BY BEN AGANDE
ABUJA — President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, expressed dismay at the continuous stealing of Nigeria’s crude oil by illegal bunkerers, vowing that his administration would do everything possible to stem the tide by bringing the perpetrators to book.
The President stated this at the opening of the Maritime Sector Presidential Retreat with the theme, “Harnessing the Potential of Nigeria’s Maritime Sector for Sustainable Economic Development” at the Presidential Villa.
He upbraided those involved in the crime and told them to “throw their heads under the pillow” in shame as there was no justification for their actions.
Jonathan’s comment came on a day the Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala revealed that the country loses over N2 trillion annually in capital flight to foreign countries following the inability of the indigenous ship owners to fully participate in lifting of the over 150 million tons of cargo from the country including crude oil exports.
It’s only in Nigeria that crude is stolen
According to Jonathan, “it is embarrassing that it is only in Nigeria that crude oil is stolen. It is a very bad news and I believe that Nigerians and foreigners who are involved in that act need to throw their heads under the pillow because all over the world, it is only in Nigeria that crude oil is stolen.
He said: “This must stop. We will be decisive in putting an end to this malaise. Our charge to all relevant agencies and departments of government is to work cooperatively with the required urgency.”
He said the maritime sector was a critical component of the economic development of a modern state, noting that it was in this regard that it was incorporated as a major component of the transformation agenda.
The president said the “sector facilitates approximately 90 per cent of world trade, creates millions of jobs and generates billions of dollars in economic output. The sector, to say the least, is a major engine of our national growth strategy.
“Besides improved prospects in traditional sea-related activities such as fishing, shipping, ship-building and repairs, agriculture and tourism, the sector is a major hub in offshore oil exploration and production activities and will remain so in the foreseeable future.
“Given its importance to the national economy, we have an uncompromising obligation to safeguard our territorial waters against all threats: poaching, piracy, pipeline vandalism, coastal insecurity, crude oil theft, illegal bunkering, non-payment of statutory levies and charges, illegal entry of ships into our territorial waters, illegal importation of arms and hard drugs, among other sundry crimes.”
Cost of inadequate maritime safety
Okonjo-Iweala who also spoke at the event said the cost of inadequate maritime safety and security to Nigerian society and the economy “has been significant.”
She said “the Indigenous Ship Owners Association of Nigeria said that we now lose over N2 trillion annually in capital flight to foreign countries which own vessels used to lift about 150 million tons of cargos including oil products from this country as there is no Nigerian flag ship currently plying international routes. Nigerian-own vessels make up less than one per cent of the global fleets and are quite old with an average of 30 years of age”.
FG sets up 15-man maritime c’ttee
Meanwhile, the Federal Government, yesterday, set up a 15-member committee to draw up roadmap for effective maritime operations in the country.
The committee which has heads of most of the maritime agencies was charged with the responsibility of working out ways for the development and effect exploitation of the enormous potential of the sector.
The committee is chaired by the Minister of Transport, Sen. Idris Umar while a re-known maritime lawyer, Olisa Agbokoba, SAN will serve as the vice chairman.
Other members of the Committee are the Director General of NIMASA, Mr Patrick Akpobolokemi, the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Maritime, Mr Leke Oyelese and the Managing Director of the Nigeria Maritime Authority, Alhaji Omar Suleiman.
Others are the Chairman of Indigenous Ship Owners Association of Nigeria, Chief Isaac Jolapamo, Chairperson Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, Mrs Vicky Harstrup and former Managing Director of Zenith Bank Plc, Mr Jim Ovia.
Also in the Committee are the Comptroller-General of Customs, Alhaji Dikko Umar and the Special Adviser to the President on Project Monitoring who will represent the Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-weala, the Chief of Naval Staff, the Minister of Petroleum Resources,
Attorney-General of the Federation and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation would send a representative each as members of the committee.
At the end of one day retreat on Maritime security in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan who announced the setting up of the committee charged it to look at all the issues raised at the retreat and bring out workable solutions in sustainable ways of achieving them with timeline for execution.
The President said that the Secretariat of the committee would be provided by the Ministry of Transport.
President Jonathan in his closing remarks reiterated the need for concerted efforts at putting an end to crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and the activities of the illegal local refineries.