Skip to main content

Oil in Africa / VQR’s Winter issue

PUBLISHED: December 26, 2006

CNN reports that over 200 people were killed on Monday outside Lagos, Nigeria from a massive explosion and fire resulting from a tapped oil pipeline. Despite Nigeria’s oil riches, much of the population suffers from fuel shortages and illegal tapping of pipelines is a common, but dangerous, occurrence. The CNN report adds:

“People try to siphon fuel from a pipeline, and after that, maybe an hour, a couple hours after that—someone lights a cigarette or a motorcycle engine backfires, and an explosion appears,” CNN’s Jeff Koinange explained… .

In September 2004, an oil pipeline exploded near Lagos, as thieves tried to siphon oil from it. Up to 50 people perished in the flames.

A 1998 pipeline blast killed more than 1,000 in southern Nigeria.

The Winter 2007 issue of VQR features a special portfolio on oil in Africa with reporting from Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad. To help understand the tragic news from Nigeria, we’re offering an advance look at John Ghazvinian’s must-read essay “The Curse of Oil” from the Winter issue. Ghazvinian, a former reporter for The Sunday Times (UK) and contributor to The Nation and Newsweek, offers some important background on the little-known practice of pipeline “tapping” or “illegal bunkering” and on the larger issues of oil development and revenue in Nigeria:

In 1993, seven cases of “pipeline vandalization” were officially recorded in the Niger Delta… . In 1996, the number of pipelines vandalized was 33, and in 1998 the figure had risen to 57… . In 1999, though, a whopping 497 instances of pipeline vandalism were recorded, and in the following year there were over 600. Suddenly, oil companies had to deal with a threat to their operations that was more complicated than a few kids getting carried away. The culprits were not just damaging company property—they were stealing crude oil and selling it on the black market. By 2004, Nigeria was losing as much as 200,000 barrels of crude oil a day—nearly 10 percent of its output… .

The really troubling thing about illegal bunkering is not so much that stolen oil is sold for profit, but how the profit is spent… . [I]n a trend that has escalated rapidly since the late 1990s, much of the money from stolen oil has been spent on AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers—rough-and-ready hardware for a violent ideology of ethnic separatism. Local boys with no jobs, no access to schools, and almost certainly no real future ahead of them have been rounded up and organized into gangs and militias that inevitably clash with authorities and with one another.

Our Winter issue, in the mail to subscribers and on newsstands by mid-January, also offers work by Art Spiegelman, Charles Burns, Pauline Chen, Walter Mosley, and J. Hoberman. We hope to have more from our Winter issue available on our site in the coming weeks.

Recommended Reading