•Who negotiates for Avengers?
•What do the militants really want?
•Are the demands feasible?
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
WHEN the Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa declared after the five-hour meeting with Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, governors of Niger Delta states, service chiefs and others, Tuesday, in Abuja that panacea to the renewed militancy in the region, was on the way, those who heard the outcome were in high spirits. “We have taken a lot of decisions which will help us mitigate what is going on currently in the states, particularly Bayelsa and Delta. We believe we are going to find a solution to it,” the governor stated.
Okowa, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, asserted that there would be a stand-down of the military action in the zone, one of the requests made to the Advocacy Committee on Oil Facility Vandalism, headed by his deputy, Mr. Kingsley Otuaro, which he set up to interface with leaders of riverine communities in Warri to halt the spate of bombings.
The governors secured the understanding amid reservation from some of the service chiefs who was taken aback at the two-week ceasefire pronounced earlier on Monday. Some of the service chiefs wanted total battle, especially with the killing of two soldiers and sinking of a houseboat the previous Wednesday by militants. The governor had not even returned to Delta, the theater of the current attacks, when the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, as if saying it did not send the governors to any meeting on its behalf, struck in Warri North local government area.
The daring militants bombed a Chevron Nigeria Limited crude oil pipeline in the Dibi Oil Field at about 1.00 am. It said on its twitter handle, “At 1:00am today, the @NDAvengersblow up Well RMP 20 belonging to Chevron located 20 meters away from Dibi flow Station in Warri North local government area.” As if adding salt to injury, NDA stated absolutely, “This is to inform the general public that we are not negotiating with any Committee. If Federal Government is discussing with any group they’re doing that on their own.”
Last month, when Osinbajo met with some stakeholders from the region, the militant group tweeted, May 27: “The Niger Delta stakeholder’s meeting is an insult to the people of Niger Delta. What we need is a sovereign state not pipeline contracts.”
Messing up arrangement
NDA’s rejection of talks with government, which declared a two-week ceasefire, six days ago, to create a window for dialogue with the militants is seen as a major setback to government’s peace effort in the region. Consequently, the questions that crop up are: What does the Niger Delta Avengers actually want and who are its representatives? Now, the NDA remains a faceless group, nobody has come out to claim membership of the group.
Spokesperson of the militant group, Brig Gen Mudoch Agbinibo, described the members as outlaws out to bring the country’s production to zero level without compromise. While reprimanding the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, a forerunner in the struggle, recently, said, “We are young, smart, and focused Niger Deltans. Our mandate is to liberate the Niger Delta people; we don’t run after pipeline contracts.”
He bragged: “Our struggle is focused on the liberation of the people of Niger Delta from decades of divisive rule and exclusion. We are watching keenly their regretful efforts at re branding and regrouping criminal elements in the region for their short political gains and territories. The NDA is unperturbed, we have mandate that is clearly a departure of those old tactics of the defunct so-called MEND that was indulged in kidnapping, hostage taking, Sea piracy, illegal oil bunkering, bank robberies and social crimes the likes of Boyloafs, Ateke Toms, were associated to in their days in the name struggle.”
We are young, educated, well traveled and most of us were educated in east Europe but do not worry when we achieve our goal (sovereign state of Niger Delta) then you people will be proud of us. In as much as we respect you as our elder brothers (ex-agitators) please do not dare to stand on our way because if you do we will crush you,” he said.
Our critics are cowards
Congratulating its strike teams for reducing oil production in the country to 50 per cent as at May 12, the group gave the closest insight into its membership, the Avengers added: We have been seeing a lot on the media about us. Some are asking, “Who are you avenging?” some calling us empty heads, ex-agitators have been condemning us on daily basis. Our critics from other part of the country, we do not have anything to tell you because you clearly don’t know how life is in the region. “To our critics from the region we want you to know you are all cowards and afraid to stand for your people,” Brig Agbinibo asserted.
He went on: “To the citizens of the Niger Delta who share same idea with us, we thank you all. Just know that no amount of criticism within and outside the region can stop us. For the record, the Niger Delta Avengers are enjoying the blame game going around.” “To the Nigeria military, the Niger Delta Avengers are among you. And we know all your plans so we will always take ten steps ahead of you…To our brothers from Easterner Nigeria, whom have been condemning and calling us names, the simple fact you are living comfortable doesn’t mean we like you.
