Niger Delta Avengers accuses Buhari of stalling peace talks, vows renewed attacks

Armed militants Photo: Buzz Nigeria

The Niger Delta Avengers said on Friday that it had launched two simultaneous operations to restart its disruption of Nigeria’s oil and gas production this year.

In a statement signed by its spokesman, Mudoch Agbinibo, and posted on its website, the group expressed its frustration with President Muhammadu Buhari’s “deaf” approach towards the ongoing dialogue with leaders of the region.

“It has been evidently clear that the Nigerian state is not ready for any form of dialogue and negotiation,” the Avengers said while accusing the Buhari administration of turning “deaf ears” to the plight of the Niger Delta.

Consequently, the Avengers said it had activated its combatants and bases for a wholesale obstruction of Nigeria’s oil production in 2017.

“On this note, we are declaring ‘Operations Walls of Jericho and Hurricane Joshua’ simultaneously to reclaim our motherland,” Mr. Agbinibo said. “All fighters and commands are hereby placed on high readiness in your webs of operations to hit and knock the enemy very hard.”

The group said it would ensure that Nigeria’s 2017 national budget is not funded with the “crude oil production output from the Niger Delta” but “on the newly found oil deposits in the North and the new pipelines construction from the Niger Republic,” in reference to Mr. Buhari’s policies of prospecting crude oil in the North East and constructing cross-border pipelines with the Republic of Niger.

The Niger Delta Avengers gained worldwide notoriety when its fighters launched a string of devastating attacks on oil and gas installations across the oil-rich region last year, forcing major oil companies —including Shell, Agip and Chevron— to cease operations and withdraw their staff.

Between mid-January and mid-November 2016, the Avengers claimed responsibility for some 50 attacks on oil installations, hitting mostly in Delta State with Bayelsa coming in a distant second.

The group said it would bring Nigeria’s oil production to “zero” in its quest to end widespread poverty and environmental degradation across the Niger Delta.

The hostilities also compelled Shell to shut down its export terminal in Forcados, Delta State, significantly decreasing government’s major source of revenue while depriving the economy of much-needed foreign exchange. The government said the group’s activities contributed to the country’s economic woes.

In the third quarter of 2016, Mr. Buhari ordered a military offensive as his administration’s response to the sabotage by the NDA and other similar groups that had emerged in different communities across the region.

The government also adopted a peace talk with leaders of the region as an alternative means of ending the crisis, but did not cancel the military operations.

The dialogue, which was formally launched in November 2016, was rumoured as the reason behind Avengers’ minimal attacks on pipelines since September.

But little progress has been made despite repeated promises by the parties involved that the talks would lead to a lasting peace and economic development of the region.

Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, reportedly blamed a lack of “credible” leadership in the region as a major hindrance to government’s efforts.

Edwin Clark, a former minister and leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum which is the umbrella body of South-South leaders involved in the negotiations, slammed Mr. Adesina on Thursday and said his statement was capable of undermining the peace process.

Contacted by PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Adesina declined to confirm or deny whether he actually made the controversial statement. He also declined comments on the latest threats by the Avengers, saying it was not in his place to do so.

Nigerian Army spokesman, Sani Usman, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comment.

The Buhari administration said about 40 per cent of the N7.29 total appropriation for 2017 would be funded from oil earnings.

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