September 19, 2013
Nigerian militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta have recently threatened American oil operations in that region as part of a larger campaign to bring Nigerian oil production to a halt by 2015.
Militants in the Creeks of the Niger Delta
According to the September 4 statement by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND):
MEND is so far satisfied with the steady destructive progress of ‘Hurricane Exodus’ which has reduced Nigeria’s oil output significantly through our sustained sabotage of pipelines. We will also continue to turn a blind eye to the crude oil merchants passing through our territories because their activities, apart from toll paid us, is helping to achieve our objectives of zero oil output by 2015. We use this medium to advise workers at the Chevron Tank Farm in Escravos to evacuate the premises as mortar attacks are imminent on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 from 00:01 hour Nigerian time (This Day [Lagos], September 5).
The facility in question, the Excravos Terminal and Tank Farm, is based at the mouth of the Escravos River(a tributary of the Niger) at the Bight of Benin. The plant represents Chevron’s main production facility in Nigeria and is a joint venture with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Securing the Niger Delta oil industry from attacks or theft is a Herculean task – the field of pipelines covers an area of roughly 27,000 square miles (Bloomberg, March 6).
The selection of October 1 as the day attacks will begin is of significance to MEND as an organization as well as a warning of the seriousness of their intent. October 1 is Nigerian Independence Day and is the date in 2010 when two bombings claimed by MEND in the Nigerian capital Abuja killed 12 people and wounded scores of others. After the bombings, MEND leader Henry Okah attempted to take refuge in South Africa, but was instead detained and tried there, receiving a sentence of 24 years. Operation Hurricane Exodus (as mentioned in the September 4 statement) is the name of a campaign of sustained attacks launched by MEND on April 5 to punish Nigeria for providing what the movement alleged were forged documents used to help convict Okah (Guardian [Lagos], April 3). Days later, the movement claimed responsibility for the slaughter of 15 policemen in one of the creeks of Bayelsa State. The policemen had been providing security for the burial of the mother of a leading MEND militant (Business Day [Lagos], April 11; Sahara Reporters, April 23). Okah’s release and those of “other innocent people” convicted of the bombings are among MEND’s current demands.
The statement was signed by MEND “spokesman” Jomo Gbomo, a possibly fictitious persona used by MEND militants. Former MEND commander Reuben Wilson, now an advocate of the Nigerian government’s amnesty program, claims that “Jomo Gbomo” does not exist “as a human being,” but is rather a name he and others used for statements issued from the creeks of southern Nigeria (This Day [Lagos], September 11). With an estimated 30,000 former militants having taken advantage of the amnesty, including a number of senior commanders such as Wilson, MEND may now be in the hands of a younger generation of militants or criminals posing as ideologically motivated fighters in order to cloak extortion activities under the cover of environmental and social activism. It is possible that their ambition may exceed their experience and operational effectiveness, but MEND militants still hold a local advantage over security operatives in the labyrinthine creeks of the Niger Delta. MEND established they still posed a firm threat despite the amnesties when some 225 militants in 15 boats raided the oil facilities in Atlas Cove in Lagos in July, well beyond their normal operating zone within the Niger Delta. Three naval personnel were killed and much of the facility destroyed by dynamite (Vanguard [Lagos], July 13).
MEND followed its threats against Chevron with a more conciliatory message on September 9, in which the organization said it was ready to “end activities of illegitimate oil merchants, pipeline vandalization and the unrest in the Niger Delta region when the reason we took up arms is addressed by a listening administration” (UPI, September 10).
Current oil losses to vandals and saboteurs amount to roughly 150,000 barrels per day in the Delta, a significant loss but greatly diminished from the losses endured during the height of MEND’s pre-amnesty activities, when production was reduced by nearly a third. Nigeria’s oil industry currently provides about 80% of the state’s budget. Rampant corruption in Nigeria means little of this revenue actually makes its way back to the Niger Delta communities that host the industry, encouraging extortion and oil theft as alternative revenue streams.
This article first appeared in the September 19, 2013 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.