Nigeria militants claim oil strike, army blames youths

1393

A Nigerian militant group claimed responsibility for an attack on an Agip oil facility in the Niger Delta but the military said it was an isolated incident carried out by local youths.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said in a statement emailed to media that its fighters had carried out the attack on the Clough Creek oil flow station late on Tuesday and warned of more strikes on energy infrastructure.
“This attack and similar attacks on pipelines and flow stations which will take place in the coming days are a reminder to the Nigerian government and general public not to take our threats for granted,” the statement said.

The military taskforce responsible for security in the vast wetlands region said local community youths were suspected to have been behind the explosion. Agip declined to comment, Reuters reports.
“The attack occurred on the oil well-head in the southern Ijaw area of Bayelsa state. It is an isolated issue … and investigations are ongoing to know the motives behind the attack,” military spokesman Timothy Antigha said.

MEND was responsible for a spate of crippling attacks on Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry between early 2006 and 2009 which at their peak knocked out as much as a quarter of the OPEC member’s production capacity.

But an amnesty brokered by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2009 has brought more than a year of relative peace in the restive region, with no major attacks on oil facilities, and production levels have recovered.

Emmanuel Egbogah, Jonathan’s adviser on energy, told Reuters on Wednesday Nigeria had been maintaining steady oil output of 2.6 million barrels per day (bpd) for the last year, split between 1.96 million bpd of crude and 650,000 bpd of condensate.

Clough Creek oil flowstation was subject to militant strikes three years ago and one industry source said it was being repaired but was not currently producing oil.

OPPORTUNISTIC CLAIM?

MEND was always a loose affiliation of armed factions in the creeks of the Niger Delta rather than a coherent movement.

Many of its known field commanders took part in the 2009 amnesty but some individuals rejected it and the group claimed responsibility for car bombs which killed 10 people near an independence day parade in the capital Abuja last October.

An email, saying it had been sent by MEND, warned on Monday of renewed attacks on Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry as well as bomb blasts at political rallies ahead of next month’s presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections.

Jonathan is the first head of state from the Niger Delta and renewed unrest would be an embarrassment ahead of the polls.

Several false threats purporting to be from MEND have been sent in the past and most of the recent damage caused to Nigeria’s oil infrastructure has been from gangs stealing oil, rather than militant strikes.

The group has also been known to claim responsibility opportunistically for acts of sabotage by local youths.
“(Tuesday’s attack) had absolutely nothing to do with MEND,” said one independent security source.

MEND’s suspected mastermind, Henry Okah, was charged shortly after the Abuja bombings in Johannesburg, where he lives, with conspiracy and terrorism and remains in detention.



Other suspected ringleaders have been arrested in Nigeria and it is unclear what operational capacity the group still has.