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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs