Nige­ria faces new ter­ror threat from south

Shad­owy mil­i­tant group at­tacks vi­tal oil, gas fa­cil­i­ties

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR

A surge of at­tacks by mil­i­tants on oil and gas wells and pipe­lines in south­ern Nige­ria is threat­en­ing to de­rail the army’s cam­paign to de­feat the Is­lamist ter­ror group Boko Haram in the north, as the gov­ern­ment finds it­self fight­ing sep­a­rate in­sur­gen­cies rag­ing on op­po­site ends of Africa’s most­pop­u­lous coun­try.

The bomb­ing of pipe­lines by a group call­ing it­self the “Niger Delta Avengers” has cut Nige­ria’s oil out­put by half in re­cent weeks and forced the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari to be­gin shift­ing mil­i­tary as­sets — in­clud­ing some U.S.-trained forces — away from the fight against the bru­tal Boko Haram move­ment, which has de­clared its al­le­giance to Is­lamic State.

“There are signs that mil­i­tary re­sources are be­ing di­verted from the north­east to beef up the mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Delta, be­cause what’s go­ing on in the Delta fun­da­men­tally af­fects the rev­enue of the na­tion,” said John Camp­bell, a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Nige­ria.

Some 70 per­cent of the gov­ern­ment’s an­nual rev­enues comes from oil and gas ex­ports, and of­fi­cials in Abuja are scram­bling to con­tain the threat — de­ploy­ing war­ships, gun­boats and fighter jets to the Niger Delta dur­ing re­cent weeks.

“The fear,” said Mr. Camp­bell, now with the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions in New York, “is that if you re­duce the mil­i­tary pres­sure that’s be­ing ap­plied in the north­east on Boko Haram, which is on a back­foot but is not de­stroyed, the group will be able to re­vive it­self quite quickly.”

The sober­ing as­sess­ment comes just weeks af­ter na­tional se­cu­rity sources made key gains in the field against Boko Haram — a ji­hadi group that has made head­lines dur­ing re­cent years with its grisly use of fe­male sui­cide bombers and its mass kid­nap­ping of school­girls.

With a name that loosely trans­lates as “Western ed­u­ca­tion is sin,” the group con­trols a ter­ri­tory the size of Mary­land along Nige­ria’s north­east­ern bor­ders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon. In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials say its leader is bent on es­tab­lish­ing an Is­lamic State-style caliphate there.

A re­port last month by the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group (ICG), a Brus­sels-based think tank, main­tained that Boko Haram had been “put on the de­fen­sive” by an ex­panded and co­or­di­nated mil­i­tary re­sponse that Nige­ria and its neigh­bors have been en­gag­ing in since last year.

But a new re­port from the ICG high­lighted wide­spread cor­rup­tion in Nige­ria’s armed ser­vices, and con­cluded that the mil­i­tary lacks the man­power to con­duct a two-front war.

“Nige­ria’s mil­i­tary is in dis­tress,” the ICG said. “For a coun­try of over 170 mil­lion peo­ple, fac­ing sev­eral se­cu­rity chal­lenges — from an Is­lamist in­sur­gency in the north east to a re­source-based con­flict in the Niger Delta — a mil­i­tary num­ber­ing less than 120,000 per­son­nel … is clearly in­ad­e­quate.”

None­the­less, to se­cure oil in­fra­struc­ture in the south, the army re­cently moved a group of U.S.-trained troops from the north­east­ern front against Boko Haram, ac­cord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal, which said the army has also used surveil­lance planes to try to peer into the thick man­grove forests and find the camps held by the so-called Niger Delta Avengers.

Pres­i­dent Buhari, who has spent re­cent days re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal treat­ment in Bri­tain, is hop­ing to find a ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion to the at­tacks in the south. He or­dered a two-week sus­pen­sion of mil­i­tary at­tacks in the south to pro­vide the in­sur­gents with a win­dow to be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions.

‘Go­ing to be bloody’

About 70 per­cent of Nige­ri­ans live on no more than $1.25 a day. Though the na­tion was, un­til re­cently, Africa’s lead­ing oil pro­ducer, it must im­port gaso­line be­cause its own re­finer­ies have col­lapsed as a re­sult of wide­spread cor­rup­tion.

Sim­mer­ing ten­sion be­tween Nige­ria’s pre­dom­i­nantly Chris­tian south and mainly Mus­lim north add a layer of com­plex­ity to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, al­though most an­a­lysts, in­clud­ing Mr. Camp­bell, say the re­cent oil pipe­line at­tacks have noth­ing to do with re­li­gion.

But it still re­mains to be seen whether the Niger Delta Avengers may re­sist ne­go­ti­at­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Buhari gov­ern­ment. Mr. Buhari is him­self a Mus­lim who last year de­feated in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Good­luck John­son, a Chris­tian, in a bit­terly fought race for the pres­i­dency.

The re­cent wave of at­tacks, mean­while, comes af­ter years of rel­a­tive calm in the Niger Delta, the na­tion’s main oil-pro­duc­ing re­gion, where Chris­tian res­i­dents have long voiced griev­ances about oil pol­lu­tion and marginal­iza­tion by the gov­ern­ment.

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