Call for Expression of Interest (EoI)

Call for Expression of Interest (EoI)



  1. Project background and context

Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre is calling for expression for researchers on one of the world’s largest independent oil traders, focusing on its business operations in Nigeria.

The project seeks to raise awareness on the risks associated with the lack of transparency and oversight in the oil trade business, particularly focusing on how these risks play out when oil traders do business with host states affected by conflict and fragility. The independent oil trader is a particularly interesting case to analyse, because it is one of the biggest players in the world but little is known about the company: they are not stock listed but privately-owned and are therefore not bound by the same transparency rules as stock listed companies, they operate mainly ‘behind the scenes’, and most of their activities are in trading rather than production, which makes it more difficult to assess the social and environmental impact of their activities. Furthermore, the company seems to have a special interest in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Settings (FCAS), operating in many of the most conflictive and fragile countries in the world. Their presence in this type of settings can easily lead to becoming involved in controversies and scandals. As a matter of fact, this independent oil trader has been accused of dodgy deals with Libyan rebels, of paying a Serbian war criminal one million dollars for arranging a deal with Milosevic’s government, and of bribery in Iraq in the United Nations Oil-for-food scandal. However, on only a few occasions has the company been held accountable for these practices. This raises the question how this is possible: how has the independent oil trader organised its business, and what elements (policies, rules and regulations, political practices), in the oil-rich countries with which they trade – with a special focus on FCAS – and in the countries from where they organise their trade (Switzerland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), enable them to continue with their potentially harmful business practices?


The independent oil trader’s operations in Nigeria offer an interesting case study because Nigeria is probably the most important country of its operation in Sub-Sahara Africa, even though they are not well known to the Nigerian public. Vitol’s main interest in Nigeria is oil and gas, both as a trader and as a seller to end consumers. They are a key player in the generally complex extractive sector in Nigeria but operate mainly behind the scenes. The company has been accused of playing a key role in the ‘subsidy regimes’ of the Nigerian government, leading to incessant scarcity of petroleum products in Nigeria. In this sense, they have largely benefitted from the institutionalised opacity that has characterised the operations of the generally complex extractive sector in Nigeria for many decades. The controversies in which this independent oil trader has been involved in the past in Nigeria, show how the company takes advantage of contexts of weak governance to circumvent the law and make large profits without being held accountable. While these two controversies have already received some attention, both in Nigeria and through an investigation of the Swiss NGO Berne Declaration (now Public Eye), there are other signs of obscure and risky business practices that have not yet been investigated and that will be explored in this project. Particularly worrying are the close ties between the NNPC and the independent oil trader, indications of tax evasion, and its recent activities in the Niger Delta (an oil-for-loan deal with Nigerian energy company Shoreline Group). These are some of the issues that will be explored more in-depth in this research.

The focus on one company and one specific country will make it possible to do a more in-depth analysis of oil trading practices in FCAS. The independent oil trader’s operations in Nigeria, however, will also be contextualised with existing information on its operations in other FCAS, like South Sudan, Iraq, Ukraine and others, where this independent oil trader is currently involved or has been involved in the past. This research will look into the ways in which it operates in Nigeria and in other FCAS and exploring to what extent operating in this type of contexts is part of a business strategy. Part of the research will also be to identify the specific contextual elements, both within Nigeria (e.g. weak institutions, informal politics, lack of accountability), and at the international level (lack of regulation and control, political practices favoring oil traders, the existence of ‘commodity hub’ Switzerland etc.) that enable oil trading practices that are often highly profitable to the oil traders, but detrimental to the inhabitants of oil-rich host-countries.


  1. Objective of the research

The main objective of the project is to produce evidence-based research on the independent oil trader’s business strategy, by doing in-depth research on one particular case, its operations in Nigeria. The main question that we are trying to answer is how it is possible that this independent oil trader, despite being involved in several controversies, has hardly been held to account for their role in these controversies. The research will focus on how it has organised its business, and what elements (policies, rules and regulations, political practices), in the oil-rich countries with which they trade – with a special focus on Fragile and Conflict-Affected Settings (FCAS) – and in the countries from where they organise their trade (Switzerland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), enable them to continue with their potentially harmful business practices.


