A report from This Day (via Reuters) leads us into the complex terrain of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Stolen oil, the government says, is depriving the country of needed revenue, but other reports suggest government actors may be complicit in the theft.
Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has expressed concern over the spate of oil theft in the country, saying it would impact negatively on the nation’s revenue profile.
The minister, who spoke with THISDAY in Abuja, said a recent media report that vessels loaded with about 1.2 million barrels of oil were seized from illegal bunkerers was a disturbing signal, and must be tackled headlong.
“Bunkering is an activity we just have to stop. This is one thing we just have to stop. The [Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation] reported that 17 per cent of oil production was lost in April, and this is about one fifth of the revenue,” the minister lamented.
As Reuters (link above) says, “The 2009 amnesty sharply reduced militancy in the Niger Delta…but bunkering has continued.” Analysts (including me) and journalists wonder from time to time whether a resurgence of armed groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is in the cards, but the cumulative effects of bunkering appears to be doing significant damage even if violence remains relatively low.
But who does or enables the bunkering? Nigeria’s Tribune points a finger at the police:
A new dimension to the illegal activities is the involvement of security agencies, which give cover to the criminals, on the payment of certain agreed percentage running into millions of dollars and naira.
The Nigerian Tribune gathered authoritatively that these illegal bunkerers had been given assurances by senior police officers in Abuja that nothing would happen to them even if they were arrested.
It was reliably gathered that the bunkerers, who now resort to breaking pipelines, carry out their illegal activities accompanied by siren-blaring escorts thereby scaring people away and creating the impression that they were government officials on assignment.
An example was a cartel known as Tekeena Oil, that loaded two foreign ships in the Niger Delta last week at the Mobil Oil filed in Eket, Akwa Ibom State.
The illegal vessels, containing about 200,000 metric tonnes of AGO and crude oil, was loaded within 24 hours before they could sail off.
Nigerian Tribune was told exclusively that before the ships could be loaded with the crude, the sum of N50 million was paid to senior police officers to give them protection.
A columnist from the Niger Delta, discussing the region’s broader problems, points a finger at local and state government:
Leaders in the region such as ministers, governors, development agency (NDDC) executives, and local council chairmen [,it is believed,] are simply interested in looting and stealing, to make themselves and their future generations comfortable for ever.
There are cases of LGA chairmen who collect allocations and simply retire into hotel suites and squander the funds till the next allocation. They would have handed-down the share of their godfathers, touts, and hangers-on before swallowing the rest. A governor in one of the Niger Delta states has shown anger against this attitude and caused an assessment to be done by an independent body, which found only five out of 23 to have excelled. So far, two LGA bosses have been overthrown by their people. Now that the EFCC is toothless, the politicians are simply on the rampage.
If one believes such charges, they are a serious condemnation of the way power works in the region. They imply that fixing the bunkering problem – and the region’s other challenges – will require major governmental reforms. If one disbelieves the charges, the fact that they circulate so widely is still significant, as it indicates a pervasive distrust of the government and its claims.