IT is not unusual for Nigeria to be perceived to be unstable, whether because of ongoing issues in the Niger Delta, religious violence or corruption. However, the situation we find ourselves in today should stretch even the most ardent nationalistsâ€™ belief in the countryâ€™s future.
Letâ€™s start at the top. Our President has been virtually incommunicado in a Saudi hospital for over two months now and we have no clarity on when, or if, he will return to resume his duties. Only recently the military revealed that it has ordered travel restrictions put in place for all units across the country due to â€˜rising tension.â€™
The fragile peace in the Niger Delta, following the much lauded amnesty programme last year, is hanging in the balance, with recent attacks on pipelines and a resumption of kidnapping. Former militants who are supposed to receive monthly payments and enter rehabilitation camps are openly threatening to return to violence. At the same time, indications suggest that oil bunkering has actually increased since the amnesty as militant factions are able to focus their full attention on the industry!
The issue of oil bunkering is at the heart of Nigeriaâ€™s many problems and trying to solve the instability in the Niger Delta without confronting the problem is like trying to bribe a billionaire with a thousand dollars. Estimates continue to suggest that upwards of 200,000 barrels of oil a day are stolen from the region by a cartel incorporating high ranking members of federal and state government and members of the armed forces. This issue is central to the future stability and prosperity of Nigeria and it is not being dealt with.
For a year I have been proposing a three-step solution, with a heavy focus on the issue of oil bunkering.
â€¢Track oil produced in and exported from Nigeria in order to identify and prevent illegal shipments.
â€¢Protect production and distribution infrastructure in the Delta from attack through a strong and viable security operation.
â€¢Devote the resources and energy required to ensure real and visible development in the region, removing the moral justification for insurrection.
These steps were designed to create an environment in which the Niger Delta communities no longer felt the need to engage in militant activity, the illegal oil bunkering trade was reduced, or even eliminated and true development could take place.
The revenue secured from reduced bunkering could be used to contribute to the cost of development.
Unfortunately, the Presidentâ€™s absence and the resulting power struggle taking place within the top echelons of our political class means attention is not focusing on this as an issue. A significant oversight when you consider that some of the most influential people involved in the struggle owe their current and future wealth to the oil bunkering industry.
A year ago, the government was keen to express its advocacy for a resolution to the oil bunkering issue, coining the term â€˜blood oilâ€™ at the UN and promoting the need to track and monitor oil exported from Nigeria to better identify stolen product. However, when recently asked to comment on the progress achieved in pursuit of the proclaimed â€˜blood oilâ€™ agenda, the government attacked the international community for failing to put in place the necessary systems to prevent the illegal sale of Nigerian crude on the international market.
British government’s support
We can only accuse others for our own failings for so long. What kind of campaign has the Nigerian government waged to engage the international community with this initiative? Does it even really want to? The British Government seemed keen to provide support at the time, but had done nothing.
Why have the multinational oil companies who have a vested interest in preventing oil theft not been asked to support the initiative and why have they not been pro-active in this regard? The technology already exists and implementation would be straightforward.
Somebody has to take the responsibility and assume the moral leadership to solve this problem, but while the vested interests that control the illegal oil trade continue to hold the upper hand in decision making, money will continue to talk. Where are the drones we paid for and ordered from Israel to help in checking the security of our oil routes, and monitoring the bunkerers?
Cole is Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Brazil