1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Nigeria's oil

Katrin Gänsler / skNovember 22, 2012

Nigeria produces 2.5 million barrels of oil daily, yet 70 percent of people live below the poverty line. Many Nigerians have come up with ways to get a little of the oil wealth for themselves.

Titel: DW_Delta-online5 Schlagworte: Öl, Nigerdelta, Umweltverschmutzung, illegale Raffinerien Fotograf: Katrin Gänsler Aufnahmedatum: 10. August 2012 Aufnahmeort: Yenagoa, Nigerdelta, Nigeria Bildbeschreibung: Das Kerosin wird meistens an Frauen verkauft, die es zum Kochen nutzen
Image: Katrin Gänsler

The entrance is camouflaged and only accessible by boat. Carefully, a few men push the big branches aside - an important safety measure to keep their hideout a secret . Here, on the banks of the Niger Delta, in a labyrinth of creeks in the southeast of the country, they are retrieving some of Nigeria's wealth.

After securing the boat, Joshua distributes boots. Smoke hangs in the air, the ground is muddy, blackened by oil. Joshua leads the way.Everywhere there are metal buckets, barrels and simple timber frames with which men produce gasoline, kerosine and diesel. They are at the heart of the local refinery. No one wants to hear the word 'illegal' here.

Man standing at an illegal refinery Foto: Katrin Gänsler
Joshua and others have found a way to get a little of the oil wealthImage: Katrin Gänsler

Dirty, dangerous and hot

Anyone who works here has a tough job. The flames rise. One of the oil poachers wipes the sweat from his brow. His forearms are stained black. He is responsible for ensuring the crude oil is heated in the big barrels. There are no protective measures in the mangrove forest. "It's a really dangerous job. A few times fire broke out," says Joshua. "I can show you the scars that one of the workers has had ever since."

It is not just the spectacular fire incidents that make working here so dangerous. Life expectancy in the Niger Delta lies at just 41 years, says Nnimmo Bassy, winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize and president of the organisation "Environmental Rights Action"(ERA). Life expectancy nationwide is at least 48 years. Everywhere in the Niger Delta gas is flared, although that has been banned since 1984. Combustion generates toxic fumes. The oil seeping out from faulty or illegal pipelines makes water undrinkable, destroys fish stocks and pollutes the soil for farmers.

Oil contaminated fields along the Niger Delta River Foto: Katrin Gänsler
Pollution from the oil destroys the vegetationImage: Katrin Gänsler

No other jobs

It's no different at local refineries. Nevertheless, Joshua defends his work. "We're doing this only because there are no other jobs," he says. Meanwhile, the oil seeps unhindered into the ground. On good days, the men produce 10,000 liters (2,642 US gallons) of petrol and 25,000 liters of diesel. All this is intended only for personal use, they say - for the generators at home and boat engines.

Juliette beckons to the men. The young woman walks in oversized rubber boots through the mud. She knows the camouflaged oil factory well. "This is where I buy my fuel," she says. In her left hand dangles a yellow 25 liter jerrycan. A full can costs 300 naira (1.5 euros, $1.9) which is a bargain price. At a gas station, people pay at least 500 naira per liter, that's when kerosene is available. Often they wait for hours or even days for a new supply. When it finally arrives, the price quickle triples or even quadruples.

Woman at illegal oil refinery in Niger Delta Foto: Katrin Gänsler
Residents like Juliette prefer to buy fuel from local refineriesImage: Katrin Gänsler

A dollar to survive

Oil has been produced in Nigeria since 1958. But so far the wealth has not benefited the population. Several human rights organizations estimate that about 70 percent of the 160 million Nigerians live below the poverty line. That means they have less than $1.25 a day. 20 years ago the figure was 34 percent., according to the World Bank. "50 years ago, the discovery of oil was the best thing that could have happened to Nigeria. Today we know it's the worst thing for the Niger Delta," says Kentebe Ebiaridor. He works for the Environmental Protection Agency ERA, based in Port Harcourt, the main city in the Niger Delta. "With the oil revenue they have built cities like Abuja and Lagos. But the region here was left with nothing," he told DW.

Nigeria is now number eight in the list of the world's largest oil exporters. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the state oil company, proudly points to the statistics which say that 2.5 million barrels of crude oil are produced daily.If everything goes according to the wishes of Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, the figure could be as high as four million barrels per day by 2020.

iIlegal oil refinery in Niger Delta Foto: Katrin Gänsler
Work in local refineries can be tedious and dangerousImage: Katrin Gänsler

Goodluck Jonathan 'has done nothing'

Juliette lifts her jerrycan after it's been filled. Normally she would buy larger amounts, she says, because " I have someone who takes the kerosine to Yenagoa. " She refuses to say how much she earns as an intermediary. " I have no choice, there is no other work for me." Last year the unemployment rate stood at 23.9 percent, according to the National Statistics Agency. In recent years it has risen steadily.

However, it did seem as if living conditions might improve. In April 2011, a southerner was elected president. Goodluck Jonathan hails from Bayelsa State. A glimmer of hope for many people in the Niger Delta who had felt disadvantaged by the former dominance of nothern leaders. Juliette laughs scornfully. "Yes, he is from Bayelsa. But he has done nothing for us. These politicians promise you everything but in the end they are not to be trusted."

Entrance to one of the illegal refineries in the Niger Delta Foto: Katrin Gänsler
Some illegal local oil refineries are only accessible by boatImage: Katrin Gänsler

Oil companies are to blame

Such criticism is not welcome on the 13th floor of the government building in Rivers State which borders Bayelsa. Okey C. Amadi is the energy minister and also responsible for the natural resources in Rivers. For him, the answer is clear. "For eight years I sat in the national assembly. Whenever we had anything to do with Shell or other oil companies, it became clear that that they are not interested in the wellbeing of the population here. As far as they are concerned, the people here can go to hell. The companies are only interested in doing business."

"They should hire us and pay decent rates," says one of Joshua's accomplices. The others agree but Joshua halts the discussion as it's time to get moving again. He emerges from the hideout in a motorboat. The men cover the entrance with branches again so that it is almost invisible. But that doesn't always help. On several occasions they received unwelcomed visits from police and soldiers. "They burned everything," Joshua says. We've also been arrested." When asked how he got out of prison again, Joshua smiles, "You just need some money. This is Nigeria."