The Niger Delta Avengers have attacked again. After community leaders expressed support for the militants' third attack this month in the oil-rich but desperately poor region, fears grow that oil production will suffer.
The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) claimed responsibility on Friday for an attack on a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipeline that took place on Thursday near Warri in the southern state.
The bomb attack forced US-based oil major Chevron to put its onshore activities in Nigeria on hold at its 160,000-barrel a day Escravos export terminal.
The attack follows several earlier ones. In one of its most sophisticated attacks to date, NDA divers targeted Shell's underwater flow line near Forcados in February.
The group is demanding more equitable distribution of the income generated by oil and gas production and for remedial action to counter the effects of gas fracking and other forms of pollution in the environmentally damaged delta region.
Its leaders are calling for "true fiscal federalism" as well as self-determination, and secession.
Nigeria's crude oil output has fallen by 31 percent this year to about 1.4 million barrels per day, from 2.2 million barrels estimated in the 2016 budget, the lowest in 22 years.
Buhari in trouble
President Muhammadu Buhari's year-old government is facing multiple simultaneous crises, with a shortages of electricity, fuel and foreign currency and an imminent devaluation of the naira currency caused by lower oil prices. The Boko Haram Islamic extremist uprising in the northeast and ethnic unrest in central Nigeria also add to the picture.
Recent attacks on oil infrastructure in Nigeria's southern swamplands have also caused water supplies to be turned off in Lagos, the country's biggest city.
Attacks to continue
The NDA have given oil companies in the region an ultimatum to stop operations or face more attacks by the end of May.
The NDA'S website noted: "[…] the Nigerian state is like the Biblical Egypt, the Government of the Federation is like the Biblical Pharoahs, President Buhari is like the Egypt Ramesses, the Niger Delta people are like the Jews, while the NDA is Moses. So all we are asking is let our people go (Niger Deltans)."
The group said the latest attack on oil facilities was prompted by Chevron's move to fix a major crude pipeline blown up by the group earlier after it had warned that no repair should be done until its demands were fully met.
The NDA claims responsibility via Twitter before sending a Happy Childrens' Day message.
Community support for the NDA
Community leaders in the delta region have expressed support for the NDA.
"Until the issues of resource control that the Niger Delta people have been fighting for since 1960 are addressed ... there can be no peace," said Udengs Eradiri, president of the Ijaw Youth Congress.
Participants in a stakeholders' meeting in Warri on Thursday accused the federal government of "a heavy-handed military response" and reportedly warned that the government's campaign will not stop the attacks.
What is the NDA?
There is some confusion as to who is sponsoring the NDA, with some southern MPs accusing the party of Buhari, a northerner, of stirring up a crisis to allow it to militarize the south.
Buhari's supporters, meanwhile, say it's an attempt by supporters of former President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, to embarrass the government.
Nigeria's junior oil minister Emmanuel Kachikwu has called for a restructuring of an
A Nigerian boy plays close to an oil well in Olomoro village in Isokoarea of the delta region.
amnesty scheme, a welfare program for former rebels, and said there was an "urgent need to create business opportunities for the locals in the region."
The scheme was introduced in 2009 after years of violence. Buhari, who took office last May, is reportedly planning to gradually wind the scheme down.
The curse of oil?
Nigeria is West Africa's largest producer of petroleum, with two million barrels (320,000 cubic meters) a day extracted in the Niger Delta. An estimated 38 billion barrels of crude oil is still under the delta.
With oil and natural gas extraction they comprise 97 percent of Nigeria's foreign exchange revenues.
Oil production - discovered in the delta area around 40 years ago - is having a devastating effect on the country's largest wetland region. Oil giant Shell gets 10 percent of its oil from the Niger Delta and is failing to invest in its infrastructure to prevent pollution, says Friends of the Earth.
jbh/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)