Friday, October 30, 2009

Blood Oil

This story is about the Nigerian Delta region and the oil production there. It is tells of people who are stealing crude oil from an illegally installed tap in the oil pipe lines and selling it to the smuggling tankers. For their stolen oil the thieves are paid in guns, drugs, or just cash.

This is becoming a major problem in Nigeria because tens of thousands of barrels of illegal crude oil will disappear into legitimate European and American markets. Nigeria’s president Umaru Yar’Adua calls this “blood oil,” like the “blood diamonds” from Liberia and Sierra Leone. He is asking for outside help to curb the theft of oil and to police the Delta region. But the problem is not the “militants in boats” but corrupt government officials who are dubbed as “godfathers.” A source that did not want to be identified said, “If the president goes after them, they could destabilise the country, cause a coup, a civil war. They are that powerful, they could bring the state down. This is an industry that makes £30m ($60m) a day, they'd kill you, me, anyone, in order to protect it.”

To protect their “business” the illegal traders need “security”- “a gangs of armed heavies.” There are always unemployed youth loitering around that will do anything they are asked for a bit of money. These gangs are usually led by a “commander” and every commander is always in war with the other gang commanders. These gangs are used for a variety of services, ranging from bribing, threatening, and “hot-taping.” Hot-taping is when the oil pipeline is blown up causing the oil company to temporarily shut it down for repairs. During this time an illegal tap is installed. “These militants don't see the process of oil theft as stealing, observers say. They believe they are taking what is legitimately theirs from the companies and the government.”

Gang assisted theft of oil is not the only way to steal it. Because of the heavy military presence in the Delta region, the “oil bunkerers” have been forced to find other ways to steal. “With the connivance of officials from international oil companies, national oil parastatal officials and ships' captains, oil can be stolen through the legitimate process of lifting oil from the dock to the ship.” The International Maritime Organization reported that last year 80,000 barrels were stolen every day. It is hard to be completely sure how much oil is taken out though. Ownership of the shipment can be changed while still in route and documents can be forged, all of this making it difficult to track this oil.

There are several ways this problem can be addressed. An electronic invoice can be used that will track the amount of oil that is being loaded on each ship and reveal any file that have been tampered with. Also with the modern technology oil can be fingerprinted and a file on Nigerian crude oil can be made. This way it can be tracked. And yet another solution is to increase the military presence in the Delta region. But the local activists are already complaining that there is too much military presence in Delta already. “And the Nigerian military is part of that violence, observers say. Soldiers have indiscriminately burned whole towns and killed civilians, according to activists.”

It is sad when such a rich country like Nigeria is robbed by its own people. Oil that can be sold by the government and put into the pockets of regular citizens is smuggled out of the country for the profit of a few corrupt officials. Almost every day I hear on the news stories of violence and militant clashes in the Delta region. International organizations cannot help Nigeria until it “cleans out its own house!”


  1. Very interesting article, you hear of things like this going on but you don't get the full picture. Wow, kinda scary, good article and very well writen. I think there should be some way of getting some help there and controlling what they are doing, it is wrong and should be stopped. Sad that it would take so much to do this.

  2. I find your stories so very interesting. This one is definitely scary though. I would think this would make a good movie. (or maybe your life would make a good book?)

  3. There is a book called “Cross Country” by James Patterson. It is about an American detective Alex Cross who follows a Nigerian assassin all the way to Nigeria. It is interesting but is not for tender hearted!