Nigeria is ready to deploy troops to the
Niger delta in a showdown with militants
who have wreaked havoc on the nation’s
key oil infrastructure since the start of the
year, the army says.
This came as the Avengers on Friday
accused the government of planning to
acquire drones to fight them, adding that
President Muhammadu Buhari was not
sincere with his peace offer.
But local leaders have warned against the
use of force on the grounds it would hurt
civilians.
Special forces are due this weekend to
begin training for a possible operation
against the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA),
which if carried out would be the first in
the oil-rich region since 2009.
“The aim of the exercise is to practise our
special forces and other units of the
Nigerian Army in amphibious and internal
security operations in riverine
environments,” read an army statement.
The army has warned it could launch
operations in the creeks and swamps of
the Delta region if the NDA continued to
refuse to enter into dialogue with the
government.
In the latest of a string of attacks against
oil installations, the NDA says it was
behind the Sunday sabotage of a gas
pipeline owned by the state-run oil
company in the southern Akwa Ibom
state.
Since February, the group has also
targeted infrastructure owned by oil
majors Shell, Chevron, Exxon and Eni,
whom it blames for widespread poverty
and underdevelopment.
NDA’s actions have significantly reduced
oil production at a time Nigeria is
struggling with low global crude prices
which have hammered government
revenues, weakening the naira and
pushing up inflation to near 11-year
highs.
Army spokesman Sani Usman said the
special forces would also “check criminal
activities like kidnapping, militancy and
piracy… in support of the civil authority.”
Usman urged Nigerians not to panic if
they noticed unusual movement of large
number of troops, heavy weapons and
military equipment in the area.
Nigeria has not conducted major military
operations in the south since 2009, when
an amnesty ended a year-long crackdown
against the armed Movement for the
Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
MEND’s activities had slashed Nigeria’s
oil output by two thirds.
– Drones –
The Avengers on Friday accused the
government of planning to acquire drones
to fight them, adding that President
Muhammadu Buhari was not sincere with
his peace offer.
“Mr. President, you can purchase all the
drones in Europe and United States. It
won’t stop the Niger Delta Avengers from
bringing the country’s economy to zero,”
the NDA said in a statement.
“The worse you can do is to kill poor
innocent people which the military is good
at, but know the Nigerian economy will
suffer,” it said.
Governor Seriake Dickson of the southern
oil-rich state of Bayelsa, an epicentre of
the violence, visited Buhari this week and
cautioned against the use of force, saying
it would hurt civilians more.
Early this year, the government sent some
troops into Gbaramatu community in
Delta state, in search of fugitive former
rebel leader Government “Tompolo”
Ekpemupolo, a government contractor
who is wanted for graft.
Local residents accused the troops of a
range of abuses, including rape as well as
looting and destroying their homes.
Ekpemupolo has denied allegations of
being behind the NDA.
He was once a high-ranking member of
MEND, an armed group that attacked oil
and gas facilities in the 2000s.
MEND has denounced renewed violence in
the region, advised against military action
and appealed to the Avengers to give
peace a chance.

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