May 15, 2016 - 5:10 AM EDT
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Renewed Attacks in Niger Delta - We'll Soon Expose Sponsors of Niger Delta Avengers - DHQ

The Defence Headquarters yesterday said security agencies have information on members of the Niger Delta Avengers and would soon reveal the identities of their sponsors.

It said the militants, who have been behind fresh attacks on oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta region, did not constitute a threat to Nigeria's national security that the country's armed forces cannot effectively deal with.

In an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday yesterday, the Defence spokesman, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar, said the nation's security forces were closely watching the activities of the group, vowing that they would regret what they have done.

The Niger Delta Avengers, which has claimed responsibilities for series of attacks that have contributed to a sharp drop in Nigeria's oil output to 1.65 million barrels per day (bpd) from 2.2 million bpd, has threatened to blow up more oil facilities unless the Federal Government meets its demands.

On Thursday, the militants issued a two-week ultimatum to oil companies in the Niger Delta to evacuate their staff or risk attacks.

The militant group has also been accused of recent attacks on security personnel in the region, leading to the death of soldiers and policemen.

General Abubakar noted that the armed forces were not in any way disturbed by the pronouncements of the group.

"What we are saying is that no miscreant and no militant activities, the world over, have ever succeeded in dislodging national defence forces," he said.

He stated that the military has the mandate to ensure that no group or individual continues to perpetrate crimes against innocent citizens or property of the state with impunity.

"We must ensure that such groups are brought to book, we have the capacity, we are watching all they are doing closely and security agencies are all over the place.

"They (the security agents) are there not to intimidate anybody or harass anybody, but to ensure that there is total protection of life and property because not everybody in the Niger Delta is a militant.

"Those who claimed to be militants and who made pronouncements, the whole world has seen their actions... we are doing everything possible to ensure that we get those involved," he said.

The spokesperson said the group's masterminds would be exposed soon. "They are a group of frustrated individuals, working for some people who very soon everybody would come to know.

"The Defence Headquarters (is) working with other security agencies (and) would not allow some clique, because there are no militants now, the militants have enjoyed amnesty and have been given special trainings."

He said the military was not going to apply "hard power" to deal with the situation except where it becomes "extremely necessary.

"We are synergizing with other security agencies, with community leaders and individuals to ensure that we extract information which would be useful to us. In a short time, they would regret what they have done.

"We are not hoping to deploy the use of hard power, unless it becomes extremely necessary. As I said not all of them are militants, even though we have all the information about them," he said.

He also condemned the killing of soldiers who were deployed there to keep the peace.

"The soldiers are there for the protection of national assets, so why kill them, we are in total obedience to international best practices and that's why we take cognizance of the conventions that Nigeria is a signatory to in the execution of most of our activities.

"Unless it becomes extremely beyond us, or beyond our operational exigencies, then we would employ other means, which are still within the mandate of our operations," he said.

Abubakar recalled that some suspects were recently paraded before pressmen in the Niger Delta, noting that this shows the military has been systematic, professional and being extremely cautious in its operations.

However, a military officer attached to one of the units operating in the creeks in Delta State, told Daily Trust on Sunday that troops had launched a manhunt for members of the Avengers group.

According to the senior officer, who does not want to be mentioned, soldiers had been

working on information by community members to effect the arrest of suspected militants, kidnappers and pipeline vandals.

He said a list of the suspects was compiled and sent to units, who were tasked with carrying out the arrests. "Many of the people on the list have been quietly invited and taken into custody," he said.

Meanwhile, an authoritative source in the military has disclosed that the leadership of the Nigerian Armed Forces was considering the deployment of a large contingent of soldiers to the Niger Delta.

The source said the troops presently in the Niger Delta were capable of handling the threat posed by the Niger Delta Avengers, but deploying battle-hardened ones from the North East would "speed up the flushing of these terrorists, because the troops in the North East have acquired experience of working in difficult terrains."

He said since the war with Boko Haram was almost over, the deployment may be a viable option, while urging Nigerians to remain calm, because the Nigerian military had the capacity to deal with any group that threatened the corporate existence of the country and its sponsors.

He said the military would be guided by its Rules of Engagement in the event of an operation in the Niger Delta. He urged the "law abiding people of the Niger Delta to cooperate with the military."

Avengers: The Rise of Faceless Militant group

They are faceless and invisible forces who seem to have adopted a guerrilla war pattern in their operation. They invaded oil industry installations located in the creeks of Niger Delta, blew them up and disappeared into the thin air.

