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

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora