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Blogger News Network: Year of the Militants — Part 2

Published by wordworks2001 December 4th, 2006

Ah, spring comes to the Niger Delta. The smell of cordite wafts from the swamps, the bumblebee like whine of MEND’s (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) speedboats navigating through the mangroves, the steady “whop, whop, whop, whop, whop,” of the Nigerian Army helicopter gunships patrolling the skies over the Ijaw’s lands. Gee, it’s great to be an expat, working in Nigeria!

That definitely was not the attitude of most expatriates living and working in the oil fields of Nigeria this past April. The abductions were increasing, hostages were becoming greater in number and the days they were being held were sometimes quite long. Those living in the environs between Port Harourt and west toward Ekit and Warri and east to Onne Port, were beginning each day getting on-line to check the local expatriate message board, Oyibos On Line. There loved ones across the globe were doing the same thing, making the website very popular.

The Nigerian government was feeling especially concilliatory this past April, expressing a willingness for dialogue with the militants and even offering a new construction project in the region that would create jobs. MEND refused to bite, saying the government was simply trying to placate them and didn’t want to address the real issues that were bothering the indigenes of the Niger Delta, and that was true.

As you will note, if you read on, the spring was also noted for a few “firsts” regarding the relationship between militants and the government. It continued to be part of the killing season that started in January.

April

In order to try to lure Royal Dutch Shell which abandoned much of their Niger Delta operations earlier in the year, Nigeria announced it had purchased and deployed several new gunboats to protect oil field interests.

The Nigerian government, oil industry representatives and several traditional leaders from the Niger Delta met to discuss security in the region.

President Obasanjo announced a new committee, which he would chair, that would address the issue of violence in the Niger Delta. The militants boycotted their invitations to the committee’s meetings.

President Obasanjo announces the building of a new road through the Niger Delta. The 1.8 billion dollar (US) project would hire some 20,000 workers from the area.

He also announced the government-run oil company and police would increase hiring from the Delta region to create more jobs. MEND rejected the theory that the highway would resolve lasting issues. There was no timeline issued for the construction of the road, nor was it announced how it would be financed.

MEND announced its self-imposed month long halt in attacks was a tactical regrouping and they would soon be back in force. The following week, there was a car bomb attack in Port Harcourt. Three were killed and MEND said it was a symbolic move meant to focus attention on resolving the real issue. This was MEND’s first attack in a city and its first car bombing.

The US Consulate General in Lagos received information that MEND intended to attack a liquid natural gas facility on Bonny Island in Rivers state “as a last resort if their demands were not met.

Gunmen arriving via speedboats robbed a bank in Port Harcourt, stealing more than a million naira. A gunbattle ensued and one policeman was killed.
May

MEND announced that state governors from the Niger Delta region who supported President Obasanjo serving a third term would be subject to attack. This is the organization’s first implicitly political threat.

In Port Harcourt, an British expatriate was killed in a drive-by shooting while being chauffered to his jobsite. This incident was deemed a vendetta situation, The militants were not involved.

Three expatriate employees of Italian company Saipem were also kidnapped in Port Harcourt. MEND denied involvement in the incident. The men were taken to the swamps and released a day later.

MEND said it would announce the impending destruction of the LNG plant on Bonny Island in advance, to give the local communities a chance to leave the area. They also said they would carry out another attack on an oil facility before attacking Bonny Island.

The bodies of six police officers were discovered floating in the river at Port Harcourt. They had been shot and dumped for an unknown reason. At least two police officers survived similar attacks in the city. No group claimed responsibility for these assassinations.

Royal Dutch Shell announced plans to appeal a court ruling it pay 1.5 billion dollars (US) to residents living in the Niger Delta to compensate them for environmental damage oil operations have caused. Local Ijaw leaders indicated they would not allow Shell to operate on their lands unless theu paid the fine.

MEND announced it was forming a rebel coalition with the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta, and the Martyr’s Brigade to organize and direct actions against oil companies and the government.

June

Eight expatriate workers were kidnapped June 2nd from an oil rig 40 miles off the coast of the Niger Delta. They were released, unharmed, on June 4th. This was the first time the militants have struck that far offshore. MEND denied responsibility, but authorities said local youth would need tactical support for the speedboats the miltants used to travel the waterways.

Five South Korean construction workers were kidnapped from their dormitory in Port Harcourt. MEND claimed responsibilty. Five Nigerian soldiers were killed during the incident.

