We’re hitting oil thieves hard – Navy Captain Alushi

It is believed that 80 percent of Nigeria’s oil is lost to theft while the nation also struggles to service its debt with 90 percent of oil revenue. In this interview with the Commanding Officer of the Forward Operating Base, Igbokoda, Navy Captain Wasuku Alushi, he spoke with Saheed Ibrahim and Roseline Okakah on efforts of  the Nigerian Navy in combating oil theft in Nigeria. Excerpts:

How has it been so far since you assumed office in Igbokoda?

I took over the base in October, 2023. I am barely three months here.

The environment in which we operate is complex in a number of ways. Operating in such an environment, history has shown that you cannot use only the military arsenal to do your work.

The environment is complex for a number of reasons. Foremost amongst which is the speed at which information is being transmitted. Maybe some 20 or 30 years back, I can do something in this place and it ends there. We can conduct an operation and nobody knows about it. But today, you can’t do that because information travels at the speed of light.

That makes the environment very complex, very vulnerable, and very ambiguous to operate because the slightest of the happenings will be given different colourations. When you are operating in that kind of environment you need strategic partners.

We also believe that only government approach is not enough; we need to use societal approach.

And in the society, the media is a very important part of that society. For obvious reasons, the media shape the public opinion and when you are operating in a volatile environment like ours, there are so many factors that shape the operations.

As one prominent American said, “the US lost the war in Afghanistan not to the Talibans but to Al-Jazeera.” The environment is very complex and the media play a very key role in shaping up public opinion. We know that no matter how we conduct operation, the public has to and want to know. They will want to know where they are putting their money.

The enemies of the State also understand the important roles that the media play. So, they also take advantage of the media to pass spurious information deliberately misinforming the public to malign security agencies with a view to perpetrating their heinous activities.

We are in the era of facts and alternative facts. Our primary domain is the ship. The ship is very compact. Anything that happens in one compartment spreads to others. That’s why the motto of the Navy is “Onward Together”. So, the hygiene on the naval ship must be top-notch because the environment is very compact. The first thing we emphasize on is good hygiene.

How would you describe the operating environment?

It is quite interesting. It’s volatile, it’s uncertain, it’s complex, and it’s ambiguous. All the four elements are combined. The people are not hostile; by experience. They are peace loving. But the enemies of the state that are trying to pilfer our commonwealth are very hostile. So it’s quite interesting because I like challenges too.

But do you have a very good relationship with the community?

Very well. Just on Friday, we were with one of the obas for a courtesy call. We met him, his family and the council of chiefs. It will interest you to know that all the Corps members in Igbokoda come to my facility for their health needs. We provide them with water. We provide them with light 3/4 times in a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) for six hours a day.  My mess is open to them. They use our field for their activities. Some parts of the community, we give them light, even the family health care centre.

So because of that there are a lot of factors and it is necessary that in an environment of this nature, we need the cooperation of everybody. We need to have same mind with the local community, and that is a way to get information. We try as much as possible to maintain very cordial relationship with the local community.

What has been your experience on the issue of oil theft?

 I will speak not from a very broad perspective. That our oil is lost to oil thieves is a known fact. The GMD of NNPC has complained on such an issue. Part of our duties as the Navy is to secure maritime assets, which we are doing.

 Recall that on December 6 precisely, the Nigerian Navy arrested a very big vessel by the name MT VINNALARIS 1 LAGOS, siphoning crude oil from one of the well heads at EBESAN oil field about seven nautical miles off the coast of Awoye riverine community in Ilaje Local Government Area. The vessel was caught red handed siphoning oil. By the time of the arrest, they had already siphoned 500 metric tonnes.

A metric tonne is about one thousand litres. If you do the calculation and with the current oil price, you will know the worth of what that single arrest had saved the nation from losing.

 After the arrest, 17 suspects were arrested and they and the vessel are now in Lagos. As I speak to you, a high profile investigation is being conducted and that has sent a lot of fears into the spines of other criminals.

 Before the arrest, Conoil was barely producing 800 barrels in a day and since after that arrest, the manager called and said their production has increased to 2,000 barrels per day. This is to tell you that the issue of oil theft is real.

 What are the other arrests?

 There are several other arrests. For instance, there is this Cotonou boat that is very large. One Cotonou boat can load as much as a tanker can load. We arrested two of those boats. Before then, we have also made several arrests: illegally refined petroleum products. We have done so much of that.

 The last time, about 15,000 litres were seized between October and today.

 Because of all these we are doing, we are hitting the criminals hard. So, they are looking for alternative ways: to misinform the general public and malign the image of the Navy.

There have been serious, spurious, sponsored publications against the Chief of Naval Staff. This also informed my coming here today, to thank your organisation in rightly informing the public. Your organization has shown that there are still some decent media organisations out there. Also, there are others practicing journalism for what they will gain but yours is in the interest of the nation.

We have seen several media outlets publishing without facts. So, that’s why I am here to thank you for all that you have been doing and to seek better and stronger collaboration with your organization in rightly sensitising the public.

Let me use the last arrest as an example. After the arrest, one of the private security agencies went to the media and released a publication that they arrested a vessel and the Nigerian Navy stopped them from handling the vessel.

Throughout the publication, the agency couldn’t even tell the public the name of the vessel, what she carried, number of suspects, their nationalities and other information about the vessel but we provided all the information.

We are happy that we have facts that are overwhelming and some of those elements are not happy. They have been sponsoring several spurious publications.

Our intelligence has told us that we may see more of those publications. We remain resolute and we are prepared for it and we will continue to discharge our duties. That’s why we seek collaboration with you to work smoothly.

In this age, you cannot win any battle without the media. 

Is there any crisis between the Navy and  these private security agencies?

We have addressed that severally. We came up with several press releases and the last press release from the Director of Naval Information said that ordinarily, the Navy wouldn’t have bothered responding to those spurious allegations.

The Nigerian Navy is a very responsible and professional organization and we wouldn’t waste our time.

 The Nigerian Navy came to being by the virtue of the enactment of the National Assembly as far back as 1956 and it is still here today and it will outlive every one of us.

 We have a very good relationship with every one of them but one. For whatever reason, that particular one we don’t know their motive but time will tell.

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