Sharing perspectives on insecurity in the Niger Delta

Sharing perspectives on insecurity in the Niger Delta

I was speaking at a very well organised conference to an exceptionally well informed audience in London on 27th January. The conference, organised by Oliver Kinross, was arranged in three streams for: the oil and gas industry in West Africa, the oil and gas industry in East Africa and security for the oil and gas industry across Africa. I thought it might be useful to share what I said, in my presentation, to an oil and gas security audience, on the subject of:

Security and Human Rights Challenges in the Niger Delta

Good afternoon… I regularly interface with security, oil and gas, shipping, insurance and investment people and African Consulates, in the House of Commons and in the City of London, sometimes at events like this one. Occasionally in Africa too. I am privileged to talk to large range of people and as result generally speaking keep a broad perspective for commenting on security in the oil and gas sector.

I want to tell you about an event I  organised in the House of Commons, as part of  my work with All Party Groups such as the Extractive Industries APPG and other African APPGs. This presentation is about a single public engagement event that took place in November on the topical subject of oil theft and security in Nigeria. I want to share three perspectives on the issue of oil theft and illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta.

But before that, I want to begin by telling you a little bit more about All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs).  APPGs are defined as informal groups but they are nonetheless  quite often made up of influential groups of people. They must be organised and registered in Parliament with a minimum of twenty signatory MPs and/or Lords. Their numbers must also be made from a mix of both Government and Opposition parties. Importantly  they hold meetings and events where information is shared between politicians and the public in Parliament: professionals, experts and MPs can discuss topical issues in a non-governmental and cross party way.

A useful example of that, for you, would be the activities of the Ports and Maritime APPG who held panel discussions about anti-piracy and an emerging private security industry which helped to inform MPs who were interested in the regulation of the UK Private Maritime Security Industry. I can think of other examples relating directly to oil and gas.

If you would like to sign up to an APPG or would like to know more about the events they organise in Parliament look at the Register of APPGs in the website and contact them directly by email:

I’ll move on now to tell you bit more about the three speakers on the panel discussion I mentioned at the start of this presentation.  I’ll use the notes I collected on the night to share the perspectives of my three panel speakers: the  Governor of Rivers State, Mark Lowe  editor  and owner of Kidnap and Ransom Magazine and Martin Ewence a recently retired Navy Commander. The main speaker and guest was the Governor of rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, who was in London at the same time as President Goodluck Jonathan, mainly to meet  Nigerian diaspora.

The present Governor of Rivers State was re-elected for a second term in office in April 2011 and is currently the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum NGF. He is based in Port Harcourt and is respected for his efforts to improve services and build better infrastructure in Rivers State, overhauling the education sector and health care: building over 100 Primary Health Centers three modern hospitals, 300 Primary schools and 24 model Secondary schools. His administration has also invested massively in construction and repair of roads and bridges, in an attempt to connect rural communities and young people with jobs in the city. He continues to invest oil revenues in the city of Port Harcourt and statewide and is ever mindful of the need to create job opportunities through Agricultural development as an essential alternative to the dominant petro-economy in the Niger Delta. Critically, he is a member of the National Stakeholders Working Group of the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI).

What he said: Human rights; what are they? And what are a Nigerian governor’s, in the delta, responsibilities in this matter? We all know oil theft is a serious issue (quote: ‘its famous’) but there are some practical realities here. Most importantly there is the ‘right to life: the right for an individual to have some choices and be able to make a living to fend for himself’. The individual has certain responsibilities in this but they must be balanced against those of the government.

Security has a very similar definition actually in that it is also about the individual’s right to be protected BUT as we all know there is massive insecurity in the job market for young people in the Niger Delta. ‘That’s why they go to an oil company’s pipeline and syphon crude oil, boil it up and sell the product of their risky labour’. This is dangerous work it is damaging to their health and damaging to the environment.  Some of those young people go further and join gangs to take part in robbery or worse kidnap and ransom. This type of crime goes up as unemployment rises. I am dealing with gangs directly with better policing and have had some success during the amnesty since 2009, but not just because of it.

Insecurity is evident everywhere and there is a lack of good governance (people are very unhappy with their ruling elites) but what more can I do locally, in River’s State? My primary concern is education and construction; building new schools and hospitals. I think reinvesting oil revenues to provide free care services will reduce the insecurity that parents experience and hence crime significantly. It is critically about supporting communities and families more and providing jobs through building infrastructure.

Essentially I have to define what is essential and legal; addressing these through fiscal and social policy. All of this is set against a backdrop of improving democracy because at it stands; Nigeria is not a good Federation of states; power and resources are far too centralized. I do my best to address that problem as the chair of the Governor’s forum x36 and am very active with the Nigerian EITI forum. We need more information about our Nigerian Petroleum industry we still do not have accurate data about oil production, exports and theft. How much do we produce, by day by month, in each area? How much is lost to illegal bunkering and how much can a governor expect to draw on? What I know is that we have less money to spend on public works with a reduction of 5 Billion per month in what the FGN gives to Rivers State to contend with now (down from 20 to 15).

Good figures are hard to come by but Bloomberg recently reported that Nigerian oil production averaged less than 2 million barrels a day in 2013 compared with the 2.53 million barrels the government had predicted. 170 million people, depend on crude exports for about 80 percent of government revenue and 95 percent of export income.

