Inside story of the cartel that steals crude with impunity4 min read
•How Sylva, Kyari convinced Buhari to hire Tompolo
For many years, security personnel deployed in the Niger Delta to guard oil installations and stop crude oil bunkering had turned themselves into oil bandits in collusion with some International Oil Companies, IOCs, government officials and oil bunkers.
They all blamed community folks and minor bunkers for illegally refining crude with amateur technology in the creeks.
There was nobody to speak out for the endangered communities until the Minister of State for Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, and Group Managing Director of NNPCL, Dr. Mele Kyari, under immense pressure from President Muhammadu Buhari, to stop the increasing oil theft, thought out of the box.
Sylva and Kyari had been in contact separately and mutually with the former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, for more than a year over the worsening theft.
Their discussions convinced the duo that he could be a magic wand, but each time Tompolo’s name came up in Aso Villa, and private meetings, some top security officials pooh-poohed the idea.
It was easy for Buhari, who, in 2016, cancelled a “no cure no pay” contract that Global West, a company in which Tompolo served, as a technical partner, without a lucid understanding of the surrounding intrigues, to agree with the naysayers.
However, with each passing day in their discussions and intelligence from Tompolo on the connivance of security and industry officials without which the massive thieving would not be possible, Sylva and Kyari approached Buhari with accessible facts.
They did not find it difficult getting the buy-in of the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor, who already had the instructions of the Commander-in-Chief to confront the situation head-on and bring the perpetrators to book.
Finally, a converted President approved the hiring of Tompolo, especially as the private surveillance contractors, who had been on the job, in the last few years, had done little.
The trio of Irabor, Sylva, and Kyari are together, ever since, the battle.
Tompolo’s engagement by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) triggered quite some controversy, but Sylva and Kyari were unmoved by the many distractions.
What was clear to them was that the illegal bunkering points had to be discovered and clamped; conspiring security and industry officials also had to be identified and disciplined, and the entire surveillance system overhauled for oil production to pick up once again.
Sunday Vanguard learned that some top security officials serving in Lagos and Abuja were part of the oil-bunkering consortium with their foot soldiers in the oil-rich region.
The oil cabal allegedly sponsored a campaign of calumny against Tompolo, recruiting some youths to protest against the ex-militant leader handling pipeline surveillance contracts in their areas.
It was not surprising when the former militant leader, who boasted that he knows the in-and-out of all the creeks in the Niger Delta, started making startling discoveries, less than a month, after his company, Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited, TSSNL, was engaged.
Working with selected security officials, Tompolo’s men uncovered large-scale and sophisticated oil theft machinery going on in the deep swamps at Yokri, close to the Forcados Terminal.
According to reports, experts use high-powered technology to steal crude oil from the trans-Forcados pipeline, which belongs to the NNPCL and its partners, and convey it through a four-kilometre underwater pipeline to a platform in the sea, where they loaded into vessels and sell overseas.
So far, Tantita has discovered at least 58 illegal connections to the trans-Escravos, trans-Forcados, and other major trunk lines by oil bunkers in Delta and Bayelsa states.
On October 6, operatives of the ex-militant leader laid ambush for a suspected oil syndicate, and apprehended the captain and seven other crew members, while they were pumping crude oil from an illegal connection they affixed to a Chevron pipeline in the Warri River.
Why the authorities permitted the burning of the 87-meter-long ocean-going vessel, MT Deino, and over 650 cubic meters of crude oil recovered from the crew, which ought to be evidence for the prosecution of the suspects, remains a puzzle
Suspected members of the oil syndicate, who are already feeling the heat of Tompolo’s involvement in pipeline surveillance, have reached out to him through decoys to simmer down while more desperate ones sent threatening messages to him and some of his boys to back off.
Besides security officials, IOCs and major bunkers, ex-militant leaders and locals are part of the thieving racket.
Tantita officials confided in Sunday Vanguard, last week, that more revelations were coming as the company would dig out more obscured undertakings.
The involvement of military personnel in oil bunkering in the region is an open secret; the only difficulty, all these years, is who will be bold enough to say it.
By his moral fibre and training, Tompolo is not afraid of the military, which was why Sylva and Kyari reportedly chose him for the delicate assignment.