News / Africa

    Pipeline Blasts Raise Tension in Nigeria’s Oil-Rich Delta

    FILE - Attack on oil pipeline in Andoni, Rivers State, Nigeria, December 2005.
    FILE - Attack on oil pipeline in Andoni, Rivers State, Nigeria, December 2005.

    The attack last week on a major pipeline in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region is raising fears that a long-dormant insurgency could reignite and put the country’s oil industry in its crosshairs.

    There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, but it came days after a court in Lagos ordered the arrest of former insurgent leader Government Ekpemupolo, better known as Tompolo.

    Tompolo was once a major player among the insurgents who demanded that ordinary Nigerians get a greater share of the wealth in the oil-producing region. The rebellion was more or less quelled in 2009 when the government started an amnesty program that paid off the militants and offered them training programs in exchange for peace.

    Tompolo and nine others have been charged with money laundering and conspiracy related to a public-private partnership with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, according to Nigeria's anti-corruption agency.

    The announcement of the charges against Tompolo comes amid a wave of arrests and indictments of politicians and businessmen on corruption-related charges.

    Former military ruler Muhamadu Buhari was elected president last year on promises to reduce corruption. Graft is widely seen as one of the reasons that two-thirds of Nigeria's 177 million people live in poverty.

    Pipeline Feeds Refineries

    The attack in the Niger Delta targeted a gas pipeline that feeds into the critical Escravos Lagos Pipeline System. A crude oil pipeline was also damaged in the attack, forcing the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation to shut down two refineries.

    The attack jeopardizes another priority of the Buhari administration: getting the people of Africa’s largest producer of crude oil to start filling up their gas tanks with locally refined gasoline and diesel.

    While Nigeria has four refineries, the country mainly relies on imports of refined products to keep gas stations stocked.

    Since taking office, the Buhari administration has announced progress at getting the refineries running properly. But Dolapo Oni, head of energy research for Ecobank, says the importation of refined products won’t stop if the pipelines aren’t protected.

    “We haven’t resolved a major issue with the refinery segment in Nigeria which is … protecting the network of pipelines that supply them crude oil,” Oni said.

    The attack comes at a bad time for Nigeria’s economy. The government is heavily dependent on crude oil for its revenues, but the price for a barrel of oil has dipped below $30.

    A return to conflict in the Niger Delta could harm Nigeria’s economy further. The insurgency reduced Nigeria's oil production significantly.

    In the Niger Delta town of Ughelli, journalist Atuyebe Oyebe says the new government has no choice but to go forward with its prosecution of Tompolo.

    “If the government does not take Tompolo in time, Tompolo will become the law. And when a man is the law, the state is in trouble,” he said.

    Hilary Uguru contributed reporting from Ughelli, Nigeria.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Roger Needow from: Canada
    February 01, 2016 7:24 AM
    I am in Canada so the media does not cover much of the news from Nigeria. But please give me some idea where you get the stats: 20,000 killed by Boko Haram and 2,000,000 displaced. Also please explain more fully how the current president sowed the seeds of violence? I understand that this current president is offering B.H. amnesty is that true?

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    January 23, 2016 8:26 AM
    If the federal government of Major General Muhammadu Buhari thinks that Nigerians don’t understand the language it speaks in sidelining the Niger-Delta/South-south/Southeast regions; if the government thinks it’s dexterous with its maneuvering and words, if it thinks it can get away with all the shortchanging of the southern regions in preference for the north/west, it has another think coming. When president Buhari left someone who stole $2.1billion and treated him with levity while handcuffing the one who received only $2million because he came from the south (not saying guiltless though); when Buhari let his brother off the hook because he returned N200million stolen money and denied IPOB leader bail because he’s Ibo with British passport, when Buhari thinks/promises amnesty to boko-haram that’s killed over 20,000 and displaced over 2000,000 while sending his mad dogs after the Biafra agitators peacefully agitating for self-rule being subjugated in Nigeria, what does he expect? Violence! Buhari, a violent ruler must reap abundant ungovernable violence: Buhari made Nigeria ungovernable until he became the president. He sowed the violence that’ll not depart his government until he quits. Buhari can’t sideline the south from government and want its oil in Kaduna, that’s where the pipelines became vulnerable.

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