  1. Research questions and methodology


Main research question:

How has this independent oil trader organised its business operations in Nigeria, to what extent are these business operations detrimental to the Nigerian citizens and its government, and what policies, rules and regulations, political practices both in Nigeria and in the countries from where it operates (Switzerland, The Netherlands and Luxembourg), enables it carry out potentially harmful business practices?


Sub-questions on contextual factors:

  • How is the Nigerian oil and gas sector organised (political economy analysis)? What is the position of oil traders in Nigerian economy and politics, what are the most influential political and economic players in that particular sector, what are the stakes, how do the different actors relate to each other, what formal and informal institutions are important to consider, what national rules and regulations are important to the sector etc.)
  • To what extent is Nigerian civil society organised around the harmful practices of the oil and gas sector, what are the most important civil society actors in this context, what do their efforts mostly focus on, how successful are they in addressing harmful practices, what space do they have to operate in the current political context of Nigeria?
  • What international (EU level and beyond) rules, regulations, policies and practices are important for the oil and gas sector? What are current policy debates on the oil and gas sector, what is the role of Switzerland as a commodity hub in this context, what tax policies facilitate certain practices of the independent oil trader in Nigeria? What global civil society actors are actively addressing transparency and accountability issues in the oil and gas sector?


Important comment: It is important to keep in mind when reading the sub-questions on contextual factors listed above that we are not thinking of answering all these questions in-depth, as each sub-question could probably lead to a separate research project. Rather, these questions should help us to get a more general background to Vitol’s activities in Nigeria. The focus is on the independent oil trader and its operations, however, the context (both national and international) is important to understand how they operate in Nigeria, and this is why these questions are posed here.


Sub-questions on the independent oil trader’s business strategy and operations:

  • What is its corporate structure, who finances its operations, in which FCAS countries does it operate, what amounts of oil does it trade on an annual basis (general), what is the company’s CSR policy (does it cover all aspects relevant of CSR – social, environmental, and economic responsibility and conflict-sensitivity; does the company recognize the relevant sector-specific standards?).
  • What are their business operations in Nigeria? What does its corporate structure look like, with whom does it trade in Nigeria, how much, to whom does it sell its Nigerian oil? What is the role of the NNPC in it’s trading operations in Nigeria? What deals has the NNPC made with it (or its subsidiaries), are there any suspicious elements there? Sub-questions:
  1. Which of its group companies buy or have bought Nigerian oil in recent years?
  2. Who does it buy Nigerian crude oil from?
  • Which govt. Institution(s) sells the company oil, and from which fields does that oil come?
  • With which companies does it do business in Nigeria?
  • Can we find information about individual oil transactions involving it, including the volume, price per barrel, and total price of these transactions?
  1. Does it buy Nigerian oil from intermediary traders?
  • Who do these traders buy their oil from?
  • Are any politically exposed persons in charge of those traders?
  • Is it, or one of its subsidiaries or business partners in Nigeria, involved in any controversy, or has it been involved in any controversy in Nigeria in the past and if yes, what is/has been the nature of the controversy and how has it been/is it being addressed?


Research product

A research report on the independent oil trader’s business operations in Nigeria, including a more in-depth analysis of the human rights impacts of its business operations in Nigeria. This will be an official publication by CISLAC and Oxfam Nigeria/Oxfam Novib, assuming that all organizations want to be listed as authors, taking security and other concerns into account.

Intermediary results/research outcomes will be shared in presentations.



The consultant will be expected to carry out a study on the institution under survey.

The consultant will work with the research assistants that will be recruited by CISLAC on the research.

Submit a draft report after 30 days

Final report to be submitted after 60 days of commencement of the study.



The researcher is expected to have the requisite qualification for this research which will include a minimum of Masters degree in any relevant discipline.

The researcher should have a track record of completing similar research.



Please submit a detailed proposal (technical and financial) for carrying out this research to and copy

Please attach a copy of your curriculum vitae showing evidence of carrying out such job in the past.


Entries should be received on or before Wednesday the 22nd of August 2018.


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