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Ann-Kio Briggs big questions: Why is Tinubu emulating OBJ, Buhari who failed as Petroleum ministers?

Why is Niger Delta the darkest region despite their oil and gas? What is JTF still doing in the creeks as oil theft continues? What is truly being stolen from Niger Delta?

Ann-Kio Briggs is a well-known voice on issues of the Niger Delta region. She is the spokesperson of the Ijaw Republican Assembly and a respected advocate for justice, equity and fair play to the people of the oil and gas bearing region of the country. In this interview with DANIEL ABIA, she expresses shock that despite its abundant resources, Niger Delta is the darkest region in Nigeria and wonders why the account of the ministry of petroleum cannot be made public.

OPEC approved about 1.8million barrels of crude oil production per day for member states. Record has it that at the moment, Nigeria can only produce about 1.26million bpd, what in your opinion is responsible for this low production when there is no militancy in the Niger Delta region again?

Definitely, the amount of oil we produce is more than 1.26million barrels per day. It is not that the oil is not there. We have the oil. It has to do with one, capacity and then two, oil theft. Does Nigeria have the capacity between the joint venture, IOCs and the Nigerian government? Does Nigeria have the technical capacity to lift 1.8million barrels of oil per day? We know that Mobil is here lifting oil, Shell is here, Agip is here and Chevron is here lifting oil.

The question is, do they have the capacity to lift more than what they are lifting now? I see no reason these oil companies who are also operating in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and other places are lifting higher amount of oil than what they are lifting here. It brings to the question again, whether Nigeria has the technical capacity to lift more than it is lifting now!

Secondly, there is oil theft going on at the highest scale that it cannot be done in any part of the world. There is no place in this world that they steal oil the way they steal in the Niger Delta. Nigeria does not have the technical capacity to categorically say that it can lift a hundred million barrels of oil per day. It is the total output that make up the 1.26million barrels the country is lifting. They are not even lifting the amount OPEC says they should lift. They are lifting less.

The question then is relevant: do they have the capacity? The oil that is being stolen in Nigeria has to do with the amount we are told that is being stolen. It is what we are told is being stolen that we must accept because we don’t have contrary information. I don’t believe that the amount we are told is the actual amount that is being stolen. Far more barrels of oil are being stolen. Nigeria and the NNPC are not involved in lifting oil. They should show us how many million barrels of oil are being lifted in a day. I don’t believe and I won’t accept that the figure is correct.

What is your expectation of President Tinubu in the ongoing war against oil theft in the Niger Delta?

I am surprised that Nigeria wants a world that is run by technology and a world that will soon be governed by artificial intelligence. In this world, Nigeria is saying that its oil is being stolen without Nigeria knowing what to do to stop the oil theft. For the past two decades or more, we have had a joint task force physically occupying every inch in the creeks of the Niger Delta.

I come from the creeks of the Niger Delta. There is hardly a place you pass in the Niger Delta with boat which is our main means of transportation that you won’t be told to raise your hands up. The JTF is there to stop oil theft. The JTF is there to stop sea piracy and violence within these places they claim they are protecting the properties of the federal government and international oil companies.

I am surprised that Nigeria is talking about oil theft. Which other country in the world that is lifting oil is complaining about oil theft! Oil theft is so embedded in Nigeria so much that if you remove oil theft, you remove corruption. Corruption is in political system and governance system all over the world. But the level of corruption in Nigeria is encouraged by the fact that Nigeria. having taken possession of ownership of crude oil and gas that is in the land of some ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta region, does not know the how the most important resources are being managed.

Without crude oil and gas sale, Nigeria will automatically collapse. But Nigeria cannot tell itself how much it is losing and how much is being stolen. You put JTF in the creeks for over twenty years to stop crude oil theft, yet the theft is still going on, who do you blame? Why is JTF still in the creeks and communities of the Niger Delta?

Was Asari Dokubo right when he said that Nigerian soldiers were involved in the oil theft?

