David Adekunle, Lagos

Economic sabotage is the practice of deliberate actions to undermine the economy of a country. It involves conscious efforts by individuals or groups aimed at weakening or disrupting government’s policy or goal.

One who engages in sabotage is a saboteur. Saboteurs, who may be in or out of government, typically try to conceal their identities because of the consequences of their actions.

Economic sabotage may be targeted at economic installations by dissidents in order to bring down a government or to put pressure on government.

The Nigerian Government defines economic sabotage as an act of ‘destroying the nation’s economy through stealing, diversion and withholding of public funds and revenues’.

The Nigerian economy has been sabotaged substantially.  President Muhammadu Buhari told participants in the just concluded Anti-Corruption Summit in London that Nigeria loses seven billion dollars annually to crude oil theft.

This is done through illegal bunkering, often in connivance with security operatives. Experts have described Nigeria as the only country where such a colossal sum of money is lost to crude oil theft.

Today, while the nation’s oil refineries are in bad shape hundreds of illegal refineries are mushrooming across the creeks of the Niger Delta region producing petroleum products from stolen crude oil. Proceeds from these illegal activities have been going into private pockets.

Also, vandalism of oil pipelines has been on the increase despite Government’s efforts over the years to stop it.

Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, recently said Nigeria’s crude oil production had declined from two point two million barrels per day to one point four million barrels per day due to pipeline vandalism.

This, he said, translated to a loss of eight hundred thousand barrels of oil by the country daily.

The impact of pipeline vandalism on electricity supply in Nigeria is distressing. The immediate impact of the sabotage on the gas facility is the disruption in the sale and supply of gas to operators of electricity generation facilities and a cut in electricity supply from the affected power plants.

This is one of the major causes of low electricity generating and distribution capacity in the country.

Successive Nigerian Governments have adopted different approaches in tackling economic sabotage in the form of attacks on pipeline installations.

Late President Umaru Yar’Adua offered amnesty to repentant militants in the Niger Delta region who were behind pipeline vandalism.

The ex-militants were rehabilitated and sent for further studies. The menace reduced but was not totally eliminated.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan did not only continue with the amnesty programme, he also awarded contracts for the security of the oil pipelines to ex-militants in the Niger Delta region and the Southwest.

The Buhari-Government also bought into the amnesty programme, but terminated the contracts with the ex militants.

He returned the responsibility for the security of the pipelines to Nigerian security operatives. The President has threatened to come down hard on pipeline vandals with the same aggressiveness he descended on Boko Haram insurgents in Northeast Nigeria.

A lot still needs to be done to improve security with the aim for preventing economic sabotage in Nigeria.

Government should immediately deploy digital surveillance system in combating the attacks on oil facilities as it is done in other climes. Previous Governments have been procrastinating in the deployment of digital technology to pipeline monitoring, citing giving the huge capital requirement as reason.

The digital surveillance technology makes easy detection possible whenever or wherever pipelines are tampered with. The technology reveals exactly where and when the vandals tinker with the pipelines.

Economy watchers have observed that the amount of money lost to pipeline vandalism far outweighs the cost of acquiring and installing the digital technology.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the time to acquire and deploy digital surveillance technology is now, the cost notwithstanding. Any further delay could further aggravate the current economic sabotage.

The Nigerian military and other security agencies must take up the challenge by living up to expectation and ensure that the country’s security is not compromised.

Government must also ensure that its policy of mass employment for the youths comes to fruition. If the youths are gainfully employed, their propensity to engage in economic sabotage would be reduced.