News / Africa

In Niger Delta, Black-Market Oil Booms

Nigerian security forces say they have burned more than 900 illegal refineries to the ground in the past five months, but oil companies continue to complain that theft is crippling their profits.
Nigerian security forces say they have burned more than 900 illegal refineries to the ground in the past five months, but oil companies continue to complain that theft is crippling their profits.
Heather Murdock
Part 2 of a 3-part series

WARRI, Nigeria – Over the past five months, Nigerian security services have torched more than 900 illegal oil refineries in the country's coastal areas, but locals say business hasn't stopped.

While oil companies and the government complain they are losing more than $1 billion a month in proceeds from stolen oil, workers at the illegal refineries say the oil belongs to all Nigerians and that, for many, it is the only way to make a living.

It started years ago when a Niger Delta palm-wine maker figured out how to apply his techniques to a more profitable enterprise: refining small amounts of Nigeria’s vast stores of crude oil in barrels over wood fires.

Obtaining stolen oil with the help of his local "boys" - former Niger Delta militants who gave up their weapons and returned home on the promise of jobs which never materialized - over the years his secret was shared with friends.

Although militants have ceased fighting in Niger Delta waterways over the past two years, the underground market for stolen oil has boomed. Illegal bunkering - oil theft and its illicit refinement, sale and distribution - has turned some rivers and creeks into virtual black-market oil and fuel highways.

A dirty job

In Niger Delta cities like Warri fuel is sold in jerry cans from illegal refineires and often resold several times before it is used. (VOA/H. Murdock)In Niger Delta cities like Warri fuel is sold in jerry cans from illegal refineires and often resold several times before it is used. (VOA/H. Murdock)
x
In Niger Delta cities like Warri fuel is sold in jerry cans from illegal refineires and often resold several times before it is used. (VOA/H. Murdock)
In Niger Delta cities like Warri fuel is sold in jerry cans from illegal refineires and often resold several times before it is used. (VOA/H. Murdock)
Along one river in the Niger Delta, small streams of smoke rise from burned-out artisanal refineries. Women and children paddle dugout canoes packed with jerry cans of fuel to sell in the markets, and teenage boys guide large corroding wooden boats - presumably laden with stolen crude - toward the refineries.
 
One man operating a small refinery on the riverside gets upset when asked where the oil comes from. If the government provided jobs, he says, men like himself wouldn't be in the oil trade at all.
 
"We just call it offense, [but] there is no offense. If the federal government put companies here, you [would] not see anybody do this job," he says. "It’s a dirty job anyway."

Everyone in the community, he says, gets a cut of the profits, and most people have no other options. Even local law enforcement is in on the game, he explains, taking their cut and looking the other way.

'Operation Pulo Shield'

Lieutenant Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, spokesperson for Nigeria’s Joint Task Force, or JTF, in the Niger Delta, says only people who want security forces such as JTF to fail are willing to accuse task force agents of profiting from the industry.

"I believe that those that making such insinuations are detractors of the JTF," he says. "There are those that are outraged by the exploits and successes of our operations, and when we deal a blow to those illicit activities they react."

In January, the JTF shifted its focus from fighting militants to protecting oil, he says. With peace largely restored, the JTF even renamed its mission, calling it "Operation Pulo Shield" ("pulo" means "oil" in the local Ijaw language).

“The new focus is to combat illegal bunkering, illegal refineries, pipeline vandalism and other sundry crimes bedeviling Nigeria’s oil and gas sectors," he says.

National economic impact

According to Indutimi Komonibo, special advisor on oil and gas to the governor of Bayelsa State, in a country where most national budget revenues and nearly all foreign currency come from oil exports, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“The nation is losing a lot of crude to oil theft perhaps because of negligence, or perhaps [because] our youths don’t have anything to do, or perhaps the oil companies also need to be blamed," he says.

The Niger Delta is also reeling from oil spills. In fishing communities, residents say business has flatlined, their children are sick and there is no help in sight.
 
Oil companies and the Nigerian government, however, say illegal bunkering and refineries are responsible for more than half of the spills, complicating efforts to hold the companies responsible for cleanups.
 
Along one oily riverbank, a local man in tall rubber boots says his family has never received help cleaning up oil that soaks the leaves and kills the fish. He doesn't look for help, he explains, because his refinery is illegal.

Like others in the Niger Delta, he says denying Nigerians access to their resources is an injustice.

“They should make these local refineries to be legal, because they’re the life of these people," he said. "You know people who are involved with these things? In the whole Niger Delta? I can say half of it is involved.”

When asked where he gets his crude oil, he just laughs.

“It’s something we find in our soil,” he says.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs