Confessions of Oil Thieves

Illegal oil refineries in Nigeria
Illegal oil refineries in Nigeria

Louis Emiko and Cornelius Agada, who are both involved in crude oil theft, tell Realnews how they got into the illegal business and the mode of their operation

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Jul. 1, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

LOIUS Emiko is a man of many parts. He is a commercial bus driver, a bricklayer and an estate agent. But skilled as he appears in these trades, it is just a decoy for what he actually does. Emiko is an oil thief! He is one of those whose actions make Nigeria to be losing millions of dollars on a daily basis through stolen crude oil. He is a member of an illegal oil bunkering syndicate in Ogbe-Ijoh, a suburb of Warri in Delta State. Emiko’s gang specialises in wading through forests and swampy areas to cut pipes bearing crude oil and other refined products in order to scoop them into jerry cans and transport them to illegal refineries in Warri and other parts of the state.


Having lived in Warri all his life, Emiko had been fully aware of the lucrative business of bunkering and the existence of some illegal refineries. But he joined the business about two years ago after he completed his diploma in fine arts at Auchi Polytechnic in Edo State. Although he says his contemporaries boast of better rewards, Emiko’s toil in the jungle has enabled him to buy a sport car, two commercial buses, a small apartment in Warri and as well have a comfortable bank account with which he can take care of his wife and two children. “I was looking for a job before going back for my higher national diploma and there was none. My friend Lucas invited me to follow them to somewhere one day and I agreed. We went into a swampy area where they had cut a pipe and scooped crude oil with a hose into some drums in the boat. That was how I joined this business. I am not the leader, but I have been going with them on operations since that time,” Emiko confessed.

With his chilling testimony, Emiko has confirmed the reality of oil theft in the Niger Delta.

Just as it was with kidnapping a few years back, illegal oil bunkering is now a thriving business in the Niger Delta and other oil producing states. What started as a survival measure by some desperate individuals in oil producing communities has evolved into a full time trade and a source of income for many like Emiko and his gang members. A middle aged man in Ogbe Ijoh, who gave his name as Temi for fear of retribution, said “this business is risky but very lucrative. Many people are involved in it”.

An illegal oil refinery in Warri
An illegal oil refinery in Warri

In the real sense, bunkering is euphemism for oil theft. It entails siphoning crude oil or other petroleum products from pipelines and selling them illegally. This heinous crime happens at the most basic level when pipelines rupture or leaks. Where there is no leakage, the likes of Emiko dig deep and cut the pipes open in order to siphon the oil. This shady business thrives mainly because of the high quality of Nigerian light crude oil which can be easily processed in local refineries into petrol and diesel which can be used to power generators and vehicles.

As a business, bunkering was said to have begun in communities where oil spillage occurred. Local inhabitants, recognising the economic value of oil, siphoned the spilled oil into containers and took this activity one step further by damaging pipelines and flow stations to siphon oil for sale.  In riverine areas such as Ogbe-Ijoh, the oil extracted from pipelines and flow stations is transferred into containers and transported by locally made canoes called barges across the river into waiting tankers stationed at the river banks.

Mundane and innocuous as these activities in the creek may appear, it is what has morphed the oil theft business into a goldmine which is attracting lots of people into it and giving government and stakeholders in the oil and gas industry sleepless nights.

In a recent interview on a cable channel about two months ago, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister for finance, said Nigeria loses about 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day to oil thieves. She added that for a nation that depends mainly on earnings from crude oil, the activities of oil thieves spell doom for Nigeria’s economy. She called on the “international community to support Nigeria in tackling the problem by treating crude oil like stolen diamonds because if the oil thieves don’t have people to patronise them, they will stop the business.”

Mutiu Sunmonu

Similarly, oil companies operating in Nigeria have also decried the rising tide of oil theft and other illegal activities in Delta State and other oil producing states. In March this year, one of the major operators, Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, threatened to shut down its facilities over the rising spate of oil theft. Mutiu Sunmonu, its managing director, said the company was losing an average of 60,000 barrels of crude oil per day. “The situation in the last few weeks is unprecedented. The volume being stolen is the highest in the last three years; over 60, 000 barrels per day from Shell alone. So, that for me is a great concern.” Later that month, the company announced in a statement that it was forced to shut down production on 12 flow stations because of oil theft, adding that the situation had caused the deferment of production of 150,000 barrels of crude oil on each day.

Not only the government and oil companies are feeling the heat of the oil theft, the Joint Task Force and other law enforcement agencies are also having a hard time battling with the challenges of illegal refineries springing up in various parts of the state.  It is not that the government and its security agencies are not fighting the crime of oil theft. But their efforts appear insignificant when one considers that no oil thief has been successfully prosecuted in Nigeria.

In 2012 alone, the joint taskforce in the Niger Delta region made 7,585 illegal bunkering patrols in the region, resulting in the arrest of 1, 945 suspects, and the destruction of 4, 349 crude oil cooking ovens, commonly referred to as illegal refineries. The task force also seized about 133 barges, 1, 215 Cotonu boats, 185 tanker trucks, 178 illegal fuel dumps, 5, 574 surface tanks and 638 pumping machines used for siphoning crude oil and 18 vessels arrested for engaging in illegal oil bunkering activities in the creeks.

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