More than 4 weeks into operation ‘cordon and search’ another severe blow was dealt the Nigerian oil sector by militants in the Niger Delta. In continuation of their sabotage of the operations of oil firms in the region, the armed men on Wednesday night destroyed a trunk line owned by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in Bayelsa State.
The incident led to the immediate loss of 185,000 barrels per day from the Trans Ramos Pipeline at Aghoro-2 community in Bayelsa State. The management of Shell, which confirmed the sabotage, said production was immediately stopped at the facility for a joint investigative team to assess the level of damage.
On Friday, MEND claimed it destroyed another major pipeline supplying crude oil to Agip’s Brass exports terminal, following the Royal Dutch Shell’s pipeline blown up on Thursday.
The Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) said in a statement the pipeline “was blown up at the Nembe creek in Bayelsa State this morning Friday, June 19, 2009 at about 0300hrs”.
Meanwhile the disruption of production of oil in Niger Delta pushes Oil To $72 PB.
Oil prices traded at about $72 per barrel (pb) on Thursday feeding on the news that over 700 workers fled oil platforms in Nigeria‘s Deep South the previous day. They abandoned their duty posts for safety after the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) threatened to renew attacks on oil facilities. Chevron alone evacuated about 350 of its workers and contractors in an airlift from Escravos to Ozubi in Warri and other parts of the Niger Delta.
Oil, which sold for $32 in March, began a price surge immediately after the military onslaught on militants began in Nigeria. Although the post-election protest in Iran was also blamed for the price rise, traders believed that the Nigerian factor is largely responsible.
These events suggest that the military ramp-up in the Niger Delta will have little lasting effect on the dangerous environment that prevails in the Niger Delta – The government’s plan won’t work.
Previous strong-arm measures, such as a military offensive in September 2008, have done little to degrade the Delta militants’ capacity effectively or permanently. Instead, military operations have only further militarized the region and undercut moderate civil society voices calling for peaceful change from within the very Niger Delta ethnic groups where the violent militants draw support.
The wide availability of small arms, the delta’s difficult mangrove swamp terrain, and widespread local anger at government policies — which current civilian casualties are already exacerbating — all indicate that things may not be different this time round.
Since coming to power in 2007, Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua’s response to the region’s troubles has been incoherent, indecisive and unproductive. When Yar’Adua assumed the reins of governance, he proposed a Niger Delta Summit. Lengthy preparations ate up valuable time and energy that could have been devoted to real dialogue with community leaders, but the summit never happened.
Then in September 2008, he established a Technical Committee to review options for resolving the crisis. In December the committee submitted a report to the president recommending a number of measures related to youth disarmament, an amnesty for militants, accelerated progress on the region’s infrastructure, including electrical power, and more independent regulation of oil pollution, but nothing was done.
Now, President Yar’Adua appears to have decided on a strategy based on defeating the militants militarily. The president has implemented a massive increase in manpower and equipment for the so-called Joint Task Force, a force tasked with maintaining order in the area and combating militancy and kidnapping. The force is composed of army, navy, anti-riot police and more recently air force elements.
This has been followed by a sustained but poorly targeted offensive against militants. Military helicopters have shelled and shot up militant bases. Neighbouring villages have been targeted in subsequent manhunts for militant targets.
The Militants have responded in kind, killing 12 soldiers in one ambush on May 21. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, with many more wounded and thousands displaced.
This unrest in Niger Delta, an oil-producing region in a major West African state is a serious problem both inside and outside Nigeria’s borders. The impact of this conflagration is already being felt.
The situation in the Niger Delta has become a humanitarian crisis. The unrest is an impediment to Nigeria‘s economic development; Violence in the delta also threatens regional stability. Nigeria last month lost its number one position on the African oil production chart to Angola. Nigeria’s output dropped to an estimated 1.740 million barrels per day. Oil output has fallen 38% since 2006 thanks to the conflict with serious consequences to government revenues. Because of the attack on the Trans Ramos Pipeline at Aghoro-2 community in Bayelsa State was attacked on June 17, “Some oil production has been shut in to avoid potential environment impact” said Shell in a statement.
Meanwhile, Chevron Nigeria Limited is yet to resume production at the 100,000 bpd capacity Alero Creek, Otunana, Abiteye flow-stations, Makaraba and Dibi in Delta State, which the militants attacked twice last week. The Joint Task Force (JTF) described the first incident as a fire outbreak, adding that it foiled the second. But the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which claimed responsibility for the attacks, alleged that they were successful attacks. MEND, in a statement said its fighters carried out the sabotage, describing it as part of the renewed struggle tagged Hurricane Piper Alpha.
