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The Niger Delta

September 9th 2016
The situation in the Niger Delta has become slightly harder to read in the last few weeks. The Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had already begun discussions with the Nigerian government regarding the return of amnesty payments to former militia fighters. This, despite the fact that they had not taken part in any of the recent attacks on oil installations and terminals.

Last week, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) agreed to a ceasefire, but on condition there would be no further harassment of its people by the Nigerian Army. This hasn’t really held, although so far the NDA hasn’t returned to its terrorist ways. They continue to speak with the government in an attempt to improve the lot of Delta peoples who feel let down by the oil industry in the region. The riches promised to local communities have not materialised and there is great anger at the federal government, for whom oil revenue is a major financial lifeline.

While the two groups continue negotiations, the army has been moving assets into the Delta. On August 31st, the Niger Delta Red Squad (NDRS) launched an attack against an oil facility owned by Agip. The NDRS warned Agip personnel to keep away from the damaged pipeline, threatening to behead anyone in the vicinity as part of their campaign to ensure their communities are not “neglected”.

Similarly, several other smaller groups have refused to lay down weapons and negotiate, meaning that any peace brokered by the government could be limited. On September 4th, another group, the Niger Delta Cleansers (NDC), threatened to attack soldiers in the region unless the government withdrew them within 14 days. Their spokesman condemned ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’, launched by the federal government, after most militants have embraced the ongoing dialogue process in the region.

Oil exports account for around 70% of government funds and the recent drop in oil prices combined with militant activity against pipelines and terminals in the region has cost the Nigerian economy dearly; President Buhari must be seen to be taking steps to negotiate with the militants but, at the same time, ensure the safety and security of oil companies and shipping in Nigeria, given the huge amount of money they contribute to the nation’s coffers.

Reports from Nigeria in August stated that attacks by militants on oil facilities accounted for nearly 50 per cent loss of revenue to the Federal Government in July. This, in spite of a slight increase in the price of crude oil during the period. The severe loss of income places huge pressure on President Buhari and the government to come to some sort of arrangement with the militant groups in the Delta, even if a ‘one size fits all’ deal isn’t available.

Meanwhile, the military build up in the region, as part of the Nigerian Army’s “Operation Crocodile Smile” is having its own, adverse affect on popular opinion. As tanks, armoured cars and personnel roll into Bayelsa and Delta states, locals are expressing concern that the government may not honour the ceasefire.

In such a notoriously volatile part of the country, the Nigerian authorities are walking on eggshells as they try to restore oil exports and therefore fill Federal coffers while at the same time appeasing the militants who see no real value for their people in those same oil exports. It remains to be seen how long any fragile peace will last, particularly given recent news. On Thursday September 8th, the father of former MEND commander, Tompolo, died in hospital. His death is being linked to an army raid on his property which occurred in May. Tompolo is a notorious former militant, currently on the run from the law following charges arising from a massive corruption case involving NIMASA and Tompolo’s maritime security company, Global West Vessel Specialists.

If Tompolo decides to exact revenge on the military, the region could experience significant disruption in the coming weeks.