Militants step up 'oil war' in Niger Delta

Attacks on foreign oil company facilities threaten to disrupt global oil supply.

Militants in southern Nigeria have sharply stepped up attacks on foreign interests after declaring an "oil war" Sunday. The campaign, which the militants have dubbed "Hurricane Barbarossa," entered its third day Tuesday with an attack on a Royal Dutch Shell pipeline after attacks on Shell and Chevron facilities in previous days.

The Nigerian government has tried to downplay the threat. But the violence looks set to further disturb oil supplies from Nigeria, the United States' fifth-largest source of oil, at a time when global supplies are already being squeezed.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday that the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said it had "blown up and destroyed" a Shell pipeline.

"A major crude oil pipeline at Bakana Front in Degema Local Government Area ... was destroyed with high explosives by MEND detonation engineers backed by heavily-armed fighters," MEND said in an email statement to the media....
MEND declared an all-out war on the oil industry at the weekend in response to what it said was an unprovoked attack by the Nigerian military on one of its positions on Saturday.
Other less prominent armed groups appear to have either joined forces with MEND or taken advantage of the confusion.
Unidentified gunmen on Monday night kidnapped a Briton in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers, Sagir told AFP, without giving further details.

According to Bloomberg, Shell confirmed the attack on Tuesday.

The militants claimed Monday they had "razed" a Shell oil complex, according to CNN. Shell confirmed that attack, which left one guard and four others dead, and said it had shut down facilities in some locations because of the violence.

A day earlier, MEND had warned all international oil workers to evacuate their staff from their facilities because it planned to "bring these structures to the ground."
"The foolhardy workers and soldiers who did not heed our warning perished inside the station," MEND said, referring to the Shell complex.

The Nigerian military has put on a brave face, saying the militants were hyping their threats to spread fear. According to the Vanguard, a Nigerian daily, one defense official has dismissed any notion of a an "oil war."

The Director of Defence Information, Brigadier-General Mohammed Yusuf, in a statement in Abuja said the military was not at war with any Nigerian or group.
"The oil war propaganda is just a gimmick by the militants to create fear in every law-abiding citizen, both local and foreign alike, and to provoke tension in the polity.
"We are not unaware of their antics and capabilities. The joint task force in place is very capable of containing the indiscretion of the militants. So there is nothing like war."

Since early 2006, MEND has waged a campaign of terror, attacking foreign-owned oil facilities and kidnapping foreign oil workers to draw attention to its political aims, according to a background report by the Council on Foreign Relations. In that time, MEND has cut Nigeria's oil production by a quarter. One of the group's main demands is that locals receive 50 percent of revenues from the delta's oil. Most oil revenues end up lining the pockets of corrupt Nigerian officials.

The militants, like the Niger Delta's population at large, object to the environmental degradation and underdevelopment of the region and the lack of benefits the community has received from its extensive oil resources. While there is a revenue-sharing plan in which the federal government distributes roughly half of the country's oil revenues among state governors, these funds do not trickle down to the roughly 30 million residents of the Delta. In 2003, some 70 percent of oil revenues was stolen or wasted, according to an estimate by the head of Nigeria's anticorruption agency. Whereas many residents used to work as fishermen, oil installations and spills have decimated the fish population and now markets must import frozen fish, according to National Geographic.

The election of a new Nigerian government in mid-2007 raised hopes of a deal, with the new vice president meeting directly with Delta militants. But the militant movement has now splintered into competing factions, making it difficult for the government to find a negotiating partner, according to the International Crisis Group. Adding to the confusion is the rise of armed thuggery, kidnappings for profit, and other criminal opportunism.

The Christian Science Monitor reported in late June that MEND had declared a cease-fire and was "prepared to give dialogue a chance." That olive branch has now proven short-lived.

A commentary in the Vanguard blames the delta's backward status on Nigerian officials who have mimicked the British colonial model of resource extraction.

Sadly, while [the British] were developing their country from resources from the Niger area, the source of their wealth was being under-developed.
More sadly, the Nigerian state under the locals has followed this same path, but in an edited form. Whereas the British developed their tiny island from the resources they stole from their colonies, their Nigerian baton-takers chose, by and large, as they still do, to concentrate on developing their pockets and appetite.
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