One is an Islamist militia group calling itself Boko Haram, which has carried out a campaign of terror against Christian churches and government targets across northern Nigeria as part of its war against the secular Nigerian state.
The second is a six-year long campaign of kidnapping and sabotage by Niger Delta militants, who are fighting for regional self-government and control of oil resources in the country’s east. The largest of these rebel groups, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) argue that Nigeria’s ruling elites exclude residents of the Niger Delta from the lucrative oil contracts and well-paid jobs, and leave them only with the ecological devastation of pipeline spills, which is killing the local fishing industry.
The question now is whether the government of President Goodluck Jonathan – who comes from the Niger Delta himself – can respond adequately to the twin threats to the Nigerian state. With much of Nigeria’s Army already deployed up north to contain the Boko Haram rebellion, can Nigeria impose enough military to bring both of these very different groups to the negotiating table?
In a statement released Sunday, MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo claimed credit for the attack on the oil pipeline in Bayelsa state, and for a separate attack on the home of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe. Mr. Gbomo said MEND “will pay considerable attention to dealing with security forces and traitorous indigenes of the Niger Delta.”
“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) understands the negative impact our assault on the Nigerian oil industry will have on the ordinary citizen in a country which relies almost entirely on one source of revenue.
“Unfortunately, the extremely irresponsible, floundering government of Nigeria is more concerned with enriching themselves and family members than attending to the problems of the Niger Delta and the continuously depreciating standard of living of the ordinary Nigerian.”
The Italian-owned oil company ENI, which operates the pipeline, says it has lost 4,000 barrels per day from the destruction of the pipeline. Unlike attacks in the past, Saturday’s attack did not have an immediate impact on global oil prices. The price of Brent crude dropped below $114 per barrel as markets braced for the possibility of the Greek government defaulting on its loans, yet another shock for the already shaky European Union.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil-producing country and the fifth-largest supplier of crude oil for the United States. In the past, disruption to Nigeria’s oil supplies – combined with Somali pirate attacks, and war in Iraq – have sent oil prices soaring.
Nigeria’s military condemned the pipeline attack, attributing it to “criminal elements.”
“Unfortunately, people who were never part of the agitation have emerged and want to claim amnesty and its benefits by force,” the Nigerian military said in a statement, according to Agence France Presse.
In Abuja, the nation’s capital, Nigerian Senate President David Mark focused his attention on the wave of attacks by northern Islamist rebels, and called for Nigerians to work for unity.
In a goodwill statement to mark the birthday celebrations of the Prophet Muhammad, Senator Mark called on Nigerians of all faiths to pray for peace, “in order to put our detractors to shame.”
He called the current crisis “intolerable,” and in comments seemingly aimed at the MEND attack he added “the challenge at the moment is to diversify the economy away from its overdependence on the capital intensive oil sector which provides 95 percent of our foreign exchange earnings and about 80 percent of budgetary revenues.”
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” has been fighting a two-year-long insurgency against the Nigerian government in order to impose Islamic law across the north. Security experts point to a growing sophistication of Boko Haram’s fighting techniques, including the use of suicide car bomb attacks, as evidence that Boko Haram has established links with like-minded Islamist groups in the African Sahel region, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Human Rights Watch says that some 935 people have been killed over the past two years, including 250 in January alone.