WikiLeaks: Politicians, military behind most oil thefts

Politicians and military leaders — not militants — are responsible for the majority of oil thefts in Nigeria’s crude-rich southern delta, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable quoting a Nigerian official and released by WikiLeaks.

A member of a government panel on troubles in the Niger Delta implicated Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, a general whose brother became president, and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as being the biggest forces behind the thefts, the cable claims.

“It is in the interests of these people to make it appear that the Niger Delta problem is intractable,” the Jan. 2009 cable quotes panel member Tony Uranta as saying. “As a result, they prop up the militants, including some who have an ideological basis for their actions.”

Atiku has however denied the allegations, describing it as “a recycled old tale told again and again by business rivals unable to match his business success.”

A statement issued to The Associated Press yesterday read: “Atiku is unaware of any links that the late General Yar’Adua had with bunkering and he believed absolutely that this is false accusation.”

Yar’Adua, who served as second-in-command of the country’s military government in the late 1970s, died in prison in 1997 after being arrested for criticizing military dictator Sani Abacha. His brother, the President Umaru Yar’Adua, died in May 2010.

The diplomatic cable quotes Uranta as blaming “no more than 15 per cent” of oil thefts on militants operating in the delta, a tropical maze of creeks and waterways about the size of South Carolina. Instead, politicians, retired admirals and generals and others in the country’s elite profit from the thefts.

“Uranta claimed that the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, the president’s brother, had been the ‘biggest’ bunkerer,” the cable reads, using the local term for oil thieves. “When he died, his holdings were taken over by his brothers but managed on their behalf by his close personal friend, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.”

“The military wants to remain in the Niger Delta because they profit enormously from money charged for escorting illegally bunkered crude and from money extorted in the name of providing security on the roads,” the cable reads. “The ... foot soldiers are not the only ones who profit; the commissioner of police, the director of the State Security Service (and) the military all line up at the governor’s door asking for ‘favours,’ Kemedi said.”

The cables also suggested militants received foreign military training and that the Israeli military equipped and trained some government soldiers.

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