Oil Crime: Probe Nigeria’s Security Forces, Experts Urge Buhari

Authors of Organised Oil Crime in Nigeria: The Delta paradox – organised criminals or community saviours?, a project funded by the European Union (EU) and published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) are demanding for a probe of security forces in the Niger Delta.

Messrs Robin Cartwright and Nicholas Atampugre, wants the Buhari administration, in line with its war against corruption to instigate a renewed investigation into allegations of corruption in state security forces.

Cartwright is a Senior Fellow at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime (GI_TOC) and former Executive Director in UK Government Investments advising on governance

He was a partner for 14 years in the Global Strategy Team of business adviser KPMG LLP, where he developed a capability to measure and counter illicit trade. He began his career in security and intelligence for the UK Ministry of Defence.

Cartwright has researched, written and presented papers on the private sector’s response to organised crime and counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Africa, and is on the technical reference group for GI_TOC’s Organised Crime Index for Africa (2019).

On his part, Nicholas Atampugre, is 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.

He has also worked as a consultant on governance issues, monitoring and evaluation, organisation development and research as well as worked in over 20 countries and published extensively on a wide range of issues, including environment and development, aid effectiveness, civil society, and development. 

According to them, ‘’the Niger Delta oil crime is one of the most significant natural resource crimes in the world: the systematic theft, sale and illegal refining of up to 20% of Nigeria’s oil output.

This is at a time when Nigeria’s dependence on oil continues to leave it prone to oil price shocks, yet unable to meet its own refining shortfall.

‘’The widespread crimes of illegal ‘bunkering’ (theft from pipelines) and ‘artisanal’ refining (illegal, informal refining camps) has grown in scale over the past decade several-fold. ‘’

Their report is drawing on qualitative interviews with Niger Deltan citizens, and subsequently, government and community experts, to examine the impact on civil society – economic, social and environmental – of this phenomenon.

Building on existing coverage of the Nigerian oil industry, and oil crime impacts, their interviews revealed ambivalence to oil crimes.

While hitting at the ‘’lies’’ at the heart of the problem of addressing the illegal oil ‘market’, the experts say state security forces have continued to treat the crime with ‘’extreme prejudice’’, destroying illegal camps and transportation even as Niger Deltan citizens are ‘normalising’ the activity, which they justify as an economic, energy and employment necessity.

On economic harm of the menace, the authors argued that because of the dependency of the economy on oil, ‘’Nigeria’s lack of fiscal buffers, and economic diversification makes it vulnerable to oil crime and demand shocks alike.

‘’A key driver of oil crime remains unmet demand for refined fuels, given Nigeria’s depleted refining capacity, and the criminal diversion of imported fuels. A re-invigorated modular refinery programme remains a potential solution only.

‘’Oil crime can be accounted for both in terms of direct losses to the oil industry, but also the inflated security costs, degraded rule of law, and environmental damage. Nigeria’s international reputation and investor confidence is undoubtedly dented by the history of the Delta.’’

But conversely, the illegal oil industry is a driver of employment, energy availability and income for a region with precious few alternative economic assets though the social impact of illegal oil is, again, both negative and positive.

While its employment effect is arguably net positive, given the lack of alternative livelihoods, but the attractions of the illegal sector perpetuates the lack of motivation to look elsewhere, and its health impacts range from the contamination of air and water, to the horrific injuries and deaths caused by artisanal refining and tapping accidents.

Continuing, the experts say the sector has created its own neo-capitalist shadow economy: a social hierarchy with its own skewed returns, favouring camp owners, adding, ‘’with this comes a criminalised society, characterised by the threat of violence.

‘’The overall environmental degradation of the Delta is both alarming, and worryingly poorly understood. Oil spills are twenty times those in US onshore crude production. Its effects on land farming, fishing and population health are significant, basic foodstuffs, for example periwinkles in Rivers state, have been heavily depleted.

‘’In other areas the consequences of mangrove depletion are catastrophic for fish production. State responses State responses to the phenomenon were perceived as either ineffective or, at worst, corrupt. Reform of the oil sector and state support for modular refineries is welcome but currently slow moving.

‘’In one case, oil company security has yielded an innovative model of enforcement and community engagement, to reduce artisanal refining, albeit with a political agenda and subsequent controversy. ‘’


Accordingly, they are recommending increased Nigeria’s financial resilience to oil industry volatility and crime by creating a stronger fiscal buffer; developing a simplified, and part-community-owned ‘cellular’ refining programme which could provide accessible investment and employment opportunities in the Delta 

They want the authorities to explore successful models of industry security to pipeline security contracts to increase community engagement and reduce illegal activity (potentially though ‘amnesty’ proposals); establish a significant environmental remediation programme, funded by national, industry and international donors, and co-ordinated by a strengthened NOSDRA.

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