Let me give you an example of the type of problem I have. I know there is a big problem with gathering accurate information in the delta so I asked for permission from the Federal Government of Nigeria and defense forces to buy two helicopters and to be able to fly at night to collect information about crime and illegal bunkering. We have no control over navy patrols off our coast so this seemed the best solution for us. Our aim was to reduce insecurity in the creeks as we have done in Port Harcourt by investing in technology and improved surveillance. I know that things are improving with spending for the Nigerian Navy; more on equipment and more training for example with the American Navy but we have yet to see the full benefit from that in River’s state.

The Governor of Rivers state on BBC’s Hardtalk  and read more here

Mark Lowe has over 20 years experience working in the fields of security and risk assessment. He worked for nearly ten years as a consultant to the Italian Government’s overseas security agency, where he also advised on several hostage-taking cases. Mark now advises clients from the defense, banking, energy and shipping sectors in the UK, USA and Africa, for crisis management, security and risk assessment. He is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Maritime Security Review. Mark is also the owner of Kidnap and Ransom (KR) Magazine, the only English language publication focused on the problem of kidnapping.  Mark has specialist knowledge of private security companies in Nigeria and is currently working to raise standards of training for security personnel in Nigeria by raising human rights awareness.

What he said: While we think of K and R most often as a maritime and Gulf of Aden issue it is on the increase in the Niger Delta but it’s worth remembering that most kidnappings are of Nigerians and it is a profitable business, like oil theft. BUT why?  Lack of rule of law, perhaps but also because there is such a massive gap between those who have and those who do not, it wont go away soon. Expectations of a better standard of living and better job opportunities are very high now.  there are also several generations where a culture of tapping into oil wealth is  the norm. there is aside chain or network of informal job opportunities in the delta and some of that entrepreneurialism stretches to K and R. 

There is a boom in in opportunity in West Africa, just now but investors are clearly put off by the existing state of insecurity. We see a rise in all forms of criminality not just oil theft. There is a huge black market and massive illegal industry.  It is also an international trade reaching into Cameroon and Benin. Why is this allowed to continue, why is there a lack of affordable, local, legal refined products? Surely this can be fixed with a will to do so? There are business opportunities for private security companies but…

Martin Ewence retired as a Royal Navy Commander in 2012. His last active post was with EUNAVOR in the UK and in the Gulf of Aden. He joined G4S risk Management in London as their Head of Maritime Risk Consulting in 2012 but recently became an Independent Consultant to the defense, shipping and offshore sectors. He has extensive operational experience in counter-piracy, surveillance, interdiction management and oil theft reduction. He has detailed knowledge of the Niger Delta and most recently spent four months living in Rivers State examining local problems and visiting communities in the inland waterways of the Niger Delta near Port Harcourt.

What he said: I would like to talk less about the strategic level ad more about the tactical.  We know that about 150,00 barrels go missing every day and as the governor says that affects him adversely directly. Shockingly, its oil theft in Nigeria is estimated to be same as the total oil revenue from the 7th largest producer in Africa? Having lived in Port Harcourt and flown over River State several times I have seen the damage illegal bunkering does to the environment. I have also seen how communities have come to rely on it and in fact have invested in their villages with it; with lots of new buildings, in fact some people have become wealthy with it.

Once you go and see the topography of the Niger Delta, as I have, with so many narrow meandering creeks and flooded areas, you can understand how very difficult it is to police or even to assess illegal activity, never mind stop it. Where should resources be targeted and how do you measure what is illegal and what is legal activity? Clearly, there are no quick solutions and some UK private security companies simply don’t understand the extent of the problem, but I would like to offer an improvement.  Some investment must be made both in people and technology; to collect information in the creeks but more than that; at present there is very little proper monitoring by radar or other means and no one seems to be formally collecting data, processing and analyzing it. This is the main problem and the Nigerian Navy are not working on this problem furthermore they are committing their resources to collecting income from shipping by guarding ships and monitoring safe anchorages. corruption at the local level with patrol boats is rife too. We only have to look at the main SHELL terminal in Rivers State where there are many small tankers waiting to collect illegal product.  If this continues there will be more accidents and loss of life, such as happened with the African Hyacinth, now a burnt out wreck. 

Some Additional points:

Democracy in the Niger delta could be better and its important to tend to the issue of improving representation or political voice for the underemployed and unemployed and not least in the farming sector. Underemployment is a huge problem in a very large population. A local perspective is critical to our understanding of how to protect oil pipelines and improve the local environment; this will remain difficult for sometime and there is no technical solution. More direct investment would be helpful at this time and the West African economic community must be involved more in security solutions to improve confidence for investors. Existing partnerships between UK and Nigerian companies is a good model for reducing insecurity in the GoG. International standards also have a role to play here with local and UK private security companies. Floating armories remain unlikely to operate in West Africa, as they do off the coast of  East Africa any time soon. Embarkation/disembarkation points north or south of the GoG have been asked for by security companies and are still seen as essential by shipping and UK private maritime security operatives for storing weapons and transferring guards from ships. The safety of seafarers is paramount in this but a Gulf of Aden model for using sea marshals is too often seen as  the best answer even though it is not easily transferable. Nigerian safe anchorages appear to be a part of a developing solution but confidence in them is not high amongst ship’s captains or security managers. The scale of the problem is so huge that incremental changes can result in large benefits both to the local environment, shipping, and delta communities, as any reduction in tapping or oil theft means additional income for addressing insecurity in the worst hit states.

Finally there are transferable lessons for IOCs. The Nigerian experience tells us to plan carefully to protect the environment and involve local communities more in those regions for example in DRC, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and Kenya where ever new oil and gas pipelines are planned.

Martin Brown