Until the Federal Government and oil companies make genuine efforts to end unemployment, hunger and insurgency in the Niger Delta region, illegal bunkering and attendant problems may not end anytime soon.
This is the aggregated view of residents and stakeholders in the region, as collated in a new book, entitled: ‘No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The Contentious Search for Peace in the Niger Delta’, co-authored by the trio of Jide Ajide, John Ashima and Oluwole Agunbiade.
Despite recent efforts by the Federal Government to salvage the loss of 80 per cent of crude exports, the consensus of respondents is that the aftermath of the Niger Delta insurgency will probably linger for centuries to come.
The work recounts that the underground world operates with its own laws, the hierarchy of subordination and superordination. But the great beast that attacks the environment is called bunkering.
According to the authors, “this involves the use of ‘hot-tapping technique’ that enables them (bunkerers) to break into the oil pipelines under pressure and then siphon crude oil. From this complex operation comes the business of improvised refining methods called ‘cooking’ or ‘Spotfire’ in local parlance. Essentially, this is a process of refining stolen crude in improvised refineries located remotely in the creeks to produce diesel.”
One of the informants, Ayiri, blames the activities of vandals on the lack of employment opportunities for Niger Delta youths.
Ayiri says: “Until you can provide alternatives, it will continue. The man needs money, and he can cook crude oil and turn it into diesel. And there are people who want to buy diesel. So, there is a market for it. As you see today, all the nation’s refineries are not working well. So, what do you expect? The illegal market goes on.”
He adds that economic sabotage is not peculiar to Niger Delta alone. “All these tankers on the highways, in Lagos and Abuja, are loaded from the Niger Delta. The security people are involved. Everybody is involved. It is an illegal chain. It is caused by a lack of jobs, hunger and a poor environment. If one has a job, he would be wary of engaging in theft of crude oil.”
An Ijaw Chief, Gbenekama, reckons with Ayiri and does not see an end in sight soon for the criminal industry. He enthuses that boys will continue to cook crude oil until something positive happens.
“It all boils down to the fact that the Federal Government is not ready to develop the Niger Delta.”
These boys are cooking oil behind Ogidigben and everywhere. The security operatives are deeply involved in the racket. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the government to end it.
“The people are hungry; that is why they are engaged in illegal activities. Provide jobs for them; the youths would quit the illegal business.”
The chief argues that oil giants are involved in more pernicious pollution than the small Niger Delta criminals involved in bunkering.
“After all, the oil companies pay money to the Federal Government for every standard cubic foot of gas flared. If the Federal Government wants to stop it, they know what to do. People are suffering too from gas flaring. So, the government does not want gas flaring to stop because it is benefiting from it. They are taking the money to develop Abuja,” the chief says.
Notwithstanding hope proffered by the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), the work recounts the piteous plight of the Niger Delta region, in terms of infrastructure and deprivations.
The 316-page book is a pioneering effort at providing a firsthand narrative of the peculiarities of the Niger Delta situation from an informed upstream oil and gas industry perspective.