New wave of Nige­rian rebels threaten oil war

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

YENAGOA: Strik­ing self-as­sur­ance, a pen­chant for hy­per­bole and a work­ing knowl­edge of Latin – these are the hall­marks of the lat­est group of mil­i­tants to emerge in Nige­ria’s oil-rich Niger Delta.

The New Delta Avengers are named in a nod to the Niger Delta Avengers who last year crip­pled Nige­ria’s oil pro­duc­tion in a fight for a greater share of the pro­ceeds for the re­gion, im­pov­er­ished by en­demic cor­rup­tion.

The new group’s in­au­gu­ral state­ment was signed by a Cor­po­ral Oleum Bel­lum, a Latin phrase that loosely means “oil war”.

It and oth­ers, like the Niger Delta Ma­rine Force led by one Gen­eral Benikeme Hitler, have formed even as the govern­ment holds peace talks with Niger Delta com­mu­ni­ties to end vi­o­lence that has brought the econ­omy to its knees. “By this dec­la­ra­tion, we are res­ur­rect­ing the spirit of in­sur­gency to de­mand for a bet­ter deal for our peo­ple,” the New Delta Avengers’ state­ment said.

“We are go­ing to do this through bloody at­tacks and de­struc­tion of oil as­sets in the creeks and up­land ar­eas so as to dis­rupt and even­tu­ally crip­ple oil prospect­ing and pro­duc­tion op­er­a­tions in the state.”

Many groups is­sue sim­i­lar state­ments and never act on their words. But some, like the orig­i­nal Niger Delta Avengers and the Move­ment for the Eman­ci­pa­tion of the Niger Delta (Mend), did so to dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect. At the height of vi­o­lence last year, Niger Delta mil­i­tants’ at­tacks cut Nige­ria’s oil pro­duc­tion by as much as a third.

That set the econ­omy reel­ing, as lower crude ex­ports meant less money in govern­ment cof­fers, es­pe­cially the US dol­lars Nige­ria needs to im­port es­sen­tial prod­ucts and keep busi­nesses run­ning.

The New Delta Avengers say their main griev­ance is with the gov­er­nor of Delta state, Ifeanyi Okowa, who they ac­cuse of di­vert­ing funds from pro­grammes meant to ben­e­fit Delta state.

“Like the bib­li­cal Pharaoh, only ex­tra­or­di­nary un­der­tak­ings can soften his dev­il­ish and hard­ened heart to­wards the oil-pro­duc­ing ar­eas of the state.”

A spokesman for the gov­er­nor de­nied the group’s ac­cu­sa­tion that he was “show­ing nepo­tism and favouritism in the shar­ing of govern­ment re­sources”.

The state govern­ment was not in a po­si­tion to as­cer­tain the cred­i­bil­ity of the New Delta Avengers’ threats, the spokesman said.

The old Avengers sus­pended their cam­paign last year to give peace talks a chance af­ter a string of at­tacks on oil fa­cil­i­ties, blow­ing up even an un­der­wa­ter Shell pipe­line.

Mend fought an in­sur­gency un­til 2009, when it agreed with the pre­vi­ous fed­eral govern­ment on a cease­fire and amnesty of­fer­ing salaries and job train­ing for its fight­ers. Some of its com­man­ders be­came mil­lion­aires with con­tracts to pro­tect the same pipe­lines they had been blow­ing up.

Many of the mil­i­tants have a taste for the dra­matic. There was Gen­eral Busta Rhymes, named af­ter the New York rap­per known for his fre­netic flow, be­fore Cor­po­ral Oleum Bel­lum and Gen­eral Benikeme Hitler, who is­sued an in­au­gu­ral state­ment in Jan­uary.

Oil fa­cil­i­ties be­long­ing to ma­jor in­ter­na­tional oil com­pa­nies would be de­stroyed af­ter March, Hitler’s group said, al­though Reuters has been un­able to con­firm the de­struc­tion of any fa­cil­i­ties by the Niger Delta Ma­rine Force.

The New Delta Avengers warned the Delta state govern­ment that “Op­er­a­tion Crip­ple Oil and Gas Pro­duc­tion” would start on June 30 un­less it held talks to en­sure fund­ing for in­fra­struc­ture and other de­vel­op­ments reaches the re­gion.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Mil­i­tants pa­trol the creeks of the Niger Delta re­gion of Nige­ria.

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