July 27, 2009
Niger Delta militants in speedboats launched a devastating attack on Nigeria’s rapidly decaying energy infrastructure on July 13 by seizing and destroying a major oil distribution point in Lagos, a city of 16 million people. The assault was the first time militants from the Delta region have struck Nigeria’s largest city.
An assault group from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) struck the Atlas Cove Jetty during the night, killing a number of sailors guarding the facility before driving away the rest. Dynamite charges were placed on ten pipelines at the terminal and the resulting explosion was heard throughout the city. The attackers returned to base without apparent intervention from the Joint Task Force (JTF), a hybrid security force detailed with eliminating the insurgency in the oil-rich Delta. The attack came only hours before the release of imprisoned MEND leader Henry Okah under a new Nigerian amnesty program.
Two days after the assault a MEND spokesman said the operation was carried out by only “18 experienced commandos” in two speedboats (Daily Trust [Abuja], July 15). Resistance from the guards was dispelled by several bursts from heavy caliber machine guns, according to MEND.
Damage to the Atlas Cove terminal was reported to be heavy. Because Nigeria’s inland refineries are not running due to a lack of crude supplies as a result of pipeline attacks, the oil-rich nation is dependent on imported refined fuel. The Lagos facility handles 35% of Nigeria’s refined oil imports (AFP, July 14). MEND destroyed a recently repaired Chevron pipeline for the second time only days before the Lagos attack (AFP, July 10).
A rival Niger Delta movement, the Ijaw Youth Campaign for Peace (IYPC), condemned the attack and followed up on a threat to “forward names of those involved to the Federal Government” by naming fugitive militant leader and tribal chief Government Ekpemupolo (a.k.a. Tompolo) as the man behind the Lagos attack (Daily Trust, July 15). Another Ijaw group, the Warri Ijaw Peace Monitoring Group (WIPMG), denied Tompolo had anything to do with the attack and described the IYCP as “saboteurs” set on destroying the peace process in the region (The Nation [Lagos], July 15).
Tompolo, who is wanted in connection with the disappearance of 16 Nigerian servicemen, narrowly escaped capture when his base, known as “Camp 5,” was struck by a land and air assault coordinated by the JTF. The defenses of the sophisticated base, complete with barracks, armory and a modern mansion for Tompolo’s use, were entirely designed to repel an attack coming from the waterways, the customary transportation routes in the roadless Delta (Vanguard [Lagos], May 29). There are suggestions that Tompolo was working a protection racket to fund his luxurious lifestyle by working as a “security advisor” to various foreign oil firms (Nigerian Tribune, June 1).
Lagos state Governor Babatunde Fashola denounced the attack on the Lagos oil terminal, pointing out that Lagos State had hosted numerous displaced people from the Niger Delta while experiencing its own struggle for development funds after the national capital moved to Abuja. “We have provided succour and accommodation for the displaced people of the Niger Delta as a result of the agitation… Is Lagos not also a victim of years of neglect? Is this an agitation without limits? Is a friendly and host state fair game? …I want to think that what has happened is a mistake and it will never be repeated” (PANA Online [Dakar], July 16; Daily Sun [Lagos], July 16).
The Niger Delta militants, who seek a greater share of Nigeria’s oil revenues, have succeeded in cutting down Nigeria’s monthly oil revenues to $1 billion per month, compared to $2.2 billion in 2008 (AFP, July 13). A statement from MEND claims that “While the government is talking about amnesty on one hand, the JTF on the other is still carrying out a punitive scorched earth policy on communities around oil facilities as a way of permanently relocating the people from their ancestral homes and turning the area into an oil mining area” (234next.com, July 21).
This article first appeared in the July 27, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor