Threat of the Niger Delta Avengers attacking oilfields

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The Niger Delta region’s relative peace appears to be in jeopardy. The Niger Delta Avengers recently warned that by attacking critical oil and gas installations across the region, they would cripple the Nigerian economy. This followed an ultimatum from Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, a former leader of the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), to the Federal Government to form the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) or face the wrath of the people of the region.

The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) issued a similar ultimatum to the Federal Government in April, stating that the NDDC Board must be formed by the end of June or face dire consequences. They physically occupied the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt and its premises in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, to demonstrate their seriousness about the threat. Since the beginning of 2020, the NDDC has been operating without a formal board. Its operations were overseen by an interim management committee until Effiong Oko Akwa was named sole administrator.

In response to the rising tensions in the region, President Muhammadu Buhari made promises. He promised not to put off action on Nigeria’s restructuring, as demanded by Niger Delta leaders. But only after the National Assembly completes the constitutional amendment process. The President also promised that the NDDC Board would be inaugurated by the end of July, when the forensic audit report would be ready, through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina. The forensic audit was launched in response to the interventionist agency’s near-bankruptcy due to financial mismanagement. For example, the agency’s Interim Management Committee spent N81.5 billion between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020 on COVID-19 palliatives for management and staff, oversea travels, and Lassa fever kits, among other things.

 

Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, had promised to expedite the process of forming a substantive NDDC Board by the end of June. That has not happened, and the region has become more tense as a result. Good enough, Tompolo has urged his fellow agitators and stakeholders in the region to maintain the status quo. “The truth of the matter is that there is so much bitterness in the land, owing to this government’s lackadaisical attitude toward matters of great importance to its citizens,” he lamented.

It is critical to note that the Niger Delta region has been neglected by successive governments. Despite the fact that the oil companies’ activities had severely polluted the area’s environment, this was the case. This has resulted in a serious crisis, prompting the formation of various groups that have waged armed struggles to free the people of the region. These militant groups attacked oil installations, putting Nigeria’s economy in jeopardy. Oil exports plummeted, and foreign governments advised their citizens to avoid Nigeria at the time.

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The people did not calm down until the late President Musa Yar’Adua intervened. Yar’Adua granted amnesty to Niger Delta militants and implemented a number of interventionist policies to help them. Even so, in 2016, the Niger Delta Avengers attacked an underwater pipeline, nearly halving Nigeria’s oil production. Nonetheless, the region has been relatively peaceful since 2017.

 

We cannot afford to return to the pre-crisis era. A major threat in the oil-producing region will have a significant impact on the international oil market. The government should stop denying the existence of issues in the oil-bearing region. For example, the promise to clean up Ogoniland has not been fully implemented. President Buhari, interestingly, has directed the Minister of Environment to ensure that the ongoing clean-up is carried out with a high percentage of local content and with the participation of the surrounding communities.

Overall, we strongly urge the government to investigate the Avengers’ request. The NDDC board’s constitution is crucial because without it, the agency will be unable to function effectively. The law that established the NDDC in the year 2000 calls for a diverse Board of Directors and management team.

Governments should also learn to listen to people’s complaints rather than allowing things to devolve or waiting for someone like Tompolo to jolt them out of their stupor before intervening. It needs to start looking for ways to defuse the escalating tensions in the region right now. It’s not a good idea to ignore the golden goose that lays the golden egg.

The Willink Commission identified the Niger Delta as a place that needed to be given more attention in 1958. Since then, little has been done to address the oil-producing region’s needs.

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