Oil-bearing communities of Abia have called for more collaboration among the stakeholders for a more effective security around the nation’s oil pipelines to check vandalism and oil bunkering.
The call was made by a cross-section of representatives of 20 oil-bearing and pipeline host communities in Ukwa west and Ukwa east council areas of the state during a one-day stakeholders’ meeting organised by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) on Monday in Umuahia.
They attributed the incessant pipeline vandalism to security lapses due to alleged compromise by security operatives and called for more stringent measures to checkmate the phenomenon.
The people alleged an unwholesome collaboration between some unscrupulous security operatives detailed to secure the pipelines and the vandals.
The Traditional Ruler of Okwe in Ukwa West, Samuel Nwachi, urged oil companies and relevant government agencies to integrate leaders of oil-bearing communities in their plans to secure the pipelines in their communities.
Mr Nwachi said that community leaders, including the youths, were always worried about pipeline vandalism and the resultant oil spill and were anxious to be part of the solution.
Also, the traditional ruler of Mbam Abuo Autonomous Community in Ukwa east council area, Israel Nwankwo, said the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Pipelines and Product Marketing Company had yet to demonstrate genuine commitment toward safeguarding the pipelines against vandalism.
Mr Nwankwo, who claimed that pipelines passed his community in Ndoki, described vandalism and oil bunkering as a common phenomenon in the area.
He blamed the development on the failure of the oil companies and relevant government agencies to provide adequate and effective security around the pipelines.
According to him, “If the owner of a property fails to take care of his property, it simply shows that the person did not attach value to the property and others will take it.”
Mr Nwankwo, therefore, called for a more effective and efficient security around the pipelines, saying that vandals were taking advantage of security lapses to perpetrate their crime.
He regretted that the crime had persisted, in spite of the efforts of the youths of the area to secure the pipelines.
He said, “We are doing our best but we are not security personnel. Our boys move around in the day but vandalism and oil theft are done at night.”
Other traditional rulers, including Anthony Wabara (Ohambele) and Young Ajuzieogu (Osisioma) as well as the Secretary, Christian Association of Nigeria, Abia chapter, Okechukwu Mgbeahuru, and youth leaders, charged the federal government and oil companies to empower the youths in order to permanently curb the ugly trend.
They opined that engaging the unemployed youths in profitable ventures would help to turn their interest away from all kinds of crime and criminality, including pipeline vandalism and oil bunkering.
They decried the trend where oil-bearing and pipeline host communities were usually bypassed in the security arrangement for pipelines in their area.
They regretted that contracts for the protection of the pipelines were often awarded to “outsiders” without consideration for the natives.
They called on the government to form a special and well-paid security outfit that would include youths of the host communities to effectively secure the pipelines.
The Director-General of NOSDRA, Idris Musa, said the meeting was meant to offer a platform to the communities to make input to the agencies strategic plan in tackling environmental challenges facing the nation.
Mr Musa, who was represented by a Director in the agency, Obanewa Oladipo, said the agency decided to embrace a bottom-top approach as against the primordial top-bottom approach to ensure a better and more efficient result.
He said the agency was committed to expanding the scope of disaster-risk reduction in all the communities in the Niger Delta region through continuous sensitisation of the stakeholders.
“Gone are the days when the agency planned its disaster-risk reduction and remediation programmes without involving the communities,” he said.
The Director, Planning, Policy Analysis and Research, Christisna Okunubi, and South-South Zonal Head of the agency, Cyrus Nkangwung, urged aggrieved communities to always engage the government in dialogues on ways to check vandalism and attract development to their areas.
The Abia Commissioner for Environment, Solomon Ogunji, described the meeting as imperative and commended the agency for involving the communities in finding a lasting solution to the phenomenon.
Mr Ogunji, represented by a Director in the ministry, Ikechukwu Ukaegbu, said the meeting opened a new vista for more synergy between the agency and Abia government on how to curb the environmental challenges facing the host communities.
He warned host communities to shun pipeline vandalism, saying that aside from suffering environmental degradation from spillage, they also lose compensation once vandalism was established as the cause of any spillage.