Their activities have given the law enforcement agents a nightmare as several attempts to fish them out met a brick wall. In one of their efforts to fish out the faceless and heavily armed marauders who go by the name, Niger Delta Avengers, the Nigerian Army invaded Oporoza community in Gbaramatu Local Government Area of Delta State in search of the group, believed to be operating from the area. Again they ended up hitting a brick wall. The soldiers came at 12.30am and laid siege when residents of the oil rich community were asleep. Six hours later, they left the community without catching a fly.

During a four-day official visit to his home state, Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari had reinstated his determination to deal squarely with insurgents in the country, wherever they are. He particularly gave a marching order to the military to crush the new militant group in the Niger Delta.

They call themselves Niger Delta Avengers, claiming they are out to avenge the injustice meted out on the people of that region. Recently, the group presented a 10-point demand to the federal government as a condition to stop further hostility on oil installations. Some of their demands include an immediate implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference, oil bloc ownership to reflect 60 per cent for oil producing communities and 40 per cent for the non-oil producing states, re-establishment of the Nigeria Maritime University sited at Okerenkoko. They also demanded apologies from the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi to the people of Niger Delta for "his reckless statement" about the sighting of the Maritime University. Other demands include the cleaning up of all the polluted environments of the Niger Delta, with particular emphasis on Ogoniland, as well as the release of the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu. They requested that all the members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) indicted of corruption should be arrested and prosecuted while the amnesty programme for the Niger Delta ex-militants should be well funded.

It is believed in many quarters that most of their demands look absurd and uncalled for. For instance, they are demanding an apology from President Buhari and the Department of State Security (DSS) for allegedly killing the former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepriye Alamieyesegha. They claim he died as a result of intimidation and harassment.

While claiming responsibility for the bombing of the Chevron oil facilities at Escravos in Warri, the group threatened to blow up all oil facilities in the oil rich Niger Delta region, including offshore platforms.

Interested Nigerians want to know who is behind this new militant group. According to them, this has become necessary because prominent leaders and major stakeholders in the Niger Delta struggle, as well as some ex-militants, have feigned ignorance of their existence and disassociated themselves from them.

An ex-militant, High Chief Ateke Tom, denied knowledge of such group. Ateke Tom, who spoke to our reporter in Okrika through his media aide, Ifeanyi Ogbonna, was quick to condemn the activities of the group, and called on them to lay down their arms and embrace peace.

He said the Niger Delta region needed peace, not crisis. He challenged those behind the group to unmask and table their grievances to the appropriate authorities. He promised to make case for the group if they could unmask and lay down their arms.

"I don't know the group you are talking about. I don't also believe in their approach to get attention for whatever demand they are making. I am not in support of any form of violence. We don't need violence now. What we want at present is peace and support for the present administration. I am not in support of what they are doing. You cannot achieve what you want through violence.

"I don't know what their grievances are, but whatever they are; they should eschew violence in their agitation. I am ready to intervene on their behalf and take their matter to the appropriate authorities if they can unmask. Those who are aggrieved should not use violence to get attention. We want peace in Niger Delta," he said.

Another former militant leader, Government Ekpelokolo, also known as Tompolo, equally distanced himself from the group. While disassociating himself from the group, Tompolo, who was granted amnesty by the federal government in 2009, said: "I am not part of the group. It is very unfortunate that I am still being accused of pipeline vandalism despite several press releases I have made, denying any involvement in the renewed hostilities in the Niger Delta."

He urged the Federal Government to carry out repair works on the Forcados 48-inch pipeline damaged by an attack, which the Niger Delta Avengers claimed responsibility.

Another ex-militant leader from Bayelsa State, Genberal Ogunbus, also disassociated himself from the faceless group. Ogunbus, who spoke from his Yanagoa base, warned the militants to steer clear of Bayelsa State or face the wrath of the entire Ijaw kingdom. He said the activities of the group had portrayed the Ijaw nation in a bad light and urged the security agents to go after them.

A Niger Delta rights activist, Ms Annkio Briggs, also said she didn't know the group, but appeared to be sympathetic to their cause. Briggs said the issues the group talked about had been of concern to the region for a long time.

