Fresh militant threats highlight fragile peace in Niger Delta but new groups lack capability to launch co-ordinated campaign of attacks
A new coalition of Niger Delta militant groups on 1 June threatened to attack oil company offices and personnel in a bid to stop the petro-chemical industry’s pollution of the region. The coalition comprises newly formed militant groups: the Niger Delta Watchdogs, Niger Delta Volunteers, Niger Delta Peoples Fighters, Bakassi Freedom Fighters and Niger Delta Warriors. The threat came after a Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt on 12 June ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to pay damages to local communities in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State for a recent oil spillage. Meanwhile, the Adaka Boro Avengers (ABA) and newly formed New Delta Avengers (NDA) on 3 and 7 June respectively vowed to resume efforts to disrupt oil-related activities, claiming the Government’s peace efforts discriminate against new militant groups that are not included in the ongoing talks.
The Government on 6 May said it had almost tripled the budget for its 2009 amnesty programme for ex-militants, and promised several development projects. However, most of the budget is allocated to increasing existing amnesty cash payments for former Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) militants, and does not benefit the wider population or newer militant groups such as the NDA. In this context, as we have said previously, groups that feel excluded are likely to threaten to renew attacks against energy interests in an attempt to extract benefits from the Government (see our 18 May Report).
In addition to stipend payments, newly formed groups remain aggrieved by the absence of long-term development plans. The Government’s ‘New Vision’ programme announced in March represents Abuja’s most comprehensive effort so far to tackle the marginalisation and under-development of the region. It includes broad interventions, such as the opening of a Maritime University in Delta State, establishment of modular refineries, continuation and review of pipeline protection contracts and the clean-up of Rivers State, an area that has been devastated by years of oil spills. However, it ultimately fails to offer longer-term solutions such as the creation of non-oil related employment and broader opportunities in the Niger Delta. Without addressing this issue, the Government’s strategy of continuing to pay off militants in exchange for peace, coupled with only limited development initiatives, is likely to further entrench the conditions that foster the emergence of new armed groups.
Two groups in the new coalition – the ABA and NDA – have demonstrated an ability to attack pipelines in the region. As such, sporadic assaults on energy infrastructure will likely resume in the next few months as these groups seek to pressure the Government. However, they lack support from key regional militant groups such as MEND, reducing their ability to conduct a co-ordinated campaign of large-scale attacks. Similarly, these new groups are unlikely to be able to launch large-scale strikes on energy company offices and staff given oil majors’ high levels of security. Nonetheless, they will likely step up criminal activities targeting oil personnel in the region in a bid to apply pressure on foreign companies to address environmental and employment issues. Violent crime and kidnapping will therefore pose an increasing threat to operators across the Delta, and particularly Port Harcourt due to the large number of oil company staff based in the city.