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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs