Nigeria’s top rebel group threatened on Monday to cripple the country’s oil sector after the military said it had arrested dozens of militants believed to have recently kidnapped 19 oil workers.
In its first reaction after the army announced mass arrests in a raid last week, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) vowed “to bring oil companies operating in Nigeria to their knees”.
It also claimed that the 63 militants the army said it arrested at the weekend, in fact had turned themselves in for promised financial payouts.
The Nigerian military on Saturday announced it had arrested a gang leader and 62 of his followers after an eight-hour stand-off.
But Mend claimed no fighting took place and that militants surrendered following negotiations brokered by a former militant commander who laid down arms last year under the government amnesty deal.
“There was no exchange of gunfire and these individuals handed themselves over to the military in expectance of a reward,” it said.
The military freed 19 hostages in an operation on Wednesday in the creeks of Niger Delta region, the heart of one of the world’s largest oil industries. The victims included American, Canadian, French, Indonesian and Nigerian nationals.
Two days after that the military said it raided a camp where the hostages had been held and took away the militants and an array of weapons.
Meanwhile, terror accused Henry Okah, suspected leader of Mend, remains behind bars in South Africa.
The Nigerian man was arrested a day after twin car bombings in Abuja on October 1, killing 12 people. He has claimed that he knew nothing of the bombings.
Mend, however, has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
He was denied bail on November 19 in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court.
In his affidavit Okah said that he had to undergo a spine operation which could only be done in a private hospital.
The state said arrangements could be made for the operation to be conducted in a private hospital under police guard.
Magistrate Hein Louw found that Okah had misled the court during his cross examination.
“The accused was untruthful and he lied to the court,” Louw said.
His failure to give a convincing answer explaining why he had compiled a list of high calibre weapons in one of his diaries was also questionable, the court found.
Mend has been fighting for greater control of the proceeds of Nigeria’s vast oil revenues since 2006.– Sapa-AFP