The Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor’s recent public defence of the burning of a vessel, MT Deino, suspected of being loaded with about 650 cubic metres of stolen crude oil is extremely puzzling.
MT Deino, an 87-metre long vessel with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) number 7210526, and her eight-member crew was intercepted in the creeks of Escravos, Delta State, by personnel of Tantita Security Service Nigeria Limited, the pipeline surveillance company enlisted by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, to help curb crude oil theft in the region.
However, no sooner than Nigerians were applauding the renewed vigour in the fight against the alarming level of economic sabotage, personnel of the Nigerian Navy acting on ‘superior orders’ burnt the vessel and its illegal cargo.
Curiously, General Irabor rose in defence of this brazen impunity stating thus “it was the instrument of operation that was set ablaze”. He then went ahead to wave off any investigation, declaring: “What investigation do you need that you find somebody who decided to deplore several pumping machines and has several hoses that are deployed to a dug out pit where crude oil is stored over a period.”
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) considers this defence of official impunity by General Irabor as unconvincing and defective. The reference to ambiguous and spurious “rules of engagement” is an untenable and unacceptable defence of the destruction of potential criminal exhibits and an illegal conflation of the roles of accuser and judge. It is worth emphasising that General Irabor has not made reference to any known law of the land which confers on the military the power to destroy vessels arrested for oil theft arbitrarily.
In clear terms, Section 111 of the Armed Forces Act states: “A person subject to service law under this Act who wilfully or maliciously sets fire-
(a) to a public building, dwelling house, an office or any structure whatsoever, movable or immovable, whether completed or not, occupied or not; or
(b) to any vessel, ship, aircraft, railway track or wagon, or vehicle or thing; or
(c) to a mine or working, fitting or an appliance of a mine, is guilty of arson and liable, on conviction by a court-martial, to imprisonment for life.”
Invariably, this provision shows how grievous the law considers the act being defended by General Irabor. Not only that, the vessel was burnt along with the crude which has released poisonous content thereby endangering the Niger Delta environment. The law is clear and the hasty destruction of MT Deino and its cargo raises more questions than it provides answers, and has fuelled widespread fears of official collusion with the criminals engaged in oil theft in Nigeria. Already, there is reasonable suspicion that concealment of evidence, rather than interdiction of crime, was the primary motive of this particularly rapid destruction of MT Deino.
It is very sad that while the people of the Niger Delta are struggling to cope with the damage done to the ecosystem of the region, the Nigerian Navy would further degrade the environment by burning this large quantity of crude oil which also robs the country of the revenue from the 650 cubic metres of crude oil. A glimpse into the distressing effect of oil contamination in the Niger Delta region can be found in the former Archbishop of York, John Sentamu-led Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission interim report released in 2019. Excerpts of the report published in Nigeria and international media states, “oil contamination has tainted the farmland people grow their food on, the water they drink and the fish, and even the air they breathe. The health implications have been complex and often devastating”.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) therefore demand that President Muhammad Buhari revisit the issue of the burnt vessel by removing General Irabor as CDS. His defence of illegality perpetrated by officers under him portrays him as someone who can no longer be trusted in the war against oil theft being waged by the Federal Government. His removal from office would ensure a probe panel to be set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the actual burning of the vessel works unhindered to identify all the officers who were involved in the act for prosecution. We also seek full public disclosure of investigations into the identity of the owners of the vessel and immediate prosecution of the Captain and the crew of MT Deino to demonstrate the seriousness the Federal Government attached to the fight against crude oil theft.
To forestall a recurrence of this ugly situation where stolen crude would be burnt with seized vessels, we support the recommendation made by environmental activists for the construction of a tank farm where seized stolen crude oil from vessels and illegal oil refineries could be kept and sold with the approval of the Court. This would save the environment and also ensure additional revenue for the government.
This case presents another opportunity for the Federal Government to show the seriousness required to fight oil theft that has kept Nigeria’s economy in a bad shape. Nigerians would not accept anything less.