"The issues have to do with injustice, equity and environmental matters. People like the late Ken Saro Wiwa, Oronto Douglas and Asari Dokubo had spoken about such issues. So it does not come as a surprise to me that we have a new group talking about what has been on ground for a very long time. This group came up because the issues we have been talking about have not been addressed. The issue of Niger Delta has been there for a very long time, even before the Nigerian civil war. So we want the federal government to look into what they are talking about and address it," she said.

Briggs, however, called on the militants to lay down their arms and explore a peaceful approach to their agitation.

How Attacks Affect Oil Production

The rise of militant attacks on Nigeria's oil installation is not only putting intense pressure on the country's oil revenue earnings but also the entire economy.

Coming at a time crude oil prices are low, series of attacks on key oil and gas infrastructures have also caused shortage of gas supplies needed to generate electricity and closed a major export port and two refineries.

Little known new militant group Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has claimed responsibility for the bombings with a pledge to "crumble the economy" if its demands are not met by President Muhammadu Buhari's government. The demands range from cleaning up oil spills to keeping the amnesty plan.

Within months of their emergence, the NDA have become a drain on the nation's major revenue earner.

The group took the country by storm when it announced its formation on February 3, blowing up on February 10, the Bonny Soku Gas Line carrying natural gas to the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas plant and an independent power plant at Gbarain.

In the same month, the group, claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Forcados 48-Inch Export Terminal in Delta State, forcing Shell to shut 250,000 barrels a day Forcados export terminal.

On Wednesday, May 4, it took credit for blasting a Chevron platform thereby affecting 35,000 barrels per day (bpd) crude which also caused the shutting of the Warri and Kaduna refineries. Power outages across Nigeria worsened as gas supplies were also affected.

On Friday May 13, a new blast reportedly occurred at a Chevron oil well at the Marakaba pipeline in Warri, a day before the militants had warned Chevron on their website against repairing the last week's damage.

Similarly, Exxon Mobil said on Friday it had suspended exports from Nigeria's top crude grade, Qua Iboe crude and that a portion of production had been curtailed after a drilling rig damaged a pipeline.

The outages added to production problems at two of the other largest crude grades, Bonny Light and Forcados, which have already taken Nigeria's output to a 22-year low.

Shell had earlier last week shut a major pipeline and declared force majeure on Bonny Light crude exports.

According to Reuters calculations, if outages at Qua Iboe and other streams are prolonged, Nigeria oil production could fall to around 1.2 million bpd, this would be the lowest output since 1970.

Nigeria had been Africa's largest crude exporter with around 2.2 million barrels per day output but the rampant attacks, coupled with oil theft has kept production well below capacity in recent times.

Minister of Finance Mrs. Kemi Adeosun said on Friday, Nigeria's oil production has fallen to 1.65 million barrels per day (bpd) due to militant attacks, from 2.2 million bpd.

The implication is that the country's 2.2m b/d oil production benchmark used in the budget may not be realized.

In addition to the bombing of oil installations, human casualties which may not be unconnected with the agitations have also been recorded.

In the heat of last week attacks, gunmen killed two policemen and three soldiers in a second attack in Bayelsa and Delta. The raids took place a day after five police officers were shot dead in the same region.

Consequently, major upstream companies are evacuating staff from volatile spots. Shell workers at Bonga oilfield in the southern Niger Delta were evacuated; Chevron had evacuated some staff, following a similar move by Shell.

The Head of Energy Research at Ecobank Dola Oni said by phone that the attacks had further heightened the uncertainty in the Niger Delta region.

"It has just increased the uncertainty in the Niger Delta. Now, oil companies that had plans to expand or increase production will have absolutely no idea of what they are going to do. Uncertainty is not farfetched it is not good for investment because you are not sure if you are protected or secured," he said.

The Nigeria Country Officer, Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), Dauda Garuba, said it was unfortunate the country's oil facilities were being attacked at a time when oil prices were down, such a time the country needs whatever it could get from the very poor prices to run the economy.

"As part of the way forward the president should convey a meeting of all the elected executives and National Assembly members from the South-South zone and also do a similar town hall meeting in the geopolitical and register it that Nigeria has spent so much in the amnesty programme that by now we think it should have come to an end," he said.

A prominent Ijaw leader and a traditional ruler from Soku in Rivers State, Chief Anabs Sara Igbe, called on the Federal Government to look inward and find out those behind the group. The traditional ruler, who also doubles as an activist, cautioned the Federal Government against handling the threat of the group with kid gloves, warning that the new militant group was out to cripple the economy of the country. He said information available to him showed that the group would destroy more oil installations, which he said was capable of crippling the economy of the country.

