Opinion: The Urgency Of Tackling Vandalism And Criminality In The Niger-Delta – By OROBOSA OMO-OJO
Unarguably, one major achievement recorded by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is the steady retirement of ‘portfolio businessmen’ who hitherto, hid behind the shroud of ethnic agitations to perpetrate criminal activities that have been subverting the efforts of both federal and state governments.
As an extension of the Buhari administration’s efforts at rooting out impunity and corrupt and criminal acts in the Nigeria, a number of community leaders and stakeholders have also come together in self-help and action against vandals and merchants of destruction, posing as businessmen in the Niger Delta. This is motivated by the evidence of the huge environmental and security impacts of the activities of these actors to the equally volatile region.
Certainly, vandals would always prefer the easy money locked to the network of pipelines in the Niger-Delta, and blend within the sinews of the creeks to perpetrate more profitable nefarious activities, even when operating under seemingly corporate cover. Still, such covers feel largely unaccountable to orderly regulation, such as that of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) or they simply refuse to abide by requisite standards in service delivery.
The alleged activities of these manner of entrepreneurs appear evident in a recent petition made by the community leaders on December 17, 2018 against persons pointed out as including one Morris Idiovwa, another Maxwell Oko, Daniel Ekpebide, and others said to be under criminal investigations by security agencies in Nigeria
The formal complaint addressed to President Buhari, and entitled “Petition on Criminal Activities in the Niger Delta Region by self-styled Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate”, and signed by a company by the name, Arthur Ferdinand Limited, alleges the earlier mentioned persons as planning the ‘vandalisation’ (including through bombing) of pipelines facilities in the Niger Delta region, in a manner that would adversely impact the internal security of Nigeria.
Such activities are of concern to many who are increasingly disturbed by how the actions of this sort of actors threaten the fragile nature of livelihoods, survival, peace and the general ecosystem of the area.
As further alleged in the petition, Arthur Ferdinand claims to have “it on good authority that the group (of persons mentioned) is responsible for the recent pipeline explosion at Inene-Ugheli, Delta State; massive explosion of an NPDC Crude Oil Trunk Line in Afiesere and Igwhrenene, Ugheli North, Delta State on 23.07.15; attack on a major delivery trunk line within Ogor-Oteri general area in Ugheli North on 26.08.16.” The petitioners then forwarded “the confessional audio/video of one Dennis Oneya confessing that the attacks were carried out on the instruction of the group.”
On the strength of the petition, Arthur Ferdinand has sought an order from President Buhari for the Department of State Security (DSS) to investigate the “threat posed by the group”, and its relationship to a company, Eraskorp Nigeria Limited, described as “a vandal’s vehicle”.
The allegations against the group include what is considered as their use of “various corporate vehicles to carry out the group’s nefarious activities.” In the petition, one such corporate vehicle, Eraskorp, is accused of spinning a dangerous web of socially destabilising actions emanating as the fallout of the consequence of its default in the execution of a surveillance contract on OML30. This was negligence said to have led to the loss of 11,000,000 barrels of crude oil on the Trans-Forcados Pipeline (TFP), with the market price of the resultant oil theft put at $800,000, which forced the NNPC to terminate the company’s surveillance contract.
Hence, consequent upon their “vandal vehicle company” having lost out, the group is said to have decided not to vacate the contract – as demanded of it – without causing serious damage to national asset. The petitioners then claimed that, “Mr. Maxwell Oko as a prominent member of the group…orchestrated a reign of anarchy by mobilizing the group to disrupt the pipeline surveillance and protection work of TFP.”
The main purpose of the group was considered as “…solely aimed at ensuring that the prominent members of the group and their associates are awarded all pipeline protection and surveillance contracts in the region.”
In tune with the attitude of many stakeholders in the Niger Delta region, Arthur Ferdinand therefore warned that if the activities of this personality and group are left unchecked, they might lead to substantial security issues that would negatively impact on the internal security of the Niger Delta region.