“The Commander of Strike team 9 of the Niger Delta Avengers is from Eastern Nigeria, so nobody should limit this struggle to the Ijaws of the Niger Delta only. The leader of the strike team 6 that blew up Chevron Valve Platform is Itsekiri. The Commander of our elite team strike team one is from Akwa Ibom. “So if you are calling us empty heads, just know you brothers are part of Niger Delta Avengers as well. Avengers are different from former agitators who limited the struggle to just the Ijaws,” he said.
On February 13 when it gave President Muhammadu Buhari a two-week ultimatum or it would declare “Operation Red Economy,” nobody took the group largely unrecognized at the time seriously. It made a 10-point demand, many of which have been overtaken by events.
They were immediate implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference. Otherwise, this country will break-up forcefully; President Buhari, the DSS and Timipre Sylva should apologize to the people of the Niger Delta region and family of Late Chief DSP Alamieyesegha for killing him with intimidation and harassment because of his party affiliation.
Others were: “The ownership of oil blocks must reflect 60 per cent for the oil producing people and 40 per cent for the non-oil producing people; and the only Nigerian Maritime University sited in the most appropriate and befitting place, Okerenkoko, must start the 2015/2016 academic session immediately.” “The Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amechi, should apologize to the Ijaws and the entire Niger Delta people for his careless and reckless statement about the siting of the University, while Ogoniland and indeed, all oil polluted lands in the Niger Delta must be cleaned up and compensation paid to all oil producing communities.
“Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB must be released unconditionally as the court said; the Niger Delta Amnesty programme must be well funded and continue to run effectively; All APC members that are indicted in any corruption related cases should be made to face trial like the PDP members, otherwise Buhari should shamefully forget about this nonsense anti-corruption fight. “All oil multi-nationals and foreign investors should observe this ultimatum, as their business interest in the country must be first target,” the NDA said.
Why they went nuts
The militant group in a statement, April 24, warned: “The Niger Delta Avengers’ high command, which comprises of agitators from all ethnic groups in the Niger Delta has concluded that if the President fails to hear our voice and refuses to call for the sovereign national conference, we will ensure it happens. Or we will employ our second option by crippling the economy of the country.”
“We won’t stop at that but dead ready to take the fight out of the creeks and take it to cities like Abuja, Lagos, Calabar, Port Harcourt just to name a few. And Avengers are not interested in taking innocent lives, but we will defend territory and ourselves,” it added. On February 19 after it bombed the Forcados 48-inch Terminal for the first time, it said: “The very same factor that brought about the Niger Delta arm struggle is fast resurfacing as the Buhari led administration is poised to exterminate the Niger Delta people for been benevolent enough to allow the nations mono-economy thrive on our oil.”
“We are being oppressed and pushed to the wall on various fronts hence; we (the Niger Delta Avengers) have picked up the challenge to be the worthy outlaws this government will have to contend until the daily production of oil is reduced to zero in the Niger Delta. Let us use the oil of the North to run the Nigeria’s mono-economy. “The SPDC Forcados terminal is our latest casualty and there are many more to follow suit in the days and weeks ahead,” it added.
The weeks have turned to several months of devastation. In fact, after some preliminary attacks between February and early February, the group on May 5, stated: “Failing to heed to our demands, the Nigeria state is seeing what is happening to Chevron and Shell, the Nigerian elites will suffer in same vein. Know that Chevron and Shell is just the beginning.”“The militants asserted: “If the International oil companies and federal government of Nigeria think that, the Niger Delta Avengers are criminals as they claim and fail to meet our demands the Niger Delta Avengers are going to activate their elite unit, the Niger Delta Air Force code name strike team 1. The International Oil Companies will be our first target, all oil facilities, including their offshore platforms, example Bonga FPSO, EA field and their tank farms such as Bonny tank farm, Escravos tank farm and Forcados tank farm.”““Review of demands
From available indications, President Muhammadu Buhari had consigned the 2014 confab report to the archives and Alamieyeseigha paid the inevitable debt that every man on earth is obligated and must pay. The militant group may have to prove the culpability of DSS and Timipre Sylva on his death for the charge to stick. Amaechi does not come into view as willing to tender any apology for his comment on the suspended Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko and the 2015/2016 academic year had since taken off. However, Buhari had commenced the process for the cleanup of Ogoni land and unconditional release of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is not in sight.
People have their different views on the Buhari anti-corruption programme, but the oil multinationals had tactfully suspended their operations, having seen a clear proof that NDA had the capacity to bomb their facilities, as long as they doggedly refused to heed the instruction not to carry out repairs until government addressed the demands by the group.