A highly dependable source confided in our correspondent that the current wave of attacks were spearheaded by some aggrieved ex-militant leaders and other stakeholders in the Niger Delta, who felt that the present administration did not carry the people and institutions of the Niger Delta along in the 2016 budget.

"The recent attacks in the Gbaramatu area on the Nigeria Gas Company (NGC) pipeline and the crude oil pipeline supplying oil to the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Co. Ltd (WRPC), and the Kaduna Refining and Petrochemical Co. Ltd (KRPC); the underwater attack on the crude pipeline in the Forcardos export terminal, the attack on the Chevron Okan offshore production platform (valve platform at Abitoye and Nconde Jones Creek facilities) and the attack on the SPDC Eja OML 79, near the Bongo Field, are just signs of things to come," a source who pleaded anonymity said.

According to him, "The group is presently talking with the agitators of the Biafra Republic and other terrorist groups in and outside the country for support. Their goal is to ensure that the exploration, production and export of oil and gas in the Niger Delta region are disrupted.

"They have acquired sophisticated weapons and equipment like gun- boats, surface-to-air missiles, machine guns, rifles, explosives and hardware, amongst others, to prosecute their agenda. Their main strategy is not to confront the security agencies in a shootout but to carry out guerrilla warfare that would bring the Federal Government on its knees by destroying strategic installations and facilities in the oil and gas sector," he said.

The source said the recent attacks on pipelines and facilities were seriously affecting the environment and ecosystem of the communities and people of the Niger Delta.

He further said the threat to arrest some of the ex-militant leaders who played key roles in the immediate past administration, with particular reference to the arrest warrant issued on Tompolo, was an issue not taken lightly by the group.

Community Leaders Urge Restraint

Similarly, the Ijaw communities of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State warned the attackers to desist forthwith and save their land from becoming a theatre of war.

In a joint statement issued over the weekend by the chairman of Inikorogha and neighbouring communities in Warri South West Local Government Area, Comrade Christopher Ejoh, Chief Isaiah Ukulor and Chief Felix Ejoh, the Ijaw indigenous communities stated, "We are already subjected to apprehension and fear whenever a pipeline is attacked. Our people no longer sleep with both eyes closed because of fear of the unknown."

While condemning the multiple attacks on oil pipeline facilities, the communities urged the perpetrators to desist from the dastardly act and stop giving Gbaramatu Kingdom a bad name and subjecting the indigenes to the fear of possible military invasion.

"Few days ago, we saw a naval chopper hovering around our communities and taking photographs, and many people started running into the bush because they thought the army had come to invade them.

"We are appealing to both the perpetrators and the military not to make Gbaramatu a theatre of war again. We are begging the perpetrators of these acts to take the fight somewhere else," the communities stated.

They described the attacks as "counterproductive" and "inimical" to the socio-economic development of the area.

"We are seriously pained by what is going on in Gbaramatu Kingdom and its environs. We condemn it in its entirety. We appeal to this group to stay away from our communities. Our communities should not be a battle field."

The communities called on the military to exercise caution in its bid to hunt down the attackers.

Also, a delegation of the National Council of Chiefs from Gbaramatu Kingdom, led by High Chief Gbenewei Clark Delta, paid a visit to the deputy governor of the state, Barr. Kingsley Burutu Otuaro on Friday.

The acting secretary of the council, High Chief Godspower Gbenekama, who spoke on behalf of the visitors, said the state of pipeline vandalism in the region was appalling. He said there was the need to put a stop to the menace.

Reacting, the deputy governor, who is a son of Gbaramatu Kingdom, said the attacks were unacceptable. He said government would partner with willing groups to put a stop to the ugly development.

The group's spokesperson, Col. Mudoch Agbinibo, said they would continue to bomb oil installations until their demands are met.

"We want to pass this message to all the international oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, that the Nigerian military can't protect their facilities.

"They should talk to the federal government to meet our demands; else more mishap will befall their installations. Until our demands are met, no repair works should be done at the blast site," Col. Agbinibo added.

Also, the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, has condemned the attacks on pipelines in the Niger Delta, saying it is not in the interest of the region.

He said the states of the Niger Delta would work with the Federal Government and security agencies to stop the activities of the militants.

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Source: News (May 15, 2016 - 5:10 AM EDT)

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