Militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta have stepped up a campaign against President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, claiming attacks in the past two days on a Chevron offshore platform and on crude and gas lines operated by the state-run NNPC.
A newly formed group calling itself the Niger Delta Avengers claimed an attack on Chevron’s Okan offshore facility carried out late on Wednesday, which led to a spill and forced the US company to shut the facility.
“The Okan facility is currently shut-in and we are assessing the situation,” Chevron said in a statement, adding all personnel had been accounted for. The company said 35,000 barrels a day of production had been shut in.
In a statement circulating on social media on Friday, the Niger Delta Avengers said its members had on Thursday night also struck a crude line feeding two of Nigeria’s four refineries and two gas lines that feed the power grids in Lagos, a city of more than 20m people and the country’s commercial hub. The gas lines also help power the capital Abuja.
A NNPC spokesman said the company was still verifying the reports. There were no signs of an increase of blackouts in the city that is already plagued by regular power shortages.
“With this development … all cities that depend on the gas line for power will all be in total darkness like the creeks of the Niger Delta,” read the statement, the authenticity of which could not be verified.
The attacks have supported global oil prices, which were up 1.3 per cent on Friday at $45.60 a barrel. The collapse in prices since mid-2014 is leading to more supply outages, analysts say, with fellow Opec members Venezuela, Libya, Iraq and Kuwait all seeing disruptions in recent months.
The Niger Delta Avengers group is threatening both the government and local leaders and former militants whom they accuse of siding with the authorities. Their core demand — a greater share of oil revenues for the people of the impoverished Delta — revives memories of an insurgency that ended in amnesty in 2009.
As in the previous insurgency, the group is threatening to bring Nigeria’s oil production — already close to a 20-year low at around 1.7m b/d — to zero.
The attacks it claimed in February, notably on an underwater pipeline operated by Shell, cut production by several hundred thousand barrels. Though the head of the NNPC said in March he expected Shell’s Forcados terminal to be reopened this month, it is not clear if repairs have begun.
The recent attacks, including targeting platforms out at sea, are the most sophisticated since the insurgency by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta between 2006 and 2009. Africa’s top crude producer desperately needs revenues that have shrunk due to the oil price crash. Oil exports generate about two-thirds of government revenues and about 90 per cent of foreign earnings
About half of Nigeria’s oil is produced in the swampy Delta of the south, and the election a year ago of Mr Buhari, a northerner, raised fears among locals in the under-developed region that they would be cast aside.
Anger has spiked recently as the perception has grown that the Buhari administration’s anti-corruption drive is disproportionately targeting people from the Delta, the birthplace of the president’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.
Though President Buhari has extended a multimillion dollar amnesty with militants from the Niger Delta, he has cancelled lucrative pipeline protection contracts.
The ambitious nature of the recent attacks suggest the new group’s threats should be taken seriously, observers say.
“The attacks are targeted at specific oil and gas infrastructure that will cause serious damage, not just the small single pipelines, they are going after major installations,” a Nigerian security consultant in the Delta said by phone. “A lot of people are angry,” he said stressing that while many did not support the militants they agreed that the government was not listening to their demands.
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