The rash of bomb attacks in the Niger Delta is a living book in want of a suitable title because the issues are unclear. It could have been titled Oil War 2, but unlike the First Oil War (there if a book of that title), waged by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, the motive for recent attacks of oil facilities is confounding.
Even eminent former Minister, Edwin Clark, an authority in Niger Delta issues and active participant of peace moves over the years, showed his frustration last week when he said Niger Delta elders will revolt against the militants.
“Are you telling me now that the Niger Delta region has gone so bad that people no longer have a sense of reasoning?” Mr. Clark asked in an interview with the Sun Newspaper.
Oil Production and Conflicts
Oil and gas production would always leave footprints and depending on handling, they often lead to conflicts. The Niger Delta has not been an exception, but protests by the communities had been largely peaceful, and easily resolved. However, over time, conflicts took a violent turn with growing tension between foreign oil companies and minority ethnic groups, championed by community elites who felt exploited.
Arms build-up from inter-ethnic clashes and political militias from the 1990s worsened at a fast pace, leading to the militarisation of the entire region. By the early 2000s, widespread violence hit the oil industry. Government’s military solution to it yielded no tangible results.
The militants were well-armed and had an advantage of better knowledge of the maze of creeks and the leafy landscape. Eventually, common interest unified the various groups, under an experienced leadership, with the resolve to fight to the finish for justice
The First Oil War
Although there had been protests and sporadic attacks on oil facilities, it was clear to close watchers that the grounds had been prepared for something bigger.
The United States, a major importer of Nigeria’s oil, was watching the development closely. Sensitive to any situation that disrupted oil supply and left the country vulnerable, in 2005, it conducted a war gaming exercise called the Oil Shockwavethat almost accurately predicted “The First Oil War” in the Niger Delta.
The Oil Shockwave 2005 event was a policywar-gaming scenario created by the joint effort of several energy policy think tanks, the National Commission on Energy Policy and Securing America’s Future Energy.
It outlined a series of hypothetical international events taking place in December 2005, all related to the world’s supply of and demand for petroleum. Participants in the scenario role-played presidential cabinet officials, who were asked to discuss and respond to the events.
The hypothetical events included civil unrest in the OPEC country of Nigeria, and coordinated terrorist attacks on ports in Saudi Arabia and Alaska. In the original simulation, the participants had all previously held jobs closely related to their roles in the exercise.
The original event was performed June 23, 2005 and was a simulation of December 2005, six months into the future. In the simulation, a decrease in oil supply and price spikes caused a variety of negative effects on the United States economy.
More events followed as the scenario progressed, including a very cold winter in the Northern hemisphere, terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabian and Alaskan oil ports, and Al-Qaeda cells hijacking oil tankers and crashing them into the docking facilities at the ports (which might effectively shut down such port for weeks, if not months).
The scenarios were set up with pre-produced scripted news clips. Participants were also given briefing memos with background information related to their specific cabinet positions. The participants discussed and prepared policy recommendations for an unseen Chief Executive after each part of the scenario.
Specifically, the first scenario involved the outbreak of violence in the oil-producing area of Nigeria that would lead to evacuation of expatriates, including US citizens, and hike in oil prices. Nigeria was the eighth largest oil exporter in the world and the fourth largest exporter of crude oil to the US.
About six months after the Oil Shockwave exercise, massive bomb explosions at major oil facilities announced the commencement of oil industry violence in Nigeria and resonated around the world.
First Major Bomb Attack
An industry press release to the world read:An explosion has occurred on a crude oil pipeline at the Manifold across the Opobo Channel, some 75 kilometres east of Port Harcourt in River State. This has resulted in a major oil spill and fire. Preliminary investigations reveal that the fire, reported in the early hours, may have been caused by a dynamite attack. To help starve the fire of crude oil, production in the affected areas has been discontinued. Some 190 barrels per day of oil have been deferred.
Shortly after that, some oil workers were taken hostage, and more threats and demands were issued. The oil industry was in panic, with oil companies devising best security strategies and withdrawing workers from flash points. Expatriate staff members became endangered species in the fields.
The crisis escalated, taking a heavy toll on lives, property, and the environment, which was devastated by oil spills. Over half of the country’s production of oil and gas was shut in, leading to a drastic reduction in government revenue. Resource control became a popular phrase, and the international oil market was on edge—just as was predicted by the American war-gaming exercise.
