OIL theft dates back to the 1970’s when Nigeria had the first oil boom. With the return to democratic governance in 1999, many big time oil thieves became political leaders and many political leaders became oil thieves. They formed cult groups in the oil producing areas from which they linked their contacts in government and the security agencies.
The younger ones became political thugs, who after elections turned to oil thievery to arm themselves for next election. Many of these armed youths embraced the militancy that shook the foundations of the nation’s economy. The armed confrontations between the security forces and the militants ended on 4 October 2009 when the regime of the late Umaru Yar’Adua offered the militants, estimated at 26,000, amnesty in exchange for their unconditional surrender of their arms and return to the confines of the law.
Since that deal went through, the shooting in the Niger Delta has quietened down. The upsurge in oil thievery and the proliferation of illegal refineries in the creeks of the Niger Delta have been dramatic.
Shell estimates that over 150,000 barrels of crude oil are lost to oil thieves daily. The Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has a higher estimate of about one-fifth of the nation’s daily oil revenue being lost to oil thieves. It would translate to about 500,000 barrels, or $50 million or N8 billion daily and N2.92 trillion annually, more than half of the 2012 budget.
The post-amnesty deal did not give adequate attention to crucial aspects of “cleaning up after the party”. What other agreements did Nigeria extract from the militants, beyond the cessation of hostilities? Since they depended on illegal bunkering to procure the arms and logistics while they fought the state, what steps were taken to remove them from this lucrative activity?
Oil thieves and their illegal refineries are partly responsible for the rampant oil spills in the creeks, which worsen the environmental challenges, which many of the militants listed as one of their major reasons for embracing the armed struggle. Where is the crackdown on these economic saboteurs the President promised? What steps have been taken to arrest the problem posed by corrupt security officials who see their posting to the region as an opportunity to strike it rich?
The oil companies are also accused of involvement in the stealing, which is a highly technical operation, executed with technologies that are not readily available to everyone. Beyond economic sabotage, Nigeria’s territorial integrity stands the risk of being unsettled with money and arms these thieves are accumulating. If oil theft is unchecked, Nigeria is setting itself up for more trouble in the Niger Delta!