Warri, Nigeria: When the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) rebel group announced last week it had called a ceasefire and was entering talks with the government, many hoped peace would be restored to the country’s oil belt.
If only it were so easy.
The NDA dominate the headlines, but behind the scenes, a groundswell of other groups have been claiming damaging attacks on Nigeria’s oil infrastructure and are refusing to come to the negotiating table.
They include the Reformed Egbesu Boys of the Niger Delta, Adaka Boro Avengers, Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders and the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate.
Nigerian security forces operating in the region say the NDA have been responsible for just over half of the major attacks on oil pipelines and facilities in recent months.
“More than 50 percent of these attacks have been traced to the so-called Niger Delta Avengers, but we have also discovered that other groups have emerged in the last three months and some of these attacks can be traced to these new groups,” a military officer based in the oil-hub city of Warri told AFP.
“From our records in the last three months, the NDA have claimed responsibility for six attacks, but we have recorded 16 militant-related attacks in Delta and Bayelsa states,” said a senior state security officer in Warri.
That is bad news for Nigeria.
The country’s petroleum minister has said that the country’s oil output has dropped 23 per cent from last year to 1.5 million barrels per day, according to Bloomberg News.
“Our average for the year will obviously be dismal,” Emmanuel Kachikwu said earlier this month.
“We have a lot more groups now we need to bring together to have peace.”
Most of those groups are refusing to negotiate with the Nigerian government.
“The charade called ceasefire is in the bid to collect more money from both the federal government and oil companies to be shared between the founders and the boys of the Avengers,” said Greenland Justice Mandate spokesman Aldo Agbalaja on Monday in a statement.
“The Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate is still carrying on with this campaign against Nigeria’s oil and gas interest until the federal government does right by our people.”
Each group has a different variation on the Niger Delta Avengers platform varying by ethnicity and region, but all demand greater ownership of oil blocs and a bigger share of crude revenues.
“The issues of resource ownership and management which have been agitating the people over the years have not been addressed,” said Eric Omare, spokesman for the Ijaw Youth Council, a community organization in the heart of the oil-rich riverlands.
“Until these issues are addressed and the people benefit from the oil revenue, peace would continue to elude the Delta region and no amount of security presence can solve the problem.”
An amnesty program introduced by former President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2009 brought peace to the Niger delta after attacks by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) crippled output.
In return for laying down their arms, militants were handed monthly stipends and given training as divers, welders and farmers.
Yet when President Muhammadu Buhari indicated that he would wind down the costly programme in an effort to trim government spending the region erupted again in violence.
“If the government fails to put concrete plans in place for major infrastructural development in the region - modern hospitals, access roads, schools, market plazas - the negotiation will likely break down,” said Chijioke Nwaozuzu, petroleum economist at the University of Port Harcourt.
“The negotiation could be stalemated. If this is unresolved, it could lead to an escalation of violence,” Nwaozuzu said.
The proliferation of groups makes it more difficult to engineer a comprehensive solution.
Securing a deal with the Avengers may even backfire, said Ecobank energy analyst Dolapo Oni.
“What sort of negotiations are we having with the NDA? What exactly are we offering them to ease the tension, are we offering money? Pipeline contracts? Jobs?” Oni said.
“If the Nigerian government offers the Niger Delta Avengers money, similar to what happened years ago with MEND, that could result in further instability,” Oni said, speaking from Lagos.
“What we could see is infighting between the militant groups, which will still result in sabotage, as that’s how they will take vengeance.”