We have been saying this ever since. It is not just Asari saying it. The former governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike did not only say it, he pointed at the people and called their names. It was no longer news when Asari said it in the Villa. That is no issue at all. The point is you have put the Navy, Air-Force, Civil Defense, even to some extent, Customs because it involves borders and all the Arms of the military have been in my creeks and have been there for more than twenty years.

The amount of oil that is being stolen now is far more than the amount of oil that were stolen twenty years ago when they were sent there. The military should answer the question why oil is still being stolen from the Niger Delta despite their presence.

Can Nigeria quantify the precise amount of money it loses through oil theft business over the years?

If you don’t know how many barrels that is being stolen, how will you know what it amounts to in dollars? When I hear how much millions is being stolen, being just a citizen of this country, I will say that the Nigerian government does know how much being stolen. Those who are stealing know how much they are stealing. It is like we are losing 100million barrels of oil a day. If you say what is stolen is 50million barrels a day and you say is a 100million, you have given yourself the space to steal the remaining 50 million barrels. That is what I call the magic of oil theft.

Inflation rate in Nigeria today is 24.08% while unemployment rate is said to have gone down – does this reflect the fact that Nigeria is an oil producing state?

I don’t even accept because it does not make a mathematical sense to me that there is poverty today which is higher than it was yesterday. If employment rate has gone down, why is the poverty rate not going down as well? Right there, there is a lie and confusion.

How can you say the poverty rate is rising and people are being employed? That is not true. The minimum wage today is N30,000 per month. The exchange rate today to a dollar is almost 1000. The living wage of a Nigerian is 32 dollars per month. And crude oil is being sold at $87 per barrel.

A country that is making billions of dollars in a month is paying its citizens 32 dollars while Senators are earning about N30million in a month and are collecting N2million token to go and enjoy holidays. It is therefore not true that unemployment is reducing in this country. It is a lie. If it is a lie, we cannot even discuss it.

What do you make of the oil subsidy removal policy of this government, do you think it was the right decision to take giving the present economic situation?

Coming from the Niger Delta and identifying myself as the owner of crude oil and gas that Nigeria is recklessly spending, not even in the interest of the people or the poor masses that they are deceiving, how on earth are we to believe that there has been subsidy? How many Nigerians are using petrol on a daily basis? How is it that you claim to be subsidizing and you cannot prove that you are subsidizing?  You go into the creeks to bring out something that you are not paying for. 

Nigeria is being paid for the crude oil from the Niger Delta. What exactly is that that you are subsidizing? If you say you are subsidizing, who are you paying the subsidy to? My grandmother or uncle does not have a car in the creeks, at best they use kerosene. Is that the person you are subsidizing? You are subsidizing business men to do business.

You are subsidizing one man to build a refinery and you have four moribund ones. You are subsidizing a business man to own filling stations so that I can drive my car in and buy fuel. I am not seeing the subsidy. We have all agreed that subsidy is a fraud and must go. In 2011 when Jonathan came, he started talking about subsidy. By December, he called a meeting of a broad of people: civil society, oil experts, I was in that meeting, Femi Falana, other civil society leaders were in that meeting in the Villa in 2011 to remove the oil subsidy.

Some said he should remove subsidy, some of us said he should remove the subsidy but that he should tell Nigerians that he was going to remove subsidy in April of 2012. But in January of 2012, Jonathan announced the removal of subsidy. This present president and Buhari were in the forefront to oppose the removal of the subsidy. They subsequently threatened to bring down Jonathan’s government. That was how occupy Nigeria came about. Every day, food and water were being delivered to protesters at peace park in Lagos. It was a planned protest against the removal of subsidy.

By that, the cost of petrol immediately went up to about N87 per liter and the effigies of Jonathan were burnt. They were using the poor people to fight the government so that they can continue to lie that there is subsidy. There is evidence now that people were bringing in empty ships and claiming that there was fuel in it. People were being paid millions of dollars for doing nothing but lies and for cheating ordinary Nigerians with the claim that they were subsidizing fuel.

They made the people to believe that if fuel went up, transport would go up. Those were lies by the people involved in oil and gas trade. They put the price of fuel up to make ordinary man believe that when fuel subsidy is removed, it is the poor man that is suffering. 

