they would have usually done? It is simply because they had no knowledge of it until we made it public and ridiculously they have jumped at it for self glorification. This claim is therefore an afterthought. The Merchant vessel named Retriever hijacked off the coast by unknown pirates was not at all escorted. It is a Merchant vessel, which had no escort and no JTF presence, how then could JTF have suffered casualty in that incident?” he asked.

Also reacting to the resurgence of MEND, experts in the oil and gas industry believe that the activities of the militant group have no effect on oil production in the country since majority of the products are being imported. Ebho Abure, managing director, Baseline Energy Services, said the recent incident at the Warri refinery would not affect oil production.

“To be honest with you, it was not much because a lot of the products are being imported but if it was in a normal situation where Warri refinery is contributing significantly to the product consumed locally, then you will say it is important. Besides, I don’t think that MEND is responsible for what happened. But if truly they are responsible, then we have to be worried on their capacity to cause that kind of harm to the nations’ asset. But they are just claiming responsibility so that people would think they are now active and strong to do such harm, and then it is a different matter,” Abure said.

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