Tackling pipeline vandalism in the communities of the Delta

SDN’s latest report, ‘Building Bridges’ investigates approaches to tackle the large scale issue of pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta. A fractious relationship between oil companies, the communities and government sustains the problem of pipeline sabotage; which is deeply damaging to all three stakeholders.  Our recent research focuses on community-based vandalism, occurring at easily accessible pipelines within community borders.  We argue that there is a need for a holistic approach to tackle community-based pipeline vandalism, that would reverse current incentives away from vandalism and towards pipeline and environmental protection through developing local institutions and economies, increasing employment and lifting many out of poverty.

The rapacious appetite of oil capitalism coupled with poor governance and neglect of basic human rights has created a myriad of problems in the communities in the Niger Delta.  Pervasive poverty, lack of employment, fuel shortages and pursuit of entitlements from the petroleum sector drives citizens towards the vandalism of the pipelines that pervade their communities. The Nigerian government preferences business interests over the needs of its people, adding a further dimension to the communities grievances with the extractive industry and the rule of law.  The Niger Delta, which fuels Nigeria’s economy and accounts for 95% of Nigeria’s export earnings and over 80% of Federal Government’s revenue, remains the one of the poorest regions of the country.

In our report, we highlight a dichotomy of the drivers of pipeline vandalism between accessible pipelines and inaccessible pipelines.

At inaccessible pipelines, vandalism is driven by a pursuit for wealth, political power, status and recognition.  It feeds a black market for petroleum products sustained by international demand for cheap crude oil.

At accessible pipelines (within community borders), vandalism is a manifestation of anger over the lack of development within communities and an attempt to gain the attention of Government and oil companies to obtain clean-up contracts.

Pipeline vandalism costs the Nigerian Government, oil companies and communities an estimated $14 billion dollars in 2014.  The vast financial cost of the problem highlights how defunct relations between these stakeholders has become.

Our initial research focused on community-based incidences of pipeline vandalism, as tackling this problem will significantly reduce citizen grievances and eradicate a significant cause of oil pollution.

So how can communities, oil-companies and government co-exist and mutually benefit from each other’s presence?

One respondent answered simply that

“an ideal partnership will be one that clearly defines the roles, responsibilities and benefits for each stakeholder; communities, companies and government.’’

There is a need to move to a relationship where all can benefit; oil companies by maximum production with minimal additional costs; government through tax take and profit shares; and communities, permitting the companies to operate on their land in return for rent aligned with success based incentives and transparent and accountable needs-based community development.

Above all, we believe that a multi-stakeholder and multi-dimensional framework is required to address the issue of pipeline vandalism.

Read the full report, as recently covered by the Guardian.

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