Later in the month, MEND announced it would no longer target oil field workers and would instead focus on their “real enemies.” They said they would still focus on foreign oil operations and that “Dubious politicians need to have a taste of the action.

The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), a group campaigning among the Igbo tribe for secession of the Nigerian state of Biafra, announced that members of its organization had been killed in a police raid. Clashes between police and militants in Onitsha resulted in the torching of two police stations, several cars destroyed and at least seven deaths.

Two Filipino workers were kidnapped from Port Harcourt by abductors who arrived in a speedboat. The perpetrators turned out to be from a local community with a beef against the company the two worked for.
 
Violence breaks out in Port Harcourt as unknown militants engaged in a fire fight with the Nigerian Navy after the rebels atempted to board a Navy vessel.
A police officer was lynched to death after his car struck a motorcycle and killed a mother and baby who were riding on it.

Security officers in Onitsha killed 17 MASSOB members in a raid on a building used for a meeting. Eleven were wounded and 69 were arrested. Unrest would last well into July.

There was still a long hot summer ahead. July, August and September turned out to be scorchers in more ways than one. Part Three of Year of the Militants returns tomorrow.

ENDS…

Related article by same author

Niger Delta Enjoys 10 Days of Quiet
 
By Wordworks2001, 30 November 2006

The Niger Delta has enjoyed a ten-day period of relative quiet since the tragic killing of David Hunt, a 58-year old British expatriate hostage as he and six others were being ferried away from the supply boat from which they were abducted. It really isn’t known whether the fact that a kidnap victim, who was highly prized as ransom-bait by the militants, died, shook the sensibilities of the hostage-takers or if this was a planned respite from a fairly busy month. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), had promised November would be a bloody month and it, unfortunately, was the bloodiest since the group began its assaults against oil company facilities in January.

Despite the current lull in activities, there is every indication that militant attacks will pick up, perhaps between Christmas and New Years. There are signs of reconciliation and agreements, that unfortunately seem to fall apart before they are able to be implemented.

Brigadier General Samuel Salihu, commander of the federal forces in Port Harcourt, the country’s second largest city and headquarters for much of the oil industry, said the situation cannot be solved militarily. He said neither the militants with their AK47s nor the Army with its helicopter gunships can decide this problem, it must be a political decision.

Ijaw youths in the Niger Delta had worked out an agreement with Shell Oil Company to accompany its workers back into the Delta facilities that the company had shut down earlier in the year. The idea was for the youth to be paid for providing protection to Shell workers, but the two sides couldn’t agree upon a price for the protection service.

MEND also voiced their opposition to the plan bu stating it would “stiffly” resist any attempts by Shell to reopen facilities the militants have forced to close. The daily flow and production of crude oil has been decreased by about 500,000 barrels for several months now.

The spector of continued and increased vandalism and further abductions of expatriate and local oil field workers through the April presidential election next year, multinational oil companies are prepared to take tougher security measures to protect workers and spend more money to compensate staff in the increasingly volatile region, according to security and energy analysts.

Already, violence and the threat of it have reduced total oil production by roughly 700,000 barrels a day, or about 39% of the country’s current total output. If the violence continues or increases, companies may be forced to curtail even more production and take more drastic steps to protect workers and infrastructure.

Onshore production has been mired repeatedly over the years in violent clashes with communities, but militants and criminal gangs have recently ventured further out to sea. That threatens multibillion dollar offshore projects that companies like Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp. are counting on to boost oil reserves and profits at a time of stiff competition with state-run energy firms in other parts of the world.

The offshore oil fields are also crucial for Nigeria if it is live up to its sharply higher oil output forecasts over the next few years. The killing of an expatriate oil worker caught in the crossfire a couple of weeks ago, during a military hostage-rescue effort sharply increased the threat level for international oil companies. Executives will have to convince their own employees and governments back home that they are doing everything they can to protect workers in Nigeria.

In many ways, the hands of the oil companies are tied, leaving them at the mercy of a so-far ineffectual military and police service. Many of the companies employ private security workers for added protection, but Nigerian law doesn’t permit those workers to carrying weapons. Armed Nigerian security personnel guard most installations on the ground. In addition, it is common for companies to have former and off-duty policemen with automatic weapons guarding facilities and staff.

Earlier this month, the U.S. consulate in Lagos warned about the possibility of coordinated attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta, underscoring the perception among diplomats and outside observers that the violence is likely to increase ahead of Nigeria’s 2007 general election in April.

Wordworks2001 is a retired US Army master sergeant who lives in Indiana and works in NIgeria. He blogs at http://wordworks2001.blogspot.com

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