But somehow the militants drew understanding and sympathy from many quarters. The crisis was seen through the eyes of the militants, who argued that: “Conventional justice did not come about. Peaceful demonstrations were mocked and ignored. We decided it was time to stop begging and to take matters into our own hands. As the old adage goes, ‘If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
Put under pressure, the Federal Government tried to address the developmental imbalance suffered by the Niger Delta with many “we care” gestures.
However, like in all conflicts, it all ended at talks, leading to this January 26, 2009 story in the media, “Government Amnesty Declared for Niger Delta Militants: In a live press briefing this morning, Nigerian leader, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has declared a 60-day amnesty for militants involved in anti-government activities in the Niger Delta. The President made the declaration in Abuja after a meeting with the Council of States in which the motion was approved. The Council of States is comprised of the 36 state governors and former heads of state, as well as the Chief Justice of the Federation.
Details of the amnesty agreement have not yet been announced. Unconfirmed reports state that the plan will include a presidential pardon and entrance into a rehabilitation programme that provides education and training for those militants willing to accept it. The amnesty proclamation, which has already been signed by the President, will be sent to the Minister of the Interior, who will announce it before it is sent to the National Assembly.”
Following this, a federal government amnesty programme was initiated, and it is still running. It involves payment of stipends, vocational training and sponsorship for higher education. About 17,322 former agitators in the programme have so far received vocational and technical trainings in welding, aviation, computer technology, leadership, marine technology, entrepreneurship and seamanship, among others, both within and outside the country.
Mr. Clark describes the programme as one of the best things to happen to the Niger Delta. He says, “I can tell you categorically that there is nothing about the Niger Delta question that I do not understand. One good thing the federal government had done for our people is the amnesty program. I can confidently tell you that the program has done a lot for our people. Twenty-three (23) of the boys who went on scholarship to Britain made 2nd Class Upper, 4 of them 1st Class; these were the boys that had nowhere to go but were recently celebrated.”
All the arrangements for the development of the Niger Delta were retained during the President Jonathan administration and have been largely kept unchanged by his successor, President Buhari.
So with the renewed attacks of vital oil facilities the obvious scientific motive question is, “what variable has changed overnight to make any group want to reduce Nigeria’s crude oil export to zero?”
Also, if the “First Oil War,” ended at the peace table, with a clear template to use, why did the new crop of militants reject the recent peace of the President and Niger Delta Stakeholders?
What may have changed are the occupants of the Aso Rock Villa, and perhaps the early rhetoric of government, but the latter has since changed to pleas for peace. The federal government acknowledges that, oil caused the country’s push into an economic hole, and it will take oil to climb out.
Mr. Clark was the person many oil companies ran to in difficult situations during the First World War. (Not all Niger Delta Governors had that much clout). And industry sources say he could pick his phone any time of the day to intervene in such situations, no matter how deep in the creeks. In street parlance, he was called “an oracle” on Niger Delta issues.
He is still held in high esteem, as are many Niger Delta elders, by most people, but it doesn’t seem like this crop of militants are in this group.
So, it leaves the true motive of the recent attacks as the proverbial needle in the haystack.
The latest stakeholders’ meeting
The fact that the ‘First Oil War” ended at the peace table was a major reason to applaud the recent stakeholders’ meeting with the Federal Government. That kind of meeting is far more difficult to convene than a staff meeting of a company, a community meeting, or even a government house cabinet meeting.
Yet, very hopeful of a positive outcome, Minister of State, Petroleum Recourses and the Federal Government team worked tirelessly with elders of the Niger Delta to make November 1st a realistic date.
After the initial opposition of some militant groups on the composition of the stakeholders’ team, some of them supported it, while others worried about a free and conducive atmosphere for the stakeholders to talk.
It is still not clear, who among the prominent chiefs and elders could have been cowed.
At the meeting, both sides – FG and the Stakeholders – made clear their concerns and demands. As one oil industry executive put it, “the only demand that was not made across the aisle was perhaps the demand for the head of John the Baptist.”
The 16-point demand of the elders centered on:
- Implementation of all the components of the presidential Amnesty Programme
- Law and Justice issues
- The effect of increased military presence in the Niger Delta
- Plight of internally displaced persons in the Niger Delta
- The Ogoni clean-up and environmental remediation
- The Maritime University Issue: a prompt take off of the university
- Key regional critical infrastructure:
- Security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure.
