We have been researching the issue of oil theft, pipeline vandalism and artisanal oil refining for over seven years in partnership with SDN
, published in the following reports; "Communities not Criminals
" (2011), "Building Bridges
" (2015), "More Money, More Problems
" (2018) and in the Guardian in 2013
The Niger Delta region accounts for almost all of Nigeria's proven oil and gas reserves. Yet despite the enormous wealth of natural and human resources, essential services such as electricity, sanitation, healthcare and primary education are poorly delivered. Nigeria is a prime example of a region and nation deeply affected by the resource curse; the paradox that a country's abundance of natural resources often has a negative impact on its economic growth and development.
The region is well-known for its revolutionary past, particularly the armed resistance led by Isaac Boro in 1966 and the devastating Biafran War between 1967 and 1970. In the 1990s Niger Delta activists, particularly Ken Saro-Wiwa, and political figures began demanding for a greater stake in the nation's oil wealth. Since 2004, escalating armed and violent conflict between gangs increased the levels of militancy in the region. Fuelled by rage borne through a deep sense of injustice of inequality, government corruption, international criminality, political grievance and the dire need for the young and unemployed to feed their families, militants attacked oil pipelines and kidnapped foreign oil workers sending oil prices above $100 per barrel for the first time ever in 2011.
The conflict in the Niger Delta is driven by a powerful mixture of weak governance, systemic corruption, underdevelopment, political marginalisation and economic inequality. The vast wealth available to those who control the state's power structures and the increasing polarisation and inequality of society has led some to resort to illegal activities as a form of socio-economic empowerment from the oil they believe to be rightfully theirs. Two activities that are particularly prevalent across the region are pipeline vandalism and artisanal oil refining. Pipeline Vandalism
The failure of the Nigerian state to provide basic public services and security in the Niger Delta has caused a significant breakdown in the relationship between citizens and government. International and national oil companies are often seen as a Government proxy, spending millions of dollars in their operating locations through various formal and informal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and security instruments. However, these efforts are not perceived to have the communities' interests at heart, preferring to secure a short-term license to operate as opposed to a long-term legacy in the region. In addition, the "quick and easy cash" approach by oil-companies in response to threats by vandals has created implicit incentives to "crack pipes"
, earn money and survive.
In communities, the feeling of anger motivates vandals to interrupt pipelines at the expense of their environment with many addicted to easy money from surveillance and clean-up contracts. Others vandalise to survive in the absence of other employment choices ignoring the long-term impact to their local environment and health.