A militant group in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern Niger Delta threatened to cripple the economy if President Muhammadu Buhari is re-elected on Saturday.
The Niger Delta Avengers – who want their area to have a greater share of the oil revenue it produces – back opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar and his promises to devolve more power to the regions.
The Niger Delta Avengers were behind a 2016 wave of violence, including attacks on pipelines and other facilities, that helped push Nigeria into recession.
The group, in a statement on its website, warned if Buhari is re-elected there would be “a perpetual recession for Nigeria”.
Buhari made a televised address promising government would ensure a free, fair and peaceful vote, without making any reference to the Avengers’ statement. His spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Attacks in the Niger Delta in 2016 cut Nigeria’s crude output from a peak of 2.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) to near a mbpd – the lowest level in Africa’s biggest economy in at least 30 years.
That, combined with low oil prices, pushed the OPEC member state into its first recession in a quarter of a century – crude sales make up two-thirds of government revenue and 90 percent of its foreign exchange.
Atiku, a businessman and ex-vice president representing the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, proposes to devolve more power to regions in a policy dubbed “restructuring”.
It would enable oil-rich states in the south to retain a greater share of revenue generated from crude production.
“We are adopting Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the sole candidate to be voted for by all the people of the Niger Delta as a result of his political ideology which is in tandem with our agitation for equitable and fair principles of federalism,” the group said.
The Avengers said, if elected, Atiku should start a “restructuring of Nigeria” within six months to forestall further attacks in the Niger Delta.
“Atiku said restructuring will begin on the day he takes office, so he will keep his word,” Paul Ibe, a spokesman for the main opposition candidate, said.
Buhari’s government held talks with the militants in 2016 and 2017 about grievances over poverty and oil pollution in the Delta.
There have been no substantial attacks by any groups in the Delta region since January 2017.
The country is also facing separatist movements in the south-east and Islamist militants in the north-east.