Nigeria busts oil-stealing ring

Mar 13, 2008 01:00 AM

Nigerian security officials said they discovered a complex oil-stealing scheme involving a secret oil pipeline through a militant camp and onto a private jetty. The pipeline was discovered running through the petroleum-rich Niger Delta and through a camp said to be led by the militant commander Ateke Tom. Tom denied playing a role in the illegal pipeline.
Delta army spokesman Sagir Musa said his men were "now in control of the camp" and had stopped the illegal diversion of the oil.

Oil theft -- known as "bunkering" in the delta -- has long been a problem for multinational oil companies, leading to oil spills and the occasional deadly explosion. Bunkering techniques are usually much less sophisticated. Oil thieves often tap into existing pipelines and collect the oil on site rather than create another pipeline to divert larger quantities to another locale.
Militant groups like those led by Tom and the more notable Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have been blamed for many of the bunkering schemes perpetuated out of the delta. MEND and others contend that the Nigerian government, along with the foreign oil companies operating in the delta, have benefited enormously over the years from the sale of the nation's oil and gas reserves, though done little to help the residents of the region who live in abject poverty.

Since the 1970s, Nigeria, Africa's No. 1 oil producer, has pumped more than $ 300 bn worth of crude from the southern delta states, according to estimates. But high unemployment in the delta, environmental degradation due to oil and gas extraction, and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity have angered some of the region's youth and incited them to take up arms.
Nigerian authorities discovered a large weapons cache at an abandoned militant camp that some officials said once belonged to Tom.
The cache was said to be large enough to "raise an army," said Nigerian Senate spokesman Ayogu Eze.

Continued violence and discontent with the government and foreign oil firms has prompted some Nigerian officials to openly question where the country might be better off without the continent's largest petroleum exports in favour of a more diversified economy.
In February Nigerian Vice President Jonathan Goodluck, who is from the delta, shocked his colleagues and countrymen when he referred to his country's oil wealth as an economic curse to his country over the last 50 years.
"The interpretation given by some observers is that present agitations were only but a reaction to the many decades of neglect," said Goodluck.

About 95 % of Nigeria's revenue is generated by oil and gas, resulting in billions of dollars in state funds every year, though much of the country remains impoverished and underdeveloped. More recently, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions accused oil giant Mobil Oil Nigeria of unfair business practices and ill treatment of local union labourers.
According to Nigerianlabour officials, Mobil in Nigeria fired those union leaders seeking a collective bargaining agreement for their workers.

"Mobil Oil Nigeria has betrayed our trust," stated PENGASSAN (Nigeria's leading oil and gas workers union) General Secretary Bayo Olowoshile.
"These recent actions are premeditated attempts to victimize and harass union officers, frustrate legal justice, and they amount to a serious breach of our existing labour agreement, national industrial law, and global labour standards."

Others have also spoken out against what many perceive as the oppressive climate of unfair labour practices perpetuated by foreign firms in the delta.
"In all, corporate ethics are very weak in our clime, which means the Niger Delta problem is not that of the government alone," read a recent editorial in The Punch, a leading Nigerian newspaper. "Corporate culture must be strengthened along this line in Nigeria if we hope to achieve serenity and good business prospects in the Niger Delta."

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