Where does the stolen oil go? Some goes into hidden, illegal, “home-made” oil refineries in the Delta, which produce diesel for local consumption. Some goes overseas. One source told the BBC that “about 10% of the snatched oil was being refined locally by gangs operating in the delta’s creeks and swamps. The rest is mainly going to criminal networks in Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria, or to Singapore, which is the world’s top refiner.” Some oil also leaks into local waters, adding to the environmental devastation in the Delta.
Where do the profits from illegal oil sales go? The criminal networks involved in oil theft are reportedly quite sophisticated, and allegedly include government officials.
In one indication of how institutionalized such networks are becoming, some of the profits also reportedly go back into local communities:
Another critical development that is said to be frustrating efforts to rid the Niger Delta of criminal oil thieves is the tactical support of communities along the waterways where these illegal operations are being carried out. According to sources, these oil thieves now engaged in community development projects.
“It will interest you to know that these oil thieves now build roads, hospitals and engage in other activities in communities where they carry out their illegal operations.
“So, members of the communities don’t even cooperate with officials of government, as they see these criminals as their benefactors,” a source explained.
The thieves are becoming politicians, or even state-builders, if you like. If true, these reports of community development projects point to the existence of several vacuums in the Delta – a security vacuum, a political vacuum, and a development vacuum. While violence has decreased in the Delta since the government-sponsored amnesty program for militants began in 2009, the extent of the criminality – and the political dimensions it seems to be taking on – shows the extent of the challenges that remain for the state to confront in this region. A naval force is reportedly being deployed to pursue thieves, but military force alone seems insufficient for addressing the interlocking problems that allow criminality to flourish.