As such, in their prayers, the petitioner implored Mr. President to “use his good office” to direct the DSS to “ensure the investigation, arrest and prosecution of the prominent members of the group, who have vowed to hold Nigeria to ransom by vandalizing pipelines, unless all pipeline protection and surveillance contracts in the region are awarded to their members or corporate entities that they sponsor.” A call was also made in the petition on the DSS, Police and other security agencies to urgently investigate the activities of Eraskorp Nigeria Limited, together with its directors and shareholders, as a way of raising enquiries about and possibly containing the further destruction of federal government asset.
Many in the Niger Delta feel that the arrest of these persons and their agents would stop the harassments in the regions and the rather unfortunate defamation of “entities such as NNPC, NPDC, Ocean Marine Solutions (OMS), the company tasked with the maintenance and protection of pipelines and oil installations in the Niger Delta region.”
Equally, in another petition, addressed to Colonel Hassan Grema, the sector commander of Nigeria Army, Third Battalion, Effurun, Delta State, the Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas is also asking for the arrest and investigation of the said Morris Idiovwa, who they claim is chairman of OML 30 Community Development Board (CBD).
The host communities are observed to be in tandem in their accusation of the vandalisation of NPDC oil and gas facilities in Delta State as allegedly carried out by Morris Idiovwa. The twenty-three community leaders drew the attention of the Nigeria Army to the confessional statement of persons that were arrested by the JTF 222 Battalion at the NPDC facilities in OML 30, wherein Idiovwa was identified as the alleged mastermind of the shenanigans and was heavily indicted for this.
The crisis, reported by HOSTCOM, prompted the JTF 222 Battalion, Agbarha-Otor to declare Morris Idiovwa wanted. The community stakeholders are hence in unison that the businessman needs to be “properly investigated to put an end to the spate of destruction of oil and gas facilities in OML 26, 30 and 34.”
Those who signed the petition for their communities were: Comrade Efe Okovwurie for Urhobo Ethnic Nationality; Comrade Morrister Idibra for Isoko Ethnic Nationality; Pastor Richard Erhurhore; Chief Edegware David from Igbide community; and Mr. Wilson Kokarhaye.
Others included Chief V. Ohare for the Ewereni clan, Shedrach Etarhieyo for Opherin, Ikpere Clement for Owevwe, Augustine Akpubi for Gana, Onovwata Samson for Etavwobakai and Peter Oghre who signed for Erhobaro. The petition was also co-signed by Akpome Gabriel for Otor-Owhe, Ikede Sunday, and Columbus Oguname for Uzere community.
Yet, in what is regarded as an unbelievable, even if unfortunate, comeback, Morris Idiovwa was alleged to have recently led his company, Eraskorp in an onslaught against NNPC, accusing the corporation of shady deals in the award of surveillance and security contracts for the protection of the Trans-Forcados pipelines to Ocean Marine Solutions (OMS) – a company that has however succeeded in putting oil thieves out of business in the Escravos-Warri and Bonny-Port Harcourt Crude Oil pipelines axis.
Perhaps, the failure of the Directorate of State Security, the Nigeria Police Force, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to step in appropriately to sanction the accused has given impetus to the current standoff between NNPC and OMS, which was apparently drafted by NNPC to secure the country’s asset.
It is claimed that even if for academic exercise, it would be useful for the security agencies to find out from Eraskorp how and why the Trans-Forcados pipelines were massively bombed while under its care and protection.
Considering the weight of the petition and the enormous resources that have been lost by the federal government in the process, it appears ridiculous that the same company that is noted to have failed in its contractual agreement will resort to strong-arm tactics against NNPC and the preferred company invited to save the ugly situation.
In a season and period when globally leading and emerging economies are discouraging portfolio businessmen, Nigeria cannot afford to leave her national asset in the hands of speculators and ethnic militias whose activities portend more harm to the environment and security of the Niger Delta, while equally undermining the nation’s main source of income.
Orobosa Omo-Ojo, JP, a journalist, communications expert and activist, writes from Abuja.