A network of illegal oil pipelines being unearthed in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region has revealed the extent of oil theft in the country.
The heist was discovered by a private security firm, Government Ekpemupolo, known as Tompolo. He was in the past involved in blowing up the very oil pipelines he is now guarding after a controversial $110m contract from the government at the end of August.
“Many of the security people are involved because there is no way you can load a vessel without settling [bribing] the security people in that region,” he said.
He also suggested that much of the oil was stolen from precisely those areas where there were army and navy checkpoints.
The military has not responded to these allegations.
Thieves built their own 4km long pipeline through the heavily guarded creeks to the Atlantic Ocean. There, barges and vessels blatantly loaded the stolen oil from a 24-foot rig visible from miles on the open waters.
“It was a professional job,” said the head of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mele Kyari, wading through the swamps as he retraced the slick path during a visit to the scene.
Crude oil is Nigeria’s main export but production, and revenue, has been dwindling for years because of thieves, authorities say. Oil production fell from 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011 to just over a million in July 2022, according to the regulator.
Many are saying that the recent discovery of the illegal pipelines confirms long-held suspicions of massive corruption in the sector where there is little transparency.
Nigeria’s oil industry has a documented history of corruption, from an unending fuel subsidy scheme where no one knows how much is imported, to the shadowy allotment of oil exploration blocks.
Lucky Irabor, Nigeria’s defence chief, who was part of the retinue that toured the oily trail of the thieves, said it was an “eye-opener” and promised an investigation.—BBC