Niger Delta, Global Focal Point for Oil Crime, Says EU-funded Report

146 views | Akanimo Sampson | January 18, 2021

European Union (EU) funded project, Organised Oil Crime in Nigeria: The Delta paradox – organised criminals or community saviours?, published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says the Niger Delta is a global focal point for oil crime.

The report is jointly written by Robin Cartwright, a Senior Fellow at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime (GI_TOC) and former Executive Director in UK Government Investments advising on governance as well as Nicholas Atampugre, an independent consultant based in Accra with 30 years’ international development experience.

Atampugre who began his career in 1991 with UK-based international development organisations and joined the UK Department for International Development (DfID) from 1997 to 2003, working out of Nigeria, has extensive knowledge of Nigeria and the Niger Delta region.

According to the authors, an entire unregulated industry of illegal extraction, trading, refining and transportation exists, principally in three states: Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa, pointing out, ‘’the Delta oil crime situation did get significant attention in the immediate wake of the 2009 amnesty, but this has waned.

‘’That year saw the end of a second major round of conflict with militias, and the consequent Presidential Amnesty Programme was viewed as bringing relative calm to the Delta. Yet oil crime has continued and increased, and remains the focus of research for some dedicated non-profits.

‘’However, other West African security issues such as the Islamist threat garner more research attention internationally, and there is a current research gap regarding the impact and effects of illegal bunkering, refining and related oil crime.’’

They said with the report, their intention is to widen the lens on oil crime; to look not only at the economic cost but also at the environmental and social impact of the escalating activity.

‘’The aim of the study is therefore to examine the civil society perspective on the social, environmental and economic impacts of oil crime. The broader objectives of this are to: Re-frame the debate about the harm of oil crime from the perspectives of Niger Deltans; reconsider the current state, federal and international responses to the crime in light of this societal impact; promote and discuss solutions to the challenges of addressing the crime, which take into account the wider oil industry and the social needs of Niger Deltans; and re-engage the international community on the plight of the Niger Delta, and encourage its engagement in finding solutions.

‘’We conducted a qualitative social, economic and environmental critical review of the impact of the illegal oil trade, focusing on illegal bunkering and artisanal refining. We also reviewed current academic and nongovernmental organisation literature.

‘’This relied heavily on the extensive work by Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) and the quasi-governmental transparency body, Nigeria Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) on the bunkering and artisanal refining phenomenon.

‘’Arguably, the Niger Delta experiences non-renewable resource crime at the biggest scale globally by volume: up to 20% of its oil output is systematically stolen, sold and illegally refined or diverted. Yet 11 years after the presidential amnesty for Delta militants, this colossal drag on a beleaguered environment and economy gets relatively little international attention, and a predominately ineffective response from the state.

‘’Far from the ‘dark overlords’ of many organised crime types, oil theft and illegal refining is everyday business for Niger Deltan men, women and children. They are so poorly served in terms of employment opportunities, the environment and energy that they see this industrialscale activity as ‘natural justice’ to counterbalance years of exploitation by national and international oil companies.

‘’In a country that needs considerable political will, resources and institutional strength to have any chance of attaining the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, oil theft diverts finances, perpetuates corruption and undermines fragile democratic gains.’’

Key findings

• Industrial-scale oil crime has been taking place in the Niger Delta for at least 20 years; there is evidence that illegal bunkering and artisanal refining continue to grow across most of the Delta.

• This growth has led to huge direct losses of $41.9 billion over 10 years, plus significant environmental damage, with spill levels 20 times that of onshore US oil. Delta citizens have experienced significantly depleted crops and fish stocks, as well as health risks.

• While the state security apparatus continues to condemn all forms of bunkering and illegal refining, citizens rely on the employment and energy provided by the socially embedded informal energy industry.

• Federal and state responses have been largely ineffective in limiting the extent of the crime, or alleviating the social and energy poverty characteristics of Niger Delta communities, while Bayelsa State has made some progress with an innovative industry security model.

• An alternative approach is needed to harness political and economic resources in Nigeria and, internationally, to create ‘cellular refining’ economic alternatives, to reinvigorate anti-corruption measures and to establish an international environmental reparation fund.

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