Blood Oil in the Niger Delta

Published: 
August 11, 2009
By: 
Judith Burdin Asuni

The trade of stolen oil, or “blood oil,” in Nigeria is fueling a long-running insurgency in the resource-rich Niger Delta region that has claimed many lives. Oil “bunkering” – or theft – has fomented the armed conflict in the region, providing militant groups with funds to purchase weapons, and has increased instability in oil prices on world energy markets. Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua in July 2008 asked the Group of Eight nations for help in dealing with the problem, but no concrete action has been taken to date.

Overview

A USIP special report shows how the business of blood oil poses a threat not only to the Nigerian state and the region, but to the international community as well.

Based on her extensive experience in the region, author Judith Burdin Asuni documents the inner workings of the illicit business, how the troubled Niger Delta presents the right conditions for oil bunkering, and then assesses international and Nigerian attempts to tackle the problem.

Asuni offers detailed recommendations to end the trade of stolen oil, finding that the high stakes and high-level involvement of people within and outside of Nigeria is beyond the capacity of the Nigerian government to address.

Calling on the United States to be more proactive as a major oil consumer, Asuni concludes that only the concerted, coordinated and sustained action by Nigeria, the U.S. and the international institutions has the potential to address the problem. She cautions that the solutions “will not be easy or quick, but they should be initiated before more people die needlessly in the Niger Delta,” while showing that the international community and the U.S. in particular have a deep security interest to tackle the problem.

About the Report

The recent resumption of attacks against the oil industry in the Niger Delta and the resultant increase in oil prices have reminded the world that the unrest there is not a problem for Nigeria alone. Indeed, the business of bunkering illegal oil, or blood oil, involves players far beyond the shores of Nigeria and will require an international effort to control it. Additionally, the broader issues of underdevelopment and overmilitarization of the Niger Delta, as well as the region's lack of participation in the oil and gas industry, must be addressed before any lasting peace can be found.

This report is based on the author's extensive experience in the Niger Delta, where she has worked with Nigerian governments at the federal, state, and local levels; the oil and gas companies; the local communities; and members of the armed groups of the Niger Delta. It is also based on interviews with U.S., British, Dutch, and UN officials.

Judith Burdin Asuni is the founder and executive director of Academic Associates PeaceWorks. She is currently a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and will be a 2009–10 Jennings Randolph fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

August 11, 2009
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