“In Nigeria, oil theft can affect up to 25% of production”
Professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord (Edhec), Bertrand Monnet holds the Chair in Criminal Risk Management. He has been investigating oil trafficking and piracy in Nigeria for eighteen years.
Oil production has declined massively in 2022 in Nigeria, in particular due to crude being siphoned off along pipelines. Who are these oil thieves?
These are tens of thousands of people simply from local communities. Most of the time, these people live on that because they can’t live on anything else. In the Niger Delta, misery is absolute. Life expectancy is 47 years whereas one should live in this region as in Kuwait or Azerbaijan. Nigerian law, however, imposes the payment of 13% of oil revenues to oil-producing states. But on the spot, one can only note that the wealth is not at all redistributed.
There is a more structured echelon that draws significant profits from these thefts: traffickers, traders, heads of illegal refineries, not to mention members of the local security apparatus who let things go. But the trimmers of this business practice a somewhat spontaneous crime, of predation and survival, against the backdrop of a real revolt in relation to their situation. They take incredible risks, especially for their health. There are many accidents at the illegal refineries where much of the stolen oil is sent.
Are we in a situation similar to the oil war of the 2000s, when production collapsed because of sabotage operations carried out by armed activists against oil installations?
In my opinion, we have gone further, even if it is impossible to give precise figures. According to my interviews with oil companies – not the majors but Nigerian owners of fields in the delta – thefts can affect up to 25% of production. It was the Covid that led to an explosion of the phenomenon: at one point, the whole economy was shut down; the tankers stopped working because of the fall in world consumption and the departure of expatriates. Poverty has increased and the search for compensation has been increasingly strong. The matrix of this phenomenon is fundamentally social, as for piracy.
Are these two illicit industries – oil trafficking and piracy – closely linked?
Yes, many oil thieves have converted to maritime piracy. They thus value their technical capacities and their equipment – for example the “speedboats” with which they carry out their assaults. This phenomenon has become exponential, if we take into account all the attacks and not only those targeting large tankers in international waters, and its revenues increasingly irrigate the villages and communities of the delta.