I remember what they said at that time that Jonathan was waging war against the poor. We also heard Buhari say there was no subsidy. But when he came in, he suddenly realized that there was subsidy. Why can’t they name the people who are receiving the fuel subsidy and how much that they are being paid. That information is not there. 11 years after Tinubu fought to keep subsidy being paid, he now removes fuel subsidy. Why is he removing fuel subsidy? This question is up to Nigerians to answer. Nigerians must seat down and ask themselves this logical question.  This is not an impossible question.

It has become a norm that every successful President of Nigeria must make himself the Minister of Petroleum, yet oil theft is still in the increase, why?

President Jonathan did not make himself minister of petroleum. Obasanjo did, Buhari did and now Tinubu has made himself the petroleum minister. Not only has Tinubu made himself minister of petroleum, he has further split the ministry into two – minister of state for petroleum and minister of state for gas. The only source that can be stolen from is oil and gas. That is the only place that people steal openly. Gold and other mineral resources are not brought to the table to be shared like oil and gas.

The Chinese are in the northern part of Nigeria mining for all kinds of solid minerals. The reason anybody will find it necessary as a president to become the minister of petroleum is purely because that is the source of income for Nigeria. Ordinary, one will want to assume that if it is in the hands of a President that it is safe. The past years have shown blatantly that it is not safe in their hnds. It was Obasanjo that created the JTF because oil theft was going on.

If you are the President and you have an arm that is not accounting for what is going on there why not act? And we heard that in the past eight years, NNPC was unable to account for what it was supposed to pay to the federal government through sales of petroleum. We are told that a certain section of the ministry of petroleum is not able to account for the petroleum that is being sold and stolen and we have refineries that are not producing. That is stealing. When we have four refineries that we invested in and are not able to produce, that is a form of stealing. Oil theft is stealing and is corruption.

Whether it is Obasanjo, Buhari or Tinubu, I see no reason why at the end of Obasanjo tenure, Nigeria as a country was not able to open the books of the ministry of petroleum and where the amount of income that came into Nigeria against the amount of sales of crude oil that left the country. There is no accountability.

Are you implying that former Presidents, Ministers of petroleum,..(cuts in)

Obasanjo was the minister of petroleum and every other person was under him. I see no reason Obasanjo was not asked to account for what went on in the ministry of petroleum that he was a minister. I see no reason why Buhari should not be asked to account for the money and barrels of oil and gas sold at his time. We keep forgetting that gas is also a resource. Government purposefully is silent on gas. I see no reason why the incoming president who takes over the role of minister of petroleum cannot declare to Nigerians that when I took over as president two months ago, this is the amount of money that is in the account of ministry of petroleum that I took over from Buhari. Why? If you become the president of Nigeria, you are not a god. You are a human being as you were the day before you were sworn in. It should not make you anything more than you are, a human being. It makes you accountable to us. Not we accountable to you. You are accountable to us.

Why can’t governors account to us from the first to the last allocations they receive? If you go to your bank and say you want your account statement over a period of time, they will print it and give to you. So, why can’t presidents do that? Why can’t they declare publicly as a matter of must what they have as they moved into the Villa! This will enable us to compare what you have when you come out so that we know the difference. This is why everybody wants to be president, governor, local government chairman, senator because they go there for themselves and not for the people of Nigeria.

The gas that is supplying electricity to Nigeria is from the Niger Delta, why is Niger Delta the darkest place in the whole of Nigeria! The same question this young man in Bukina Faso was asking. And I joined him in asking the same question.

Why is it that the richest region in Nigeria, which is Niger Delta is the least developed in Nigeria?

There are some regions that have mud houses from one local government area to the other, yet the type of roads they have, we don’t have it in Rivers state. Go and see the East/West road from where they take the loot that they make from here. Go and look at the road that leads from Emohua to Abonnema, yet Kula produces oil and gas. Kula does not have a functional hospital. Anybody that gets sick in Kula must enter boat to get to Abonnema to enter car to go to teaching hospital. But these people whether president, governor, chairman when they are sick, they go to abroad.

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