News / Africa

Oil Theft Dilemma Stymies Nigeria's Niger Delta

FILE - A man working at an illegal oil refinery site pours oil under a locally made burner to keep the fire going, near river Nun in Nigeria's oil state of Bayelsa.
FILE - A man working at an illegal oil refinery site pours oil under a locally made burner to keep the fire going, near river Nun in Nigeria's oil state of Bayelsa.
Heather Murdock
Officials in Nigeria's Niger Delta region have burned down hundreds of private oil refineries in recent months on the grounds they are illegal. Some activists are calling for legalization of these refineries, which currently sell black market fuel. Critics say legitimizing theft will only compound Nigeria's problems with chronic fuel shortages and general impunity.
 
There's a long-standing dilemma in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region. The people are desperately poor and blame the oil companies for polluting their land and fishing waters. As a result, many folks steal oil from pipelines and refine it in barrels along the creeks. That, in turn, further pollutes the environment.
 
The government is caught in the middle, unable or unwilling to completely stop the black market oil trade, but burning down illegal refineries by the hundreds. When the fires die, the refineries are re-built.

Edward Oforomeh, a lawyer and former police superintendent, said, "We have been reading every day, every day that they have been destroying the refinery, destroying the refinery. And they come back. If they come back after destruction, what do you infer from that?"

'Vibrant' black market
 
He said the only way to end this cycle is to legalize and regulate what is now a vibrant black market oil business.
 
"Is this not a vicious cycle? We are just going around the periphery of the whole issue," said Oforomeh. "Solve it by legalizing them, licensing them so they would be able to contribute to the coffers of the government."

He said if the practice were legal, small-time refiners would purchase crude oil from the government refineries, which only refine half of the oil they are allotted.  
 
Activists say they have asked the government to set up a legal framework for small-time refiners, but have gotten no response.

Significant losses

Some observers say that the problem with this plan is that people will not buy crude oil when they can tap into the pipes for free. The Nigerian government says it loses as much as $1 billion a month to oil theft.
 
Wole Olaoye, a columnist for Nigerian newspaper The Daily Trust, said, "Stealing is wrong. These guys breach the pipes, steal the products and refine the goods locally. There is no environmental impact assessment done. Nothing done. They just cause untold pollution.  They steal the resources of the state."

He said any move to regularize the black market oil trade would contribute to another larger problem Nigeria faces: impunity. Analysts and officials across the country complain that many crimes in Nigeria go unpunished, fueling insurgency in the north and instability in the Niger Delta.
 
But in Warri, a Niger Delta oil city, locals say the real thieves are the oil companies, scooping up resources and leaving behind spills. And what fuels instability is simply that amid all this, there's often not enough fuel to run cars or electricity to keep the lights on.
 
Shortages amid abundance

A generator keeps the lights on at a hair salon in Warri. Hairstylist Samuel Okoro said local businesses need to buy black market fuel to run generators because there's often not enough at the gas stations and there's only a few hours of government electricity a day.  
 
"We have fuel in this country, but we cannot see the fuel to buy. We have crude oil in this country, but we don't have it to buy," explained Okoro. "What our concern is that as far as we can have the quality oil to buy.  Whether it's from legalizing the so-called illegal refineries or for the government building more refineries."

At the end of February and for the first few weeks of March, many gas stations across Nigeria were closed because they had no products. The few that were open had lines where drivers sat for up to eight hours to wait for fuel at a regulated price. Other stations that had fuel upped the price as much as 50 percent.

Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
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 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 Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
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 Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
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 Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
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.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs