OIL-PIPELINE VANDALIZATION IN
THE NIGER DELTA:
THE WAY OUT
By Fred Brume
ACCORDING to information supplied by the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of NNPC, Nigeria has a total network of 5,001 kilometres of oil pipelines, consisting of 4,315 km of multi-product pipelines and 666 km of crude-oil pipelines. These pipelines criss-cross the country and inter-link the twenty two petroleum storage depots strategically dispersed across the country, the refineries at Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Warri, the off-shore terminals at Escravos and Bonny, and the four jetties at Okrika, Atlas Cove, Warri and Calabar. For reasons of safety and security, these pipelines are buried about one metre beneath the surface along a 25-metre wide Right of Way (ROW) specifically acquired by Government for the purpose. This Right of Way is regularly cleared by the host community acting as contractors. In theory at least, a combined team of PPMC, Community Leaders, Police and Indigenes are to provide surveillance to guard the pipelines. Regular aerial surveillance of critical sections of the pipelines is also carried out by PPMC/NNPC.
In spite of these security measures, statistics on oil pipeline vandalization remain staggering. In 1999, there were 524 cases of oil pipeline rupture, 27 of which were due to natural causes, namely, wear and tear arising mainly from corrosion, while the rest, 497, were due to vandalization. In the first six months of this year, 400 oil pipeline ruptures had occurred, 382 of which were due to wilful vandalization. By the end of the year, according to PPMC projections, cases of oil pipeline vandalization in the Niger Delta area are expected to be as high as 764. The recent pipeline rupture at Atlas Cove, Lagos, indicates that forecasts and spread of the ruptures may even be ahead of PPMC projections. What are the factors responsible for this state of affairs?
CAUSES OF OIL PIPELINE VANDALIZATION.
The cause of oil pipeline vandalization which started in the Niger Delta can be traced to the long history of neglect, marginalization and repression of the people of the Niger Delta by successive Governments since the First Republic. The cumulative effect of all this has been lack of development and widespread poverty, and discontent among the people of the Niger Delta. The immediate cause of the growing vandalization is general discontent of the Niger Delta peoples, which has given vent to this unlawful method of recovering or "scooping" what is seen by many as their oil wealth that is being unfairly carted away to Abuja and other places, while they wallow in abject poverty and unemployment.
Yet, the Niger Delta is an area richly endowed with both material and human resources and it is an area that has provided the sources of the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, namely oil, for over four decades now. Since the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in 1956, various legislations have been passed and decrees enacted, the consequences of which have led to the dispossession of a large number of its peoples, destruction of their lands, pollution of their water, etc. Among the notable instruments of dispossession were the Petroleum Act of 1969 and the Land Use Decree of 1978. In the eyes of many, the combined effect of these laws in a unitary military Government was that local colonization had replaced foreign imperialism. Revenue from oil was siphoned to develop other parts of the country, while the Niger Delta itself was neglected in terms of social services and facilities like Federal universities, hospitals, or modern high-ways and communication facilities. Its environment was either polluted, thus posing grave health hazards to the citizens of the area, or bypassed by highly inflammable petroleum pipelines which posed serious danger to the life of its innocent citizens. Hunger, deprivation and unemployment became the lot of the people as their eco-system, farmlands and aquatic lives became destroyed during over 40 years of oil exploration and production.
Pipeline vandalization is a result of general discontent whose expression is not limited to pipeline destruction. In fact, for the purpose of this lecture, pipeline vandalization is a symbol or an ensign of a widespread expression of discontent. When this discontent is left nauseated or unmitigated, the form of its expression grows horizontally and vertically; horizontally, in that it gains a greater and greater followership, both in the Niger Delta region and beyond; and vertically, in that this expression of discontent escalates - from mere quest for development or employment or equitable treatment with others, to the current language of "resource control" and who knows what next? It may be confederation or restructuring or so. Conflicts and crisis, in various forms, become the inevitable consequences of unmitigated discontent, of which oil pipeline vandalization is only one form of expression.
To assuage or mitigate the discontent, the present administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo came up with the conception of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). But as the people waited patiently for its implementation and its fruits for over one and half years now, patience has given way to scepticism, frustration, anger and restiveness. The crescendo of oil pipeline vandalisation has become one of the louder manifestations of protest. Oil pipeline vandalisation has far-reaching and dire consequences for all stakeholders in the Nigerian economy.
CONSEQUENCES OF OIL PIPELINE VANDALIZATION.
The consequences of oil pipeline vandalisation in the Niger Delta may be categorised into three: economic, human, and environmental.
When an oil pipeline is damaged, the product or crude oil passing through it has to be transported by some alternative means, usually by road tankers, a process which invariably is more expensive than transportation by pipeline. Transportation by tankers suffers the added disadvantage of being tardy and restrictive in terms of capacity. The process has created shortages which encourage black marketing whereby consumers pay exorbitant prices and are rendered poorer in real terms.
Shortages, arising from transportation by tankers, constrain industries, in particular those which rely on diesel-driven generators for power, to operate at less than optimum capacity. Low capacity utilization could lead to retrenchment and increased unemployment. In addition, when, in situations of fuel shortage, industries buy their supplies at higher prices, such increases are passed on to consumers whose economic situations get depressed.
Vandalisation-induced fuel shortages, encourage anti-social elements to adulterate the petroleum products, which are then sold to unsuspecting buyers. In the process, vehicle engines are damaged, further creating economic hardship for vehicle owners.
