Bulwark Intelligence



Crude oil, one of the main sources of energy supply worldwide, was discovered in Nigeria in 1956. The first commercial oil well was drilled in Oloibiri, a town located in Bayelsa state, in the Niger Delta.  The country as of today has a total of 10 leading oil-producing states across the six geopolitical zones. Owing to the fast-rising growth in the oil sector, there have been irregularities in its production and like every facet of a country’s economy, exploitation has taken the form of illegal oil refineries predominantly in the Niger Delta.

Illegal oil refineries commonly referred to as bunkering in Nigeria encompass all acts involving oil theft, including diversion and smuggling of oil and unauthorised loading of ships. A typical process of accessing the oil involves puncturing an existing oil pipeline at night and establishing a tapping point from which operations are done.

The effects of bunkering have led to several risks ranging from economic, political, and environmental due to oil spillage and explosions to security risks ranging from armed robbery and civil unrest owing to clashes between indigenes and illegal operators. Additionally, no fewer than 285 persons have lost their lives to explosions from illegal refineries and tanker explosions from January 2021 to date. On October 3 at least 37 people were burnt to death after an explosion in an illegal oil refinery in iIbas Community, Emuoha Local Government Area of River State. Although popular opinion attributes the causes of illegal refineries to poverty and low living standards, it is largely carried out by militants in the operating areas.

An Image Showing An Illegal Refinery At Akassa Area Of Brass in Bayelsa. Image Source: Premium Times

Security threats posed by the operation of illegal refineries cannot be overemphasized as they leave irreversible consequences in the affected areas. In a bid to regulate oil production in the country and to eradicate illegal activities, Government Security Forces (GSF) have sprung into action to cripple these operations through raids and swoops. Reports reveal that cumulatively from 2015 to 2023, at least 5,840 illegal refining sites were deactivated by security forces.

Recently, Troops of the Nigerian Army destroyed an illegal oil refinery in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State on August 23, 8 active ovens used for illegal refining of stolen crude oil, and 14 storage reservoirs containing stolen crude oil estimated at 200, 000 litres and 90, 000 litres of locally refined Automotive Gas Oil were destroyed during the operation. In September, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) reported that troops of Operation Delta Safe, in 2 weeks, had uncovered and destroyed 89 illegal refining sites in the Niger Delta region. 21 dugout pits, 56 boats, 138 storage tanks, 235 cooking ovens, six pumping machines, one outboard engine, and two speedboats were discovered and destroyed while about 1.2 litres of stolen crude oil, 452,910 litres of illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil and 22,650 litres of Premium Motor Spirit were recovered from the operations.


The downside of illegal refinery operations, beyond the obvious environmental risks which are irredeemable, is the security threats they pose in the communities where these operations are done. These are but not limited to recurrent clashes by opposing communities encountering pollution, raids by security forces rendering the community in a state of unrest and the influx of militants in the affected communities.


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