1 September 2013

This report analyses the international dimensions of Nigerian crude oil theft and explores what the international community could do about it.


Christina Katsouris

Christina Katsouris

Associate Fellow, Africa Programme

Aaron Sayne


  • Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale. Nigeria lost at least 100,000 barrels of oil per day, around 5% of total output, in the first quarter of 2013 to theft from its onshore and swamp operations alone. Some of what is stolen is exported. Proceeds are laundered through world financial centres and used to buy assets in and outside Nigeria, polluting markets and financial institutions overseas, and creating reputational, political and legal hazards. It could also compromise parts of the legitimate oil business. 
  • Officials outside Nigeria are aware that the problem exists, and occasionally show some interest at high policy levels. But Nigeria's trade and diplomatic partners have taken no real action, and no stakeholder group inside the country has a record of sustained and serious engagement with the issue. The resulting lack of good intelligence means international actors cannot fully assess whether Nigerian oil theft harms their interests. 
  • Nigeria's dynamic, overcrowded political economy drives competition for looted resources. Poor governance has encouraged violent opportunism around oil and opened doors for organized crime. Because Nigeria is the world's 13th largest oil producer – exports often topped two million barrels per day in 2012 – high rents are up for grabs.

The report recommends the following four first steps for building a cross-border campaign against Nigerian oil theft:

  • Nigeria and its prospective partners should prioritize the gathering, analysis and sharing of intelligence. 
  • Nigeria should consider taking other steps to build the confidence of partners. 
  • Other states should begin cleaning up parts of the trade they know are being conducted within their borders. 
  • Nigeria should articulate its own multi-point, multi-partner strategy for addressing oil theft.

Report dissemination 


Oil theft in Nigeria: A murky business, The Economist, 3 October

Nigeria fund invests $200 mln as oil price cushion, Reuters, 25 September

Elleville tilstander i Nigerias oljebransje, Aften Posten, 21 September

Theft plagued Nigeria pipeline shuts again, Reuters, 20 September

Profits from stolen Nigerian oil laundered overseas, Marketplace, 20 September

Fighting the export of stolen oil, Marketplace, 20 September

Nigeria looted oil money 'laundered abroad', BBC News, 20 September

Nigeria: Stolen Nigerian crude oil and profits laundered around the world, AllAfrica.com, 19 September  

Stolen Nigerian oil threatens legitimate global trade, Bloomberg, 19 September 

Criminal networks blamed for Nigeria oil theft, Financial Times, 19 September

Chatham House says stolen Nigerian oil threatens global trade, Businessweek, 19 September

Nigeria oil theft a global criminal enterprise, Fox News, 19 September

As oil thieves bleed Nigeria, Report says, officials profit, New York Times, 19 September

Report: Oil theft in Nigeria has worldwide impact, Voice of America, 19 September

Rivers of the Niger Delta

Rivers of the Niger Delta Figure 1 shows large-scale illegal bunkering; Figure 2 shows how small tankers can sometimes steal crude directly from the pipeline without recourse to barges; Figure 3 shows use of ocean-going tugs, anchor handling vessels or ships that serviceoil platforms to pull large barges. Download the report for more.
Figure 1


Figure 2


Figure 3

Figure 3


Watch Nigeria's Criminal Crude: International Options to Combat the Export of Stolen Oil.