How Nigeria’s Oil Industry Went Local

The Unintended Benefits of Graft

A proposed oil refinery on Akodo beach, near Lagos, June 2016. Akintunde Akinyele / Reuters

The biggest real-estate foreclosure in Manhattan’s history began with a Nigerian jet-fuel binge. Kola Aluko, now in hiding from the authorities of multiple countries, allegedly spent so much money on jet fuel that he could no longer pay the mortgage on his Midtown penthouse, which was consequently auctioned for $36 million in late 2017. Aluko is a central figure in criminal trials for money laundering and petro-business corruption now underway in Houston, Lagos, and London. Media coverage has, understandably, focused on the juicy details of his spending. Along with the penthouse, he owned a yacht that Jay Z and Beyoncé once rented for her birthday party, but now, on orders of a Nigerian court, sits idle with other seized cars and jets.

A less-discussed byproduct of the alleged crimes committed by Aluko and his conspirators in the Nigerian government, however, is how they catalyzed what was possibly the largest ever transfer of energy assets from foreign companies to local ones. This is not meant to reframe Aluko as an improbable hero; it is to say, however, that domestic companies in Nigeria now control more of the country’s oil and gas resources than ever before, and they are poised to deliver economic gains that Nigeria has always wanted but never had. It is well worth examining how the corruption of Aluko and others may have led to this outcome—and considering how it might be achieved without graft.

The relevant scheme involved Aluko allegedly brokering deals for Nigeria’s then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke. Between 2010 and 2015, while Alison-Madueke held her post, several international energy companies decided to sell oil or gas fields in Nigeria. Some left the country, fed up with the chaos; others were retreating from conventional onshore fields to offshore ones, hoping that there they’d be safer from the militant groups in the Nigerian Delta.

Sales of such large oil blocks often require government approval. One of the charges against Alison-Madueke and Aluko is that the former

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