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Nigeria Discovers Huge Pipeline Used for Oil Theft

FILE- An illegal oil refinery is pictured in Ogoniland, outside Port Harcourt in Nigeria's Delta region, in March 2011.
FILE- An illegal oil refinery is pictured in Ogoniland, outside Port Harcourt in Nigeria's Delta region, in March 2011.

The head of Nigeria's petroleum company told a legislative committee this week that a 4-kilometer pipeline from the Forcados export terminal has been used to steal oil for nine years, resulting in the theft of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day.

Subsequently, Bashir Jamoh, director general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, said Thursday at a weekly ministerial meeting in Abuja that plans were underway to deploy round-the-clock surveillance to watch for oil theft. He said the operation would include manned and unmanned aircraft, helicopters, ships and armored vehicles, all connected to a headquarters known as the C4i Center.

Jamoh said selected officers from the agency were undergoing three weeks of training in Italy to enable them operate the aircraft. He said the drones "can move up to 100 kilometers and can remain 10 hours in one place, taking data and sending it to our own operations centers for possible intervention."

Officials from the Nigerian National Petroleum Company on Tuesday announced the discovery of the pipeline being used to steal oil.

Jamoh said the pipeline was uncovered during a raid weeks ago. Authorities have not said who built it, and no arrests have been made.

Experts said the discovery of the underwater pipeline showed formerly unknown levels of sophistication among oil thieves.

Mele Kyari, managing director of the national petroleum company, said Nigeria was losing an alarming 600,000 barrels of oil every day, triple the figure initially estimated.

But Emmanuel Afimia, founder of an Abuja energy consulting firm, said it was not only oil theft that was contributing to Nigeria's huge oil losses.

"Lack of capital injection [is] one of the reasons why Nigeria is currently experiencing decline in oil production," he said, "so while battling with oil theft, these other aspects needs to be addressed. If not, we might end up chasing shadows.”

Faith Nwadishi, executive director of the Center for Transparency Advocacy, said authorities were to blame for the situation, too.

"They're not things that you steal with a 50-liter or 100-liter jerrycan," Nwadishi said. "We're talking about 90 percent crude oil theft. It means that somebody has not been responsible and somebody needs to begin to take responsibility. Who are the people that are in charge?"

In August, Nigeria awarded pipeline surveillance contracts and launched an online monitoring and reporting platform to enable citizens to anonymously tip off authorities about oil theft cases.

Last month, President Muhammadu Buhari said oil theft was putting the Nigerian economy in a precarious situation.