News Feature: Crude Oil Theft And The Ogo Onovworo Syndrome

By Sunny Awhefeada


The Urhobo people, like other peoples of Africa and Nigeria, have a rich repertoire of expressions manifesting as proverbs, aphorisms, idioms and variegated figures of speech. The linguistic virtuosity of Africans attests to their high innovative, imaginative and creative aptitude. The African genius asserts itself in a number of ways and the verbal arts remain a forte for the manifestation of the validity of a rich cultural ethos that is not inferior to any other culture.

The remarkable achievements of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, J. P. Clark, Christopher Okigbo and their successors in literature confirm the existence and essence of an African worldview. If there is any medium other than language through which a people can assert and project their culture and its appurtenances that medium is still language in its spoken or written form. Indigenous knowledge systems which justify the existence and validity of other civilizations other than the one the West attempted to foist on the rest of us has also shown tremendous capacity to evaluate contemporary experience and locate its parallels in our lore. This tendency thus confirms the perspective that humanity is one and that human experience is similar despite time and place.

The very recent submissions by two leading players in Nigeria’s contemporary life have thrown up worries about what we have become as a people and country. The two characters are the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Awwal Gambo and the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, Mallam Mele Kyari. Both men spoke about the criminality known as crude oil theft and told the nation what we already knew, but which nobody including both of them was willing to talk about. Things have come to a head and now talk they must. Crude oil theft now poses a grave threat to Nigeria’s economic stability. The submissions from both men simply depict Nigeria as a nation nobody loves. Those who should attend to Nigeria by being political office holders, civil servants and security forces, are the ones cannibalizing her so mercilessly. To them, Nigeria is the elephant with meat to be stolen and shared. Nobody cares about what happens. Everybody wants to chop off a chunk for self. Here comes in the phenomenon of ogo ono vworo in Urhobo. Ogo ono vworo is a metaphor symbolizing a farm nobody owns.

Therefore anybody, strangers and stragglers trespass and steal from it without consequences. This is what Nigeria has become.

Nigeria relies majorly on crude oil export to run her economy. But when about 800, 000 barrels of crude are daily stolen then the nation is headed for peril. Crude oil theft is pervasive. It happens in the creeks, on land and in the cozy offices of civil servants who actually are uncivil or evil servants, among NNPC apparatchiks and in officers’ messes across Nigeria.

The phenomenon is a big cartel and its thriving is asphyxiating Nigeria. Nigeria is economically gasping for breath. For a long time, attention was focused on what everybody called “illegal bunkering” which was carried out by youths in the Niger Delta rendered helpless by the inhumanity of oil multinationals which despoil their resources, pollute their land and rivers thus robbing them of means of livelihood.

To survive, these boys take to bunkering, but the scale was minor and almost inconsequential with no adverse effect on the economy.

Then come in the thieves of state who will not stop at anything in pillaging Nigeria. These official thieves participate and facilitate crude oil theft at all levels. The Chief of Naval Staff it was who fired the first salvo in an interview with a leading television station where he came short of accusing the NNPC officials as the criminals behind crude oil theft in Nigeria.

But in indirectly pointing an accusing finger at the NNPC, his other four fingers were pointing at him symbolizing the active connivance of security forces including the Navy which he heads.

According to Admiral Gambo, the quantum of crude oil being stolen cannot be taken out without official connivance. He gave insights into his assertion. Among such insights according to him were the size of ships used in crude oil theft, the quantity that was stolen daily and the fact that the ships load and take off from official platforms.

Our waterways are guarded by soldiers and navy personnel so one wanders how the vessels sail away without arrest. Yes, security statistics point at figures of arrests, but such figures pale into insignificance when compared to the number that sail away smoothly after stealing the crude.

It is also common knowledge that only those who could not offer fat bribes are arrested. Admiral Gambo maintained that crude oil from pipelines cannot amount to even twenty thousand barrels. He provided information about the size of ships involved in the theft as 336 meters in length and 60 meters in width wondering how such a big vessel could come into our waters, steal crude and sail away without being accosted. His submissions merely confirmed the truth that crude oil theft was official theft.

A few days later, feeling embarrassed about the Naval Chief’s submissions, and wanting to save face, NNPC’s Mele Kyari was on air to accuse religious houses and community leaders as being the bastion of crude oil theft. What hilarity! Besides, his unashamed submission, Kyari presents a frightening picture of how bad the situation is in Nigeria’s oil sector. He admitted that Nigeria is losing about 700, 000 barrels of crude per day, that the network of pipelines for petroleum distribution had been shut down, that the refineries were not operating, that the Warri- to Benin pipelines had not worked for 15 years, and so on and so forth.

He added that about 122 persons involved in crude oil theft were arrested between April and August, while 342 illegal refineries, 355 cooking pots, 37 trucks, 30 speed boats and 11 vessels had been seized or destroyed. Was he expecting us to clap for him? I think he was, because he smiled as he spoke. We need to flay him. He not only informed that $1 billion loan is to be obtained from AFREXIM to fix the refineries, but that Nigeria was going to stop fuel importation in 2023 despite the crises in the sector.

The man needs to take up standup comedy as a vocation! He also justified the payment of N4 billion to a private firm to secure the nation’s pipeline when there are army, navy, air force, police, department of state service, NSCDC and a host of other security organizations.
Those conversant with how brazen our officials are when it comes to corruption would admit that what Admiral Gambo and Engr Kyari told us were just tips of the ice berg. Much more is going in the plundering and bleeding of Nigeria.

Every sector is ridden by the cankerworm of corruption and much of the figures involved are now designated in dollars. Nobody cares about Nigeria.

Our beloved nation has become a farm nobody owns. Just stray into the field and plunder and most of us are complicit. Nigeria is in dire straits gasping for breath. The present government is overwhelmed and its anti-corruption crusade has taken on a pro-corruption attitude. Again, as a people we must rethink our nation and tell ourselves the way we want to go. We have been left in dire straits for too long. Let us halt the plunder!

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