Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 12:25 UK

Nigeria seeks to end 'blood oil'

Nigerian oil pipes
Stealing crude oil requires government cover, activists say

An international cartel of oil smugglers steals billions of dollars in "blood oil" from Nigeria, trading it for guns, the president has said.

Speaking at the G8 summit in Japan, President Umaru Yar'Adua drew comparisons between oil "bunkering" and the trade in "blood diamonds".

He said an international effort must be made to stop the trade, which fuelled unrest in the Niger Delta.

The conflict means Nigeria is no longer Africa's largest oil exporter.

Militant attacks in the Delta have reduced production by around a quarter, allowing Angola to overtake Nigeria.

But no-one really knows exactly how much oil is pumped out of the ground, according to a Senate inquiry set up in March.

The smuggling cartel includes officials at the Nigerian state oil company, government, the military and international oil companies, according to Delta activists.

Cheap oil

Trying to stop the trade must be an international effort, the president says, because the people driving the market are companies looking for cheap crude to feed international markets.

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"Stolen crude should be treated like stolen diamonds because they both generate blood money," President Yar'Adua said.

"Like what is now known as 'blood diamonds', stolen crude also aids corruption, violence and can provoke war."

The trade in diamonds helped fuel the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Angola, prompting campaigners to put pressure on the industry to tighten regulations.

A Rivers State government spokesman told the BBC it was time to crack down on the international members of the cartel.

"Some smart alec comes to Nigeria with a vessel partly loaded with guns, partly with cash," said Ogbonna Nwuke.

"In return, he gets cheap oil and delivers the weapons to some boys who think they're fighting the Niger Delta cause."

"The result is confusion."

Tankers

But activists in the Delta say there is no way oil smuggling could be done without the compliance of corrupt elements of the Nigerian state.

"I have never seen this bunkering business as an illegal thing," says Anyakwee Nsirimovu, a Port Harcourt-based human rights lawyer.

"For God's sake, the waters around Nigeria are not a free area, where you can just pass without anyone asking any questions."

In order for tankers to dock and receive oil from boats coming from the creeks, there must be a high level of involvement from government and the military, he says.

"They are making billions of dollars and they don't want this thing to end."


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