Usually, when vandalization occurs, supply is usually cut off. In the SPDC oil spill of September 17, 1999, at Ekakpamre, about 100,000 b/d of crude oil from most of the land fields had to be shut in. When this happens, there is a substantial economic loss to the nation, which last year was estimated by NNPC at over $10,000 million dollars (i.e over N110 billion).
In efforts to stem vandalization, government has had to expend resources to procure vehicles and equipment in order to patrol the pipelines network. Such resources could have been utilised for more productive purposes.
Vandalisation-induced fire disasters destroy economic crops such as cocoa, coffee, palm trees, rubber among others, which are sources of income to their owners.
When oil spillage occurs as
a result of vandalisation, the oil companies and the nation
get entangled in huge financial costs. The most celebrated sabotage
occurrence to date in SPDC operations in the Niger Delta is the
Eriemu Well-13 Xmas tree saga. SPDC had to contain the spread of oil while
importing experts from the USA within 24 hours to cap the hazardous
free-flowing well, all at enormous financial costs.
As evidenced by the unfortunate Jesse and Oviri Court incidents, oil pipeline vandalization can cause fire disasters with tragic consequences: Many lives are lost in a most sudden, tragic and violent manner when fires are mistakenly ignited. Over 1000 lives were lost in the Jesse disaster alone.
Consequent upon the death of many parents in these fires, children were left without parents, and husbands without wives, or vice versa.
Even among the living, many victims suffered severe burns and damaged internal organs as a result of inhalations of fumes and smoke; many of them become liabilities because they are unable to fend for themselves.
Large areas of arable land get destroyed in the fire out-breaks and oil spillage that result from oil pipeline vandalisation. Marine and aquatic life also gets destroyed, all of which are important in the diet of the people.
When spilled product gets washed into the swamps, streams and rivers, marine life gets contaminated. When such marine life is consumed, it creates health problems.
The Way Out
Any meaningful attempt to get out of this undesirable situation, in the Niger Delta must address the root causes, namely, the past neglect, marginalisation and oppression of the Niger Delta which have led to widespread poverty in the region. Indeed, the situation today constitutes a time bomb which can no longer be ignored. It contains the potentials for further damage as is evident in recent agitations and calls for resource control and the restructuring of the Federation. If the existing situation remains unattended to, the reaction could escalate and jeopardise the continued corporate existence of our nation.
Is it not too late to remedy the situation in a peaceful Nigeria? My answer is NO! I believe the situation can still be remedied. But a stronger dosage of the medicine which may have worked yesterday is what will now be required. I shall elaborate briefly on this. Historically, even before we gained independence from colonial rule, it was recognised that the Niger Delta region needed special development focus. Some degree of discontent in the Niger Delta was already apparent even at that time. So, the colonial government and the First Republic established the Niger Delta Development Board, initially for a ten-year period to end in 1970. However, the Board did not result in any visible development of the Niger Delta. The Board failed because its functions were only advisory, (i.e no development funds of its own and no political clout to carry their "advice" through to implementation.) OMPADEC which was established in 1992 and was intended as an improvement on the Niger Delta Development Board also failed because of interference by the unitary form of military government which encouraged and promoted corruption in its functioning.
In contrast, the NDDC, holds the promise of transforming the Niger Delta into a developed region. The Commission is a specialised development agency similar to the World Bank or the Regional Development Banks, manned by professionals with specialised skills in the formulation and implementation of projects. Furthermore, the Commission has the potential of being adequately funded from diverse sources, hence funding is not expected to be a constraint. The delay over the years in positively responding to the development needs of the Niger Delta has now aggravated the situation to a level similar to what obtained in Europe soon after the second World War. It is recalled that this led to a Marshall Plan to rapidly restore Europe's social and economic life. The Marshall Plan became the immediate precursor of the World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development).
The NDDC is conceived to address the social and economic neglect of the Niger Delta, and like the Marshall Plan of post-war Europe, it will need to start out in a strong and robust way to make the necessary impact that can assuage the pent-up anger and meet the expectations of the people in order to bring about peaceful transformation within a peaceful Nigeria.
In conclusion, experience across the globe indicates that there are advantages in size. Even components of the former Soviet Union are today seeking ways to forge some form of re-integration with either Western Europe or Russia. Western Europe itself after many years of rivalry and warfare amongst its member countries has now become integrated to become the European Economic Community. The various efforts by countries to form regional economic blocs are eloquent testimonies that size is an advantage in the global free market place. In short, Nigeria must do all it requires to remain not only a single entity but to grow through economic integration with others. Bigger markets are preferable to smaller ones, hence the unity of Nigeria is preferable to a disintegrated Nigeria. But it must be unity based on equity, justice, fair play, freedom and a sense of belonging where every part is able to develop at a pace commensurate with its resources and hard-work and where no section is unduly tied down or oppressed.
I believe that as professionals of the Niger Delta region, meeting here in Bauchi, what is uppermost in our desire is for an economically and socially vibrant Niger Delta, where peace reigns and where resources are being harnessed equitably and efficiently to the end that the region becomes a modern industrial belt of a developed Nigerian polity, attracting investors businessmen and tourists from all over the world.
A strong and bold NDDC that
starts out in the spirit of the Marshall Plan can become the way
out of oil pipeline vandalisation and its companion manifestations
of years of discontent.