What business pays between N500,000 and N1million per night? “Oil cooking”. That is it. To the uninitiated, oil cooking means the refining of crude oil through improvised means, a widespread operation around the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
The business, SaharaReporters observed, provides young, able-bodied women access to copious sums of money. In a village we visited in the Niger Delta region, young men spend the daytime sauntering around. At night, they are busy, usually behind their homes engaged in illegal refining of crude oil also known as “Oil Cooking.”
An illegal refinery operator, who goes by the street name, Scorpion, said illegal refinery operators are in the business because they have families to feed and other needs to meet.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures. This business we do is to keep body and soul together and feed our families,” he said.
The business, which Scorpion said is dangerous but lucrative, gives operators money based on what they invest.
"The money we make depends on the size of the "pot" (constructed tank). There are pots you can build with about N300,000. Such a pot can give you like 200 liters. Sometimes, we sell as between N500,000 and N1million worth of crudely refined fuel per night,” he said.
Scorpion contested the claim of the Nigerian Navy, which said it seized stolen crude oil worth N420billion in 2016. According to Scorpion, there is no way in the world in which the Navy would seize that quantity of crude because security agents collaborate with villagers to steal crude and sell off to illegal refinery operators.
Scorpion said he does not steal crude, but gets supply from those who do, an indication of the division of labor.
"Me no get access to crude. Somebody supplies, another brings it to me. My own is to cook it and send it to market," he told SaharaReporters in halting English.
Scorpion disclosed that the security agencies are half-hearted in the discharge of their duties.
According to him, they go after illegal refinery operators only when the feel like impressing their bosses.
Another operator, who gave his name as Saturday Nuate, said the military constitutes a danger to their business, but operators think the profits compensate for the danger. He also argued that the business is a way of getting recompense from the Nigerian state, which has treated oil-producing communities like conquered territories. "We have many oil wells in our locality, yet we don't have anything from the government. We have no pipe-borne water, no electricity. We are just left like that. In order to survive, God has given our youths a way to do crude oil refining business our families are happy,” he told SaharaReporters. ᐧ