Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country desperately needs the money an oil boom could bring. Some 40% of its people live on less than the equivalent of $1.90 a day. The woeful economy has contributed to the violence that afflicts much of the country. In the first half of this year, nearly 6,000 people were killed by jihadists, kidnappers, bandits or the army.
One of the reasons Nigeria’s public finances benefit so little from high oil prices is that production itself has slumped to 1.1m barrels per day, the lowest in decades. Output has been dipping since 2005. Output is falling partly because the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is so short of cash…And a lot of the oil it pumps never makes it into official exports because it is stolen. Watchdogs reckon that 5-20% of Nigeria’s oil is stolen…The spate of vandalism at one point prompted the NNPC to shut down its entire network of pipelines, he said.
One way to steal is to understate how much oil has been loaded in legitimate shipments. Another is to break into pipelines and siphon oil off, then cook it up in bush refineries before selling it. Five years ago the Stakeholder Democracy Network, a watchdog in the Niger Delta, carried out a survey that found more than a hundred such refineries in just two of Nigeria’s nine oil-producing states. Lacking other ways to make a good living, hundreds of thousands of young people are involved in illegal refining, says Ledum Mitee, a local leader from Ogoniland, a region in the Delta.
Plenty of stolen crude goes straight into the international market. Small boats glide along the Delta’s canals, filling up from illegally tapped pipelines. They deliver it to offshore tankers or floating oil platforms. Sometimes the stolen crude is mixed with the legal variety, then sold to unknowing buyers. Much of it, however, is bought by traders who pretend not to know it is stolen, or simply do not care if it is or not. “
Tapping into the pipes for large volumes, heated to keep the crude flowing, requires real expertise. It also requires complicity from some of the officials running the pipelines and from the security forces supposedly guarding them…The NNPC itself is “the north star in Nigeria’s kleptocratic constellation”, says Matthew Page of Chatham House, a think-tank in London.
Excepts from How oil-rich Nigeria failed to profit from an oil boom, Economist, Sept. 17, 2022