- Relocation of Administrative and Operational Headquarters of IOCs
- Power supply: they advocate a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the region to gas supplies, thereby giving all sides a stake in proved stability.
- Economic development and empowerment
- Inclusive participation in oil industry and ownership of oil blocs. They want federal government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of oil and gas assets.
- Restructuring and funding of the NDDC
- Strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry
- The Bakassi Question: a comprehensive resettlement plan including development for the host communities and displaced population to reduce the risk of making them into a stateless people.
- Fiscal federalism: supports the call for true federalism and urged that federal government should treat the matter expeditiously.
But to the shock of many industry and international stakeholders, shortly after the meeting, the militants responded with fresh attacks and threats of more attacks.
“Are you telling me now that the Niger Delta region has gone so bad that people no longer have a sense of reasoning? How does one explain that in less than 24 hours after the meeting with Mr. President, these boys had struck again by attacking the Forcados pipeline?” Chief Clark says.
“Our boys were still boasting on the social media that they would carry out more devastating attacks on some critical national assets; threatening that they will do this and they will do that, and you begin to ask; what do the militants want? What really is their problem?”
Effects of Attacks
The September attack on the Forcados export facility led to huge production shut-in, a drop in oil exports and a sharp decline in power generation, throwing many homes into prolonged blackout, and turning gas- dependent industries and others to alternative power sources. Estimated loss of revenue was put at $3 billion.
Yet, as Vice President Osinbajo told visiting Urhobo Leaders of Thought during the week, the destruction of oil facilities will ultimately destroy livelihoods, aspirations and future of the generality of the Niger Delta people.
The attacks and resultant oil spills cause massive pollution of the environment – in the same Niger Delta. But in the end, militants are likely to blame the oil companies for the pollution and demand they clean it up, resulting in another round of conflict.
According to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s Group General Managing Director, Maikanti Baru, as at July 2016 the corporation had recorded 1,447 incidences of pipeline vandalism resulting to the loss of millions of litres of products worth billions of naira in 2016 alone. That is a lot to cause pollution!
He added that in 2015, Nigeria lost 643 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit valued at N51.3 billion through pipeline vandalism alone. Like, President Buhari, and like Niger Delta stakeholders, Baru believes a resolution of the crisis will be a win-win situation.
“All of the federal government is on the same page with the president,” said a Presidency source.
An African problem translates literally that if the child who cries all night does so to keep the mother awake, he also does not sleep. Unknown to the militants or perhaps ignored, their action directly affects the oil revenue of their states.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, recently, decried the continued attack on oil and gas installations by militants, expressing regret that the revenue accruing to the state had dropped to below 20 percent of what it used to be two years ago.
It is also curious that some militants would mistrust Dr. Kachikwu, who last year disagreed publicly with the Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi over the Maritime University. And to show the urgency of the issue, recently the bill on the institution passed a second reading at the Senate.
Sadly, if the militants seek to draw the attention and sympathy of the international community as the case was in the First Oil War, oil has long ceased to be a hot commodity, with producers falling on each other for better market share.
As far back as 2014, the Petroleum Ministry acknowledged that Nigeria no longer has any tangible trade in crude oil with the United States of America, following the shale oil boom in the country. The shale oil revolution has turned the long run declining oil production trends in the United States into rises of 73 per cent between 2008 and 2014.
The scary reality of the effects of the attacks makes the search for motives even more difficult. According to Mr. Clark, “there are different motives behind some of these actions. One, it is unlikely that these criminals are the youths who are fighting themselves for political relevancy in the region and they are in control of so much money to engage the youths who are involved in these dastardly acts for the purpose of indicting one another. I’ve also mentioned that some people are out there to make money out of it as contractors who would be assigned to carry out the repair works on these damaged oil installations.
“We also have some of them that are rascals, unpatriotic fellows who think they can just go and destroy things anyhow. We are going to investigate them one by one and when we finish investigating, we will come out with a position.”
Some industry and government sources suspect some past political office holders under probe are the masterminds, but that is for security operatives to determine.
But whatever the motive of the attacks is, the Niger Delta region will, in the end, turn out to be the major victim for a future compromised. Apart from the few militants, all national and international stakeholders see only one option for the development of the Niger Delta – peace at the table, where all major conflicts, including World Wars, end. The First Oil War left a good template for this.
Mr. Clark knows that all too well. “We are not going to sit down and allow our hope to be destroyed by those people who have shown their true identity as enemies of the Niger Delta region,” he says.