Urhobo Historical Society


By Fred Brume

Editorial Note
Senator Brume represents Delta Central Senatorial District. He presented  this paper at the Annual Dinner/Lecture of the National Association of  Niger-Delta Professionals. His views on pipelines vandalization are largely those that are propagated from official Abuja which tends to blame local people for the problems of the pipelines. These pipelines have been in these communities for some tweny-five years. Senator Brume's paper does not address the question of why the local community would be vandalizing these pipelines after leaving them alone for twenty years or more.

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?


 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.


 The consequences of oil pipeline vandalisation in the Niger Delta may be  categorised into three: economic, human, and environmental.

 (a) Economic

 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.

(b) Human

 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.

 (c) Environmental

 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.