By Emma Amaize & Ola Ajayi
WARRI â€” THE price of crude oil, yesterday, rose above the $70 per barrel mark as militants in the early hours of the day bombed an offshore platform of the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) located at Forcados in Delta State and purportedly sank a gunboat carrying between 20-23 soldiers, a claim that the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta promptly denied.
On the heels of this, presidential candidate of the National Action Council (NAC) in the 2007 general elections, Dr. Olapade Agoro has advised President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to expose all the financiers of militants so that the amnesty he granted would not be a wasted effort.
MEND in a statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said the attack on Shell Forcados offshore platform, at about 3.30 am was a continuation of its â€˜Hurricane Piper Alphaâ€™, pointing out that â€œCluster 11 and 30 are currently on fire after a massive explosionâ€.
Gbomo said after bombing the two clusters, â€œa military gunboat patrol on noticing the fire stumbled upon heavily armed fighters and the confrontation resulted in the sinking of the gunboat with all the occupants numbering between 20-23 soldiersâ€.
He alleged that its commanders were being enticed with up to N1 billion each to lay down their arms. His words: â€œEven though our commanders are constantly being bombarded with enticing monetary offers as much as one billion naira per camp, only those who are willing to sell their birthright for a bowl of porridge will accept while the rest of us will continue the struggle until justice is achievedâ€.
He added: â€œWe have made it clear that patrols must not open fire at us as our target is the oil infrastructure. This unheeded warning resulted in the death of these soldiersâ€.
No soldier killed â€”JTF
Coordinator of the Joint Media Campaign Centre (JMCC) of the JTF, Colonel Rabe Abubakar, however, said MEND was fabricating a story concerning a clash between soldiers and militants in the state, as nothing of such happened.
He said the militant group was striking at isolated pipelines that were not in use and which soldiers were not guarding, all to create the impression that they were still potent, whereas, it was clear that the security outfit was dislodging the militants from their various camps.
Colonel Abubakar said that no military gunboat was sunk, not to talk of 20 -23 soldiers losing their lives as claimed by MEND.
The JTF spokesman wondered why those carrying out the attacks should not take the opportunity opened by the Federal Government by the proclamation of amnesty to drop their arms and live a good life, saying, he was surprised that they were still going ahead with the destruction of the nationâ€™s economy and pollution of the environment of their people despite governmentâ€™s gesture.
Expose militantsâ€™ sponsors, says Agoro
Dr. Olapade Agoro on his part advised President Yarâ€™Adua to expose all the financiers of militants so that the amnesty offer would not be a wasted effort. He added that it was unthinkable that the President could focus on these militants alone, knowing full well that they could not have been operating alone without the sponsorship of some powerful and influential people.
Unless this is done, he said in an interview with Vanguard in Ibadan, new militants that are more dangerous and sophisticated would be re-grouped by the financiers.
According to him, â€œthe policy focus of the amnesty granted the militants is a welcome development but there is need for thorough polishing.
â€œHow do you grant amnesty to militants without first addressing the issue of their backers, and financiers, both local and international and beneficiaries of militancy fall-out?â€ he queried.
â€œUnless the woods are removed from the fire, there is no way a raging inferno can be quenched in the region. Although the present militants can lay down their arms, what stops the financiers raising new ones that at the end of the day may be more potent, dangerous and sophisticated?â€, he queried.
MEND disowns representatives
In a related development, Jomo Gbomo said, â€œMEND wishes to state that Mr Innocent Iboroma and Mr Cletus Arerebo are not representatives of Farah Dagogo and Boyloaf at high level talks. Therefore, the said meeting held in Port Harcourt between them and the Minister of Internal Affairs is a fraudâ€.
â€œMENDâ€, he maintained, â€œwill negotiate as a group when the right time comes. The impression the government is trying to give that commanders are negotiating independently is another propaganda aimed at causing confusionâ€.
Arerebo, Boyloaf fault Jomo Gbomo
Vanguard contacted Mr. Arerebo yesterday and he explained he had the mandate of Boyloaf to attend the meeting. His words, â€œIt is Boyloaf that called me to represent him at the meeting.
I did not know about the meeting before, he was the one that called me and I know that many people called him to find out whether he sent me to the meeting and he told them he was the one, so I donâ€™t know what Jomo Gbomo is driving at. I even spoke to Boyloaf this morning (yesterday).
Also speaking to Vanguard yesterday morning on the Arerebo matter, Boyloaf said: â€œCletus Arerebo has been representing me at several meetings; I sent him to represent me in this one in questionâ€.
Oil rises above $70
U.S. crude for August delivery rose to a high of $70.80 per barrel, up $1.48, before slipping back slightly to $70.50 by. London Brent crude was up $1.30 at $70.22. â€œThe Nigerian situation is the main factor in the market,â€ said Mike Wittner, global head of oil research at Societe Generale. â€œThe attacks appear to be removing some oil production capacity from the market.â€
Pipeline bombings, attacks on oil and gas installations and kidnapping of industry workers over the past three years have prevented Nigeria from pumping much above two-thirds of its installed oil output capacity of 3 million barrels per day (bpd).
The loss of output has been a supportive factor at a time when global recession has bitten deep into oil demand.
The IEA, adviser to 28 industrialised countries, has cut sharply its medium-term forecast for oil demand, saying there was a chance of an extended contraction, but added the threat of a supply crunch had only receded, not gone away.