The group said the attack was an expression of its displeasure with the manner the Federal Government had reacted to the extra-judicial killing of two brothers by the Nigerian troops that was captured on tape. “This attack is dedicated to the brothers,” Gbomo added. He urged “Shell should take a cue from Chevron and vacate the Niger Delta region to avoid collateral damage to its investment and death to staff. We do not intend to waste time taking hostages because hurricanes are no respecters of anyone.”
MEND fighters “in furtherance of … our campaign to cripple the entire oil and gas export of the Federal Republic of Nigeria … destroyed with high explosives a major crude oil trunk line in Bayelsa State belonging to Shell,” the group said in a statement.
Instead of pursuing a military solution, Mr. Yar’Adua may want to consider a different path. To start, he could order an immediate ceasefire and begin a gradual withdrawal of the Joint Task Force. Certainly, it is clear that some elements of Niger delta militancy have become criminal. To ensure basic law and order in the force’s wake, he needs to put in place a better-trained police force accountable to appropriate civilian authorities.
On the political side, the Nigerian government must acknowledge the genuine grievances of the delta’s populations and address the multiple needs of the area. The Technical Committee’s recommendations would be a good starting point. In a special meeting on the Niger Delta presided over by President Yar’Adua at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Wednesday, The government decided to convene a special session of the National Council of State will meet Thursday next week to deliberate on the details of the amnesty being offered militants by the Federal Government.
The Council is the nation’s highest advisory body comprising the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Federation, Governors of the 36 states of the federation, former presidents and heads of state and former chief justices of the federation.
Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity), Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, told journalists that “the President met with the stakeholders to discuss the issue of amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta” according to him, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua will the same day proclaim and release to Nigerians the terms of the amnesty.
The massive loss of innocent lives during the military invasion of Ijaw communities in Delta State is regrettable, it was better to dialogue than go to war. The decision of the government to dialogue with militants in the region is a welcome development, if it would translate and engender lasting peace in the area. Military action would not produce any meaningful answer. Those that argue that the activities of this group are unpatriotic, unholy and deserve to be condemned by all fail to grasp the whole issue at stake.
Former Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and one-time Military Administrator of Kaduna State, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) was quoted by Nigeria Guardian as saying that no amount of appeasement and extension of amnesty by the government to the militants would bring peace to the zone.
He said the failure of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to use full military action to rout out the criminals in the region was responsible for the escalation of the crisis. Ali spoke in Kaduna yesterday on the heightening tension in Niger Delta and the government’s decision to offer amnesty to militants to end the violence.
He argued that “you cannot on one hand grant amnesty to criminals as the case is today, and turn round to forge a course to get them to conform to the laws of the land. “It means this government is not sincere in resolving the issues in Niger Delta. I have said it several times that in Niger Delta, we must separate the common criminals from the genuine agitators of environmental degradation in the area.”
Ali was one of the three-man panel that tried and sentenced the environmental activist and writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogonis to death under the regime of the late head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha. One certainly hopes the government is not listening to this bigot.
There can be no doubting the seriousness of the conflict in the delta. Grievances on the part of local populations over environmental damage and low levels of development escalated in 2004 with the emergence of organized armed militant groups, often linked to local politicians, who demand more resources for the region.
They have targeted oil companies, which they accuse of being complicit with a negligent government, and have engaged in a protracted fight with security forces. Criminal groups, often engaged in kidnappings, are now as prominent as the politically motivated militants, and criminal and political motivations have become blurred.
What is needed is stronger action on oil sector pollution, improved youth employment schemes and for infrastructure development. Such measures will also be necessary to give young people a sustainable alternative to militancy.
The Nigerian government’s current aggressive response to the problems of militancy in the Niger delta stands in contrast to its apparent unwillingness to lay out a clear plan for developing the region, or to engage with community groups. By foregoing opportunities for dialogue in favour of an attempted military solution, the government merely is perpetuating a vicious circle of violence. Without a sustained political effort, Mr. Yar’Adua’s current security crackdown will have only a very short-lived impact.
To allow the sores of militancy to fester in the Niger Delta region will be a tragedy for Nigeria, and an economic and strategic problem for the region, and the Western importers of Nigerian oil.
Hurricane Piper Alpha lashed out at the Shell Off-shore Ofirma oil fields today, Sunday, June 21, 2009 at about 0400 Hrs blowing up jacket A in the process. The structure is currently engulfed in fire.
At about 0230 Hrs, the hurricane pounded the Shell major pipeline located at Adamakiri before moving on to another major Shell pipeline in Kula at 0300 Hrs. Both pipelines are located in Rivers state of Nigeria.
We have been reliably informed that the Chevron Air Strip in Escravos was used by the military as a staging area for the jet fighters and helicopter gunships used in the attacks and bombing of civilian communities in Gbaramatu kingdom of Delta state.
By allowing its facilities to be used in committing atrocities against the host communities where it drills oil and gas from, Chevron has repeated the same mistake by Shell against the Ogoni communities and will pay a price in double measure. – From John Gbomo