Nigeria: Ex-Niger Delta Militants Urge Avengers to Negotiate With Government

Niger Delta oil pipeline advertizing board
An advertizing board concerning oil pipeline vandalization in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria, June 10. The Niger Delta Avengers have carried out a campaign of attacks on oil pipelines in recent months. STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty Images

Former Nigerian militants who wreaked havoc in the Niger Delta in the mid-2000s have urged the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to enter into dialogue with the government.

The NDA has carried out a series of attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta since February, cutting oil production by to a 20-year low. The identity of the group has not been definitively established, although the NDA has distanced itself from ex-militants in the Niger Delta and appears to support the pro-Biafra movement, which is calling for the independence of a region in southeast Nigeria formerly known as Biafra.

Nigerian Petroleum Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu has said that the government is attempting to establish a dialogue with stakeholders in the Niger Delta, including the NDA and other militants. The Nigerian military has been ordered to de-escalate operations in the region to allow for dialogue to take place, but the NDA on Wednesday rejected the offer of dialogue and continued its campaign, claiming another attack on a pipeline run by Italian company ENI on Friday.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), led by former militants such as Government Ekpemupolo, or Tompolo, was one of several groups that led an insurgency in the oil-producing region in the mid 2000s. The group kidnapped oil workers and blew up pipelines in protest at what it perceived as the unfair distribution of Nigeria's oil wealth. The insurgency only ended in 2009 with the introduction of a presidential amnesty program, which saw lucrative security contracts doled out to ex-kingpins like Tompolo and former militants given training opportunities and monthly subsidies to lay down their weapons.

In a statement issued Sunday, MEND urged the NDA to reconsider its stance. "If indeed your cause is to avenge the injustice done to the Niger Delta region then, we urge you to ceasefire and join us to the table of negotiation with the federal government," said the statement, according to Reuters.

MEND claimed that it had said up a negotiation team to speak with the government about issues affecting the Niger Delta. Nigeria's oil reserves are concentrated in the Niger Delta, but poverty is widespread in the region, which has also been affected by multiple oil spills in recent years.

It remains to be seen whether MEND's statement will have any impact on the NDA. The latter group has previously disavowed connections to former militants such as Tompolo and has criticized MEND's tactics. In a statement published Tuesday, the NDA said its mandate was "a departure of those old tactics of the defunct so-called MEND," which it said included piracy and kidnapping. The NDA has previously said its goal is to cripple Nigeria's economy and reduce oil production to zero, but said that it does not target civilians or soldiers unless it comes under attack.

Nigeria's economy is heavily dependant upon the oil and gas sector, and the West African country was already struggling to cope with the impact of the global oil price slump before the NDA launched its insurgency. Nigeria's GDP contracted by 0.36 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2016 and the country has also experienced a crippling fuel shortage—Nigeria imports 70 percent of its refined fuel due to a lack of capacity, which has only been worsened by the attacks on oil facilities and infrastructure.