July 10, 2014
Former Niger Delta militants have threatened to cut off Nigerian oil production in the event beleaguered Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan is prevented from seeking re-election in 2015. Jonathan has been under intense criticism from northern politicians who cite incompetence in dealing with Boko Haram and other issues in their demands that the president decline to run for a second term. The declaration came out of a meeting in Akwa Ibom State of some 600 former militants who had accepted amnesty under the federal government’s Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative (LPCDI) in 2009 as part of a national effort to bring an end to militant activities in the Niger Delta region that were preventing full exploitation of the region’s abundant energy reserves.
Vandalized Pipeline in the Niger Delta
The leader of the ex-militants, Reuben Wilson, described a wide campaign in Muslim north Nigeria to discredit and distract the president, who is of southern and Christian origin:
You will agree with me that the Niger Delta people are sustaining the economy at great inconveniences and pains to its people and the environment. It is the only time that the region has had the privilege of producing a president for the country. It is unthinkable that the North will be plotting against our son, intimidating him with bomb blasts here and there and causing the untimely death of scores of innocent Nigerians, all because they want to take back power. We have always seen the need for us to live together as one indivisible country and this is what Mr. President believes in. However, with the way things are going, we have been pushed to the wall and we cannot but react. Accordingly, the former freedom fighters have agreed that all the routes through which the north has been benefiting from crude oil finds coming from the Niger Delta will be cut off, if they insist on forcing Mr. President out of office. (This Day [Lagos], July 1).
The declaration was reinforced by a pledge from the Niger Delta Youth Movement (NDYM) to organize a “million-man march” of Niger Delta youth in Abuja to condemn the “distraction” of President Jonathan from his development program by the terrorist activities of Boko Haram. NDYM leader Felix Ogbona insisted the movement would stop oil flows from the Delta if Jonathan is prevented from running for president in 2015 (Daily Independent [Lagos], June 29). According to the former militants, it was Jonathan (as vice-president) who visited the militants in the creeks of the Delta and convinced them to sign on to the amnesty in exchange for promises of development (Information Nigeria, May 2, 2013). The ex-militants see Jonathan’s efforts to develop the Delta being diverted by Boko Haram activities in the north and are certain such efforts will be dropped if a new president is elected from the northern Muslim communities in 2015.
Elsewhere, former Niger Delta militants belonging to the Ijaw people of the Delta demanded Jonathan (an Ijaw) declare his intent to run in 2015, saying in a statement: We, therefore, call on you to contest the seat of the President. And if for any reason you fail to contest come 2015, you should not come back home but remain in Abuja forever” (Vanguard [Lagos], June 29).
Mansion Belonging to a Former Militant Leader in Yenagoa (BBC)
While attacks in the Niger Delta and elsewhere continue to be claimed by “MEND spokesmen,” those militant leaders who accepted amnesty insist MEND ceased to exist in 2009: “Nobody should hide under the guise of a so-called MEND to sabotage the nation’s economy… We restate that the amnesty program of the Federal Government is working and those of us that are beneficiaries are happy that we were given the privilege to come out of the creeks to contribute to the peace and development of the country” (Vanguard [Lagos], October 24, 2013).
The amnesty has been granted to roughly 30,000 people since it began, promising each of them at least $410 per month to keep the peace in a program that costs upwards of $500 million per year (BBC, May 2). While lower-level militants have been offered job-training as they collect often-sporadic payments, there is abundant evidence that some former militant leaders have used access to major oil industry-related contracts to build enormous personal wealth that is typically flaunted through the construction of rambling mansions (Leadership [Abuja], June 30). The militant leaders who once targeted the Delta’s pipelines for oil theft or destruction now seek lucrative government contracts to provide security for these same pipelines (Information Nigeria, May 2, 2013).
Residents of the Niger Delta have complained for years that they see little benefit from the massive revenues generated by oil production in their region while enduring industrial pollution, poor infrastructure and a shortage of employment opportunities.
This article first appeared in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.