/ 9 June 2016

Rebel factions in Niger Delta divided over attacks

Oil bunkering: A man works at an illegal oil refinery near the Nun River in Nigeria’s oil state of Bayelsa.
Oil bunkering: A man works at an illegal oil refinery near the Nun River in Nigeria’s oil state of Bayelsa.

This week, a new rebel group vowed to attack strategic targets across Nigeria, despite calls for a united front and no life-threatening actions from militants who have claimed recent strikes on oil facilities.

The group, calling itself the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF), said it would hit “all those infrastructures that were built with our oil and gas monies in this country”.

The list of targets included the presidential villa, government ministries, Parliament, the state-run oil firm and the central bank in Abuja, plus the offices of oil majors and the military.

“We will make [the] federal government and oil companies suffer as they have made the people of the Niger Delta region suffer over the years from environmental degradation and environmental pollution,” the JNDLF’s “Joint Revolutionary Council” said.

Most of the recent attacks on oil facilities in the oil-rich south have been claimed by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), who want a fairer share of revenue from the sector for local people.

President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered security in the delta as NDA sabotage of pipelines and attacks on installations have reduced crude production to 1.4-million barrels a day.

But his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from the epicentre of the unrest, Bayelsa state, said a heavy-handed response was not the answer to the region’s woes.

“Yes, government can always overrun restive movements and so on but the Niger Delta is too delicate,” he said.

“The level of damage will be too much for the government to bear. We used dialogue,” he said, referring to the 2009 amnesty that brought an end to similar attacks when he was vice-president.

Last week the NDA denied involvement in an attack on a boat belonging to the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in which four soldiers and two personnel were killed.

On Saturday, the group appeared to confirm the emergence of other militants with similar agendas in a statement on its website, “calling on all groups in the region to be strong and resolute”.

The JNDLF, which said it would carry out its threat with missiles, has vowed to fight troops sent to the delta to bolster the protection of key infrastructure. But the NDA countered: “We must desist from any life-threatening actions that will derail our genuine struggle for our people.

“All groups are hereby discouraged from indulging in harassing oil workers and soldiers … those groups with anti-aircraft missiles should dry their gunpowder.”

The emergence of militant outfits recalls the situation in the 2000s, when groups with broadly similar aims came together under the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) banner.

The rebels were bought off in the government-brokered amnesty deal but Buhari’s initial announcement to wind down the programme by 2018 is said to have contributed to the re-emergence of militancy.

The group has added self-determination for the region to its aims and allied itself with ethnic Igbo campaigners in the southeast wanting an independent Biafran homeland.

Head of the Academic Associates PeaceWorks conflict management group in Delta state, Judith Asuni, said they were trying to get government and local leaders together to resolve the issues.

But whereas the militant groups of the past were primarily composed of the Ijaw ethnic group, today “there seem to be branches opening up of other ethnic groups that were not included in the amnesty programme of 2009”, she said.

“It’s like buying your own McDonald’s franchise. You can open your own branch of Niger Delta Avengers,” she added. – AFP