West Africa: Illegal Pipelines, Oil Theft – SERAP Drags Buhari to Ecowas Court

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has sued President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration over the failure to probe the operations of illegal oil pipelines between 2001 and 2022, as well as name and prosecute those suspected to be involved.

The suit was filed by SERAP, Eric Dooh, (who is suing for himself as a leader of the Goi Community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, and on behalf of the Goi Community), and 15 other concerned Nigerians.

The suit, filed on their behalf by SERAP lawyer, Kolawole Oluwadare, followed recent reports of the discovery of at least 58 illegal oil pipelines used to steal the country’s oil wealth.

The stealing, reportedly carried out through the illicit pipeline connected to the trunk line via an abandoned pipeline, and linked to a location in the high sea, where they load crude oil into vessels and sell overseas.

In the Suit filed last Friday before the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja, the Plaintiffs were seeking: “an order directing and compelling the Buhari government to immediately probe the reports of operations of illegal pipelines and oil theft, name and prosecute suspected perpetrators.”

The Plaintiffs also sought: “An order directing and compelling the Buhari government to fully recover any proceeds of crime, and to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of the people of Niger Delta that have continued to suffer the effects of oil theft by non-state actors.”

In the suit, the Plaintiffs argued that, “The Buhari government is failing to uphold its international legal obligations to ensure that the country’s oil wealth is used solely for the benefit of Nigerians, and that the wealth does not end up in private pockets.

“Poor and socio-economically vulnerable Nigerians have continued to pay the price for the stealing of the country’s oil wealth apparently by both state and non-state actors.

“Despite the country’s substantial oil wealth, successive governments have largely squandered the opportunity to use the wealth to improve the lives and well-being of ordinary Nigerians.

“The illegal pipelines have been operated for many years without notice, implying a flagrant violation of international human rights obligations to ensure the proper, effective and efficient management of the country’s wealth and natural resources.”

SERAP noted that the plundering of the country’s oil wealth had resulted in the downward trend in revenue and increasing level of borrowing, with reports of a projected N11.30 trillion deficit budget for 2023.

The suit, read in part: “The unaddressed plundering of the country’s oil wealth has for many years contributed to shrinking revenue, chronic underfunding of public goods and services such as education, health, and safe drinking water, recurring budget deficits, growing level of borrowing, and unsustainable debt profile.”

“There are violations of the economic and social rights of the people of the Niger Delta including the rights to an adequate standard of living, and to economic and social development – as a consequence of the plundering of the country’s resources through the operations of illegal pipelines by non-state actors.”

“The Buhari government has failed to exercise due diligence to prevent and combat oil theft; to investigate and prosecute suspected perpetrators, and recover proceeds of crimes; and to respect, protect, promote and fulfil people’s rights.

“According to a Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) audit report, 160 million barrels of crude oil valued at $13.7 billion were stolen between 2009 and 2012.

“The Plaintiffs contend that the destruction of vessels used for crude oil theft by security agencies under the command of the Defendant was illegal and was done to conceal the identity of the perpetrators.”

Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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