The Government of Nigeria (GON) has sought to undertake a very unusual method of stopping or deterring “oil bunkering” in the Niger Delta; the use of military bombing for minor bunkering assets. This is a true example of the famed “fire brigade” approach associated with GON when seriously challenged with problems of technical, complex or elusive nature. It is easy for the GON to deploy Joint Task Force (JTF) and other heavy-handed security outfits to the Niger Delta with ‘genocidal consequences’ to “stabilise” the nation but it is surprisingly impossible them to make substantial and sustainable developments in the region or clean-up the heinous ‘ecocide’ manifested there endlessly.
Bunkering on any significant scale would be totally impossible in the absence of well-coordinated corruption and the activities of deeply entrenched special interest groups in Nigeria. Bunkering is therefore as much a problem of corruption as it is one of theft and smuggling. In fact, the corruption part of bunkering is the determining part of the activity; the theft and smuggling are minor parts of the game.
The bombing of “bunkering assets” is at best a weak short-term solution to the problem. Minor assets get bombed but nothing happens to the big oil tankers that take the bunkered oil away. That is symptomatic of a protection racket. Entrenched special interests, both local and foreign, have started to secure protection for their assets. Bunkering has just become a bit more expensive for those to receive bunkered oil.
The implication is that, as usual, there is “selective bombing” happening for those assets and operatives that do not pay up. Those who are ‘paid-up’ are still bunkering freely. An unspoken fact about oil bunkering is that those who receive bunkered oil have enough influence on world powers to make a Nigerian president “comply with terms”. We know what that means.
Corruption, as I have explained elsewhere, has a “stream of information” model; which includes an Upstream, a Midstream and a Downstream. Information in this sense translates to power and determines discretion which is what is abused or misused in acts of corruption by public officials. The Upstream consists of policy formulation undertaken by top executives, top bureaucrats ranking legislators, and occasionally some major stakeholders. The Midstream consists of policy implementation undertaken by the top and middle-ranking bureaucrats, contractors and stakeholders. The Downstream consists of middle-ranking bureaucrats and contractors. Then there is the Exit where the proceeds of corruption are paid or received. This model has several adaptations and overlaps in practice but is used in this form for simplicity.
Many people assume that money is received at the Exit via the Downstream phase because that is when a project is (frequently falsely claimed) to be “completed” and payments made characterised by bribes and extortion. (cf. uncompleted projects). Some others assume that the Exit occurs via the Upstream in the form of embezzlement and graft.
However, in practice, it is very difficult to determine the point of Exit in the model at either the Upstream, Midstream or Downstream phases. Sometimes the Exit happens at all three phases simultaneously depending on who is involved and how they want the payments made. Worst of all corruption cannot be determined without the substantive existence of a detectable Exit and that is corruption is naturally secretive. This where the GON should focus its energies.
Most of the high-level transactions and Exits conducted for the purpose oil bunkering are undertaken far outside the shores of Nigeria and the monies exchanged are intentionally irresistible to politicians, bureaucrats, the military, the police, oil services contractors, militants etc. It is the men at the top if restrained that can will lead to the end of oil bunkering, not the men at the bottom of the order who commandeer barges for a very small slice of the action. Catching the proverbial “big fish” is the best place to start.
The supposed ‘nail-in-the-coffin’ is that corruption is an evolutionary phenomenon that mutates as is necessary to perpetuate itself and that is one major reason why it is so hard to eradicate. The GON has to be smarter and quicker than the oil bunkering principals to win. A uni-linear anti-bunkering method of bombing assets is far too crude and derisory to stop or even reduce oil bunkering.
Leaving the oil in the ground is by far the best solution to ending oil bunkering.
With reference to environmental impact, the bombing of bunkering assets simply adds to the ecocide and damage, oil production already has caused in the Niger Delta. Bombed barges will spill oil, produce lots of toxic smoke/fumes by incineration and the land bears witness to more layers of slick. Who will clean up the nasty mess created by the bombings? And when? The Niger Delta has to bear yet another deliberate tragedy at the hands of GON.
More of the same and getting worse? It has to stop immediately. If the GON cannot deal with the problem sensibly and effectively it had better forget it anyway.