Nigeria’s main militant group ended its three-month old ceasefire today and threatened to resume attacks against Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) halted its attacks in Nigeria’s oil-producing southern region in July. It has since been severely weakened after top leaders and thousands of militants accepted an amnesty and disarmed.
The umbrella militant group said last week it would announce a resumption of attacks which for the past three years have stopped Nigeria pumping much above two-thirds of its oil capacity, costing billions of dollars in lost revenue.
“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta resumes its hostilities against the Nigerian oil industry, the Nigerian armed forces and its collaborators with effect from 00:00 hours Friday, October 16,” the group said in its latest e-mailed statement.
It is unclear who is running MEND after key militant commanders Government Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Soboma Jackrich, Ebikabowei Victor Ben and Farah Dagogo, surrendered their machine guns, rocket launchers and explosives in return for President Umaru Yar’Adua’s unconditional pardon.
MEND says the next phase of its struggle will be its “most critical” and it has threatened to “burn down” all previously attacked oil installations.
The group had agreed to its three-month ceasefire to allow for possible peace talks following Yar’Adua’s amnesty offer to all gunmen. MEND and the government have not yet held any formal discussions.
Uncertainty at the top
Jackrich, a senior rebel leader linked to MEND who surrendered, has dismissed threats from his former group and said in an interview with Reuters last week that there would be “absolute peace” in the Niger Delta.
The government’s amnesty offer, which expired earlier this month, was its most concerted effort so far to halt years of violence.
Unrest in the region has cost Nigeria which vies with Angola as Africa’s biggest oil producer $1 billion (R7 billion) a month in lost revenues, according to the central bank, and has helped to push up global energy prices.
But the decline in violence in the creeks of the Niger Delta has already helped bring back some oil production, the oil minister said last week.
Sceptics say there is little to stop fighters from finding new leaders and resuming attacks. Some residents fear they will return to the creeks unless those who hand over their weapons can quickly find work.
Despite Nigeria’s oil riches, the vast majority of its 140 million people live on $2 a day or less, and some of the most acute poverty is in the villages of the delta. The militants have said they are fighting for a fairer share of the oil wealth.
Pic: MEND member