They call themselves the Niger Delta Avengers. Little is known about the new radical group that has claimed a series of pipeline bombings in Nigeria’s oil-producing region this year and evaded gunboats and soldiers trawling swamps and villages. Their attacks have driven Nigerian oil output to near a 22-year low and, if the violence escalates into another insurgency in the restive area, it could cripple production in a country facing a growing economic crisis.
President Muhammadu Buhari has said he will crush the militants, but a wide-scale conflict could stretch security forces already battling a northern rebellion by hardline Sunni Muslim group Boko Haram. Militancy has been rife over the past decade in the Delta, a southern region which is one of the country’s poorest areas despite generating 70 percent of state income.
Violence has increased sharply this year – most of it claimed by the “Avengers” – after Buhari scaled back an amnesty deal with rebel groups, which had ended a 2004-2009 insurgency.Under the deal, more state cash was channelled to the region for job training and militant groups were handed contracts to protect the pipelines they once bombed. But Buhari cut the budget allocated to the plan by about 70 percent and cancelled the contracts, citing corruption and mismanagement of funds.
The “Avengers” have carried out a string of attacks since February 2016… The group has emailed journalists a statement saying they were fighting for an independent Delta and would step up their attacks unless oil firms left the region within two weeks.”If at the end of the ultimatum you are still operating, we will blow up all the locations,” it said. “It will be bloody. So just shut down your operations and leave.””To international oil companies, this is just the beginning and you have not seen anything yet. We will make you suffer,” it said.
Authorities have no hard facts about the group – such as its size, bases or leadership…Diplomats and security experts say it has shown a level of sophistication not seen since the peak of the 2004-2009 insurgency, which halved Nigeria’s oil output. They say it must be getting help from sympathetic oil workers in identifying the pipelines to cause maximum damage….
In February 2016 the group claimed an attack on an undersea pipeline, forcing Shell to shut a 250,000 barrels a day Forcados terminal. In May 2016, it took credit for blasting a Chevron platform, shutting the Warri and Kaduna refineries…
Reuters, like other media, has been unable to reach the group, which mainly communicates via Twitter, with the location tracker switched off, and on its website.Its members describe themselves there as “young, well travelled” and mostly educated in eastern Europe.
Given the lack of intelligence about the militants, the army launched a wide-ranging hunt across the Delta this week, sending gunboats into mosquito-infested creeks and searching villages in the middle of the night. But some residents say such a heavy-handed military approach stokes dissent in the Delta where many complain of poverty despite sitting on much of Nigeria’s energy wealth. They say some villagers help militants to hide in the hard-to-access swamps….
Executives [oil firms in Nigeria] met Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in May 2016 and one of them warned the government was being “too direct and blunt” and needed to find some balance, according to a source familiar with the discussions….Many locals in the Christian south see Buhari, a Muslim northerner, as an oppressor.
Excerpts ‘Avengers’ threaten new insurgency in Nigeria’s oil-producing Delta, Reuters, May 16, 2016
According to their website: The Nigerian State is like the biblical Egypt, the Government of the Federation is like the Biblical Pharaohs, President Buhari is like the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses, the Niger Delta People are like the Jews while the Niger Delta Avengers is Moses. So all we are asking is let our people go (NIGER DELTANS).
See also UN on Ogoniland oil damage