Articles and Opinion

Pipeline Contracts And Ethnic Blackmail by Tajudeen Suleiman

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It’s a habitual fancy in most multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries like Nigeria, that unscrupulous individuals or groups would seek to take advantage of the fault lines to advance their narrow and selfish interests. This is certainly the case with a group(or individual) which called itself Niger Delta Forum For Truth And Justice, whose president(if there’s anyone by that name) bears Chief Ejiroghene Marere.

In a paid newspaper advertorial published Thursday, Marere attacked Mrs Oritsemeyiwa Eyesan, the Vice President, Upstream Operations of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited, for a pipeline contract awarded to Pipelines Infrastructure Nigeria Limited (PINL). According to Marere who claims to be speaking for the Urhobo people, the PINL is owned by the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse III, and since Mrs Eyesan is Itsekiri, she must have influenced the award of the contract to favour her monarch!

In the first place, the allegations in the publication are speculative. The author did not have the correct information on what he wrote about. The Olu of Warri is not the owner of PINL. If he’s a serious-minded person not consumed by ethnic bigotry, he could have done a little research to know the owners of the company.

Instead, Marere employed the all too familiar strategy of spewing lies, half-truths and using dubious data to back his narrative. It is the perfect game plan of blackmailers: back up lies with fake data to get public sympathy and government attention.

Marere stated that a total of 112 incidents of oil theft occurred along the stretch covered by the PINL in the last quarter of 2023! How did Marere get his information because there’s no official statistics on this? Was it his group that perpetrated the criminalities?

Let us even assume the figure is factual, why did Marere choose not to mention the successes recorded by the NNPCL in combating oil theft? In a documentary posted on its X handle on January 2, the company disclosed that in the last week of December alone, 42 illegal refineries were discovered and destroyed across Bayelsa, Imo and Delta state. It also revealed that 14 illegal connections and 10 cases of vandalism were discovered in the period.

Similarly, in a statement on January 23, NNPCL revealed that from Jan 13 to Jan 19 , a total of 72 additional illegal refineries were uncovered across the Niger Delta. Aside the Command-and-Control unit of the NNPCL, those responsible for the discoveries are the oil pipeline contractors which include Maton Engineering Nigeria Limited, Tantita Security Services and PINL.

Those are just the most recent discoveries. The NNPCL also said earlier this month that a total of 10,166 illegal refineries and crude oil connections were destroyed since 2021. This is in spite of the dangerous operating environment created by oil thieves who engage security agents in gunfight and shoot at surveillance helicopters. Is it not to Mrs Eyeson’s credit that pipelines surveillance is yielding fruitful results for the country?

To overlook such accomplishments on the basis of where she comes from a disservice to the Niger Delta in particular, and to Nigeria in general. To suggest, like Marere did, that a public officer overseeing such a volatile sub-sector of the industry is incompetent and corrupt because one of the surveillance companies under her watch is allegedly owned by her tribesman is cruel and barbaric.

Such a proposition economizes the truth and it’s the equivalent of what is called in local parlance “bad belle.” Marere knows his claim is not based on evidence, but a deliberate lie to achieve a preconceived agenda.

His claim that the NNPCL is set to offer the PINL a new contract exposes his motive and shows his desperation. Is Marere’s company also bidding for the alleged contract? Is the sponsored attack a ploy to frustrate PINL from getting a renewal of its contract? Is Marere’s company or those he represents likely to benefit if PINL’s contract is not renewed? It’s easy to answer all the questions in the affirmative after reading the newspaper advertorial.

His claim that “large quantum of oil production from Urhobo territories of Delta State, the ethnic group has never been factored for engagement in the pipelines surveillance contract award” is ill-motivated. Bringing Urhobo situation into the argument is a pathetic attempt to ethicize his parochial interest and dress his self-serving agenda in populist gab. Mrs Eyeson was not given her current role because she’s Itsekiri nor are companies awarded surveillance contract because of who owns them and where they come from. A company is a legal entity different from its owners.

Under the current Chief Executive Officer of the NNPCL, Malam Mele Kyari, contracts are won through competitive bidding. They may be renewed based on performance assessment and not sentiments. Kyari demands performance from his team and Mrs Eyeson, just like other members of his team, will not sacrifice excellence for mediocrity.

I have it on good authority that Mrs Eyeson does not even have any personal relationship with the Olu of Warri to warrant any linkage. I’m sure the Olu of Warri himself would be amused at the ignorance of a man who claim to lead the enlightened people of Urohbo in the Niger Delta. Even among the Urhobo people, it is a sacrilege to lie against an innocent person, not to talk of a monach. If Marere wants an oil pipeline surveillance contract, he should bid for it and not pour his anger on an innocent public servant and the Itsekiri people.

As the VP Upstream Operations, Mrs Eyeson does not have the final call to engage a contractor involved in such sensitive national assignment as oil pipelines surveillance. Such decisions are collectively made after due diligence by relevant authorities. Such award of contracts cannot be made without the input of the president who also doubles as Minister of Petroleum Resources. Thus, to impugn the integrity of Mrs Eyeson because she’s the same ethnicity with the owners of a company engaged by NNPCL is deplorable and unfair. It is cheap blackmail.

Marere should not ride on the goodwill of Urhobo people to advance his personal cause. Urhobo people are well represented in the government and know the proper channels to air their grievances if any. I’m certain that attacking the hard-earned reputation of a diligent public servant to promote personal agenda in the guise of ethnic interest is detestable to all decent people, including the Urhobo people Marere claimed to represent.

I implore the security agencies to consider Marere a person of interest. He threatened to inflame ethnic passion and violence if Mrs Eyeson is not sacked from her job and if PINL’s contract is renewed. It is not a threat that should be taken lightly, considering the situation in the Niger Delta. People like Marere are desperate, venomous fellows who can bring down the roof on everyone as long as it serves their narrow interests.

Recent revelation that oil thieves mount CCTV on trees to spot surveillance teams and attack them is scary, and forebode a bleak future for the country’s oil production if the threat is not eliminated. Mele Kyari, the NNPCL CEO, is amply aware of the threat and seemed to have focused attention on combating the menace.

It is in the interest of the people of Niger Delta in particular, and Nigeria in general that he succeeds.

 

Suleiman writes from Abuja

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