President Muhammadu Buhari has unexpectedly called off a visit to the oil-producing Niger Delta region where he was to have launched a pollution clean-up operation. He will be represented by his deputy.
President Muhammadu Buhari was due to visit Ogoniland on Thursday (02.06.2016) and the trip was called off at the very last moment.
No reason was given for the sudden change of plan but it comes in the wake of an upsurge in attacks on oil producing infrastructure in southern Nigera. Buhari will now be represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo
Speaking before the trip was cancelled, Liz Donnelly, Assistant Head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, UK, told DW that this would have been a difficult visit. President Muhammadu Buahri, from the mainly Muslim Nigerian north, wouldn't necessarily receive a warm welcome in the predominantly Christian south.
"Nigeria's oil producing region voted for the now opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) [of former president Goodluck Jonathan] and Buhari is regarded with some mistrust, because of where he comes from, and also because of his history as a military ruler," she said.
This would have been Buhari's first trip to the oil producing south since he took office a yea ago.
Rise in militancy
Tensions were stoked on the eve of the visit when a new militant group calling itself the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) announced on Wednesday (01.06.2016) that it had bombed to bombed two oil wells operated by the US energy giant Chevron.
This was not the first time the shadowy group had targeted Chevron. In early May 2016, NDA sabotaged Chevron's offshore Okan gas valve platform. It also bombed the infrastructure of the Italian oil producer ENI and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipelines, which provide gas to Lagos for power generation.
NDA mounted an attack on Shell's Forcados underwater flow line in February using divers, showing that it has the skills and knowledge needed to cripple energy infrastructure.
Local media reports suggest the NDA has warned Buhari not to visit the region.
"Even the Nigerian security services are not 100 percent sure what they are up against," Dirk Steffen from the Denmark-based Risk Intelligence firm said.
NDA's demands include an independent Niger Delta state and the departure of international oil companies.
Amnesty says the people of Ogoniland have been waiting for the clean-up operation for a very long time
History of oil pollution
Disruption of oil production in Nigeria by militant groups is nothing new. In 2009, the country sought to end the violence by introducing an amnesty program. This gave former rebels a monthly stipend and jobs training in the oil industry as welders, divers and technicians.
But Buhari has struggled to pay for this program, especially after the economy was badly hit by a fall in global oil prices. Oil accounts for 70 percent of Nigerian government revenue. Buhari has even hinted that he could wind down the amnesty program, making some 30,000 ex-militants on the payroll angry.
Nigeria had budgeted for oil production in 2016 of 2.2 million barrels per day, but the NDA's attacks have cut output down to 1.4 million barrels per day, according to junior oil minister Emmanuel Kachikwu.
The Nigerian military have boosted their presence in the Niger Delta region in the wake of renewed militant attacks
Donnelly said the Niger Delta is a region in Nigeria which has struggled to improve livelihoods and development. Another rise in militant violence "would not help its prospects," she added.
New beginning for Ogoniland?
The centerpiece of what is now the vice president's visit to Ogoniland is the launch of an operation to the clean up oil spills, as recommended in a report released by United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in August 2011.
"The people of Ogoniland have been waiting for this operation for a long time," Joe Westby, human rights campaigner with Amnesty International told DW.
Local residents have seen livelihoods destroyed by the oil spills; they are no longer able to fish or to farm and water supplies have been contaminated.
Westby said the Niger Delta was one of the most oil-polluted places in the world because companies like Shell were failing to prevent, or clean up, spills, years, sometimes decades, after they happen.
in January 2015, Shell agreed to pay more than $80 million (71 million euros) to the Nigerian fishing community of Bodo in Ogoniland for two serious oil spills in 2008, following a three-year legal battle.
The UN said it would take a minimum of 30 years to clean up the Ogoniland region.
Westby said Nigerian government's avowed commitment to clean up Ogonliand "really needs to translate into meaningful action to decontaminate the water and restore the environment."