Illegal oil bunkering is one of the perennial problems of Nigeria. Yearly cases of illegal oil bunkering are reported in this country without any sign of cessation. We are disturbed by this criminal activity that touches on the economic live-wire of this nation. In the meantime, a Federal High Court sitting in Benin, Edo State, has sentenced six Ghanaians and their Nigerian accomplice to eight years imprisonment each for illegal oil bunkering. The charge was brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). They were sentenced on April 30, 2010.
The convicts are Frank Opoku Anim, Ernest Anim, Wellington Adobah, Kwesi Eminsang, Seth Kpodisime, Abraham Yao Ahiado and their Nigerian accomplice Ochuko Omoreode. The Ghanaians were arraigned on February 24, 2009 on a two count charge of conspiracy and illegal dealing in bunkering 4,000 metric tonnes of petroleum products suspected to be crude oil illegally bunkered in a vessel marked MT HOPE. Giving his ruling, Justice Mohammed Idris, found all of them guilty on the two charges and sentenced them on each of the two charges with no option of fine. Before the sentence was pronounced their counsel, Mr Nkire D. Nkire appealed for mild sentence but the judge insisted that crimes that bordered on economic sabotage should not be treated with a slap on the wrist.
Indeed, they deserve the punishment meted out to them. No country should condone criminal activity that touches on the very well-being of its citizens. All those involved in illegal oil bunkering in this’ country should look for legitimate means of livelihood instead of getting entangled in acts that are economic sabotage in the oil sector. It should be noted that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has been in the forefront of prosecuting oil bunkering criminals in Nigeria since its inception. The commission should be encouraged so that this criminal activity in the oil sector would be stamped out. No country plays with its economic well-being. Nigeria should not be different.
Earlier, thirteen Filipinos were sentenced to five years imprisonment by a Federal High Court in Benin, the Edo State capital. This time, the sentence was pronounced by Justice Chukura Nnamani on February 20, 2009. They were charged to the court on December 171 2008, for conspiracy to deal in petroleum products without authorisation. The convicted persons whose ages ranged from twenty-one to fifty-two pleaded guilty to the charge . .similarly, a group of fourteen Filipinos were sentenced to sixty-five years in jail for illegal bunkering in 2008. This Criminal activity should be condemned by all patriotic citizens of this country. It is a serious criminal offence for foreigners to leave their countries and come here to carry out criminal activities that touch on our survival as a country. They should be dealt with properly so that others will not follow in their footsteps.
On March 12, 2010, eight hundred and thirteen illegal oil bunkerers surrendered their equipment to the joint committee on stamping out illegal oil bunkering in Ogonildnd. This followed the expiration of the deadline given to illegal oil bunkerers by the committee. Also recovered were four barges loaded with locally refined petroleum products. In his remarks at Kpor, headquarters of Gokana local government area, the Chairman of the Joint Committee, Mr Oji Ngofa, expressed gratitude to those who were in the criminal act for yielding to the call to renounce the act and surrender their equipment. He stressed that anyone that engaged in illegal oil bunkering again would be arrested and prosecuted. He advised the repentant criminals to look for legitimate means of livelihood. He urged them not to use the excuse of unemployment to commit crime that would devastate the Ogoni environment. Mr Ngofa further urged them to acquire skills that would be useful to them and the community. In fact, this is a gesture that should be copied by others involved in the oil bunkering activities. They should all come out and renounce illegal oil bunkering and seek for legitimate means of livelihood through acquisition of skills. This way, Nigeria will be free of illegal oil bunkering criminals.
Also speaking, a member of the committee, Chief Victor Giadom said, the committee had been working with the mandate of the state government to stamp out illegal bunkering activities in the communities of Gokana, Tai, Khana and Eleme. He stated that the committee had earlier held meetings and enlightenment campaigns in the various committees before swinging into action that led to the success recorded so far.
However, we appreciate the efforts made so far. As already indicated, illegal bunkering is an act of sabotage that should attract severe punishment. We therefore appeal to all those who engage themselves in illegal oil bunkering to turn a new leaf so that this country can move forward.
Dr. Tolofari is a Fellow, Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria.