Just as the Nigerian government was beginning to make some progress in the counter insurgency fight in the North East, another threat has begun to re-emerge in the South-South, the Niger-Delta Militants.

The militants recently carried out 3 consecutive bombing attacks against critical oil infrastructure. At about 10pm on Thursday 14th January, militants blew up the Escravos-Warri-Abuja-Lagos pipelines. On Friday the 15th January at about 10.30pm, the militants blew up Chevron Nigeria Limited, CNL’s Utunana –Makaraba crude oil line. And then around the early hours of Saturday the 16th January, the militants bombed the Olero gas line.

A resurgence of attacks on the struggling oil and gas industry will severely affect socio-economic conditions of not just the people in the South-South, but of all Nigerians who are already experiencing hardship from an economic downturn. As if things are not dire enough, it was reported that the attacks on the Escravos–Warri-Lagos Pipeline may lead to significant drop in power generation as a result of disruption of gas supply to power stations across the country including Lagos State.

The Amnesty Problem

The Niger Delta militancy crisis was doused after the Federal government brokered an amnesty deal with the militants around June 2009. This amnesty program was a temporary solution to an endemic problem. The idea was to buy peace by paying the militants to give up their arms, while making available vocational training that will give the jobless youth better employment opportunities. The Federal Government then took it one step further and awarded generous contracts to former militants to protect the pipelines they previously attempted to destroy.

This sort of arrangement would have made sense if the whole strategy behind this deal was to ensure a temporary cease fire while more concrete plans were in place to develop the Niger-Delta’s social institutions and infrastructure, while putting solid security strategies in place that would prevent such repeat attacks on critical oil infrastructure. But such wasn’t the case.

Ineffective Solution

Despite the amnesty program, crime in the Niger Delta persisted. Kidnappings, armed robberies, sea piracy, and oilfield attacks persisted around the creeks albeit, not to the level of destruction witnessed pre-amnesty. A number of former militants complained about being short changed by their leaders as their amnesty payments had been severely cut before it reached them. It was reported that some of the militants received N20,000 as against the N65,000 monthly stipends earmarked for each of them, while some militants were being owed up to 3 months payment arrears.

The Niger Delta militants began expressing their intent to resume attacks against oil infrastructure. Back in mid 2015, the armed forces even announced that there was an increase in oil field attacks as former militant youth appeared to be re-arming. In October 2015, some former militants confirmed to visiting journalists that some groups within the creeks had started recruiting again in anticipation that the Buhari administration will put an end to the amnesty program.

What the Buhari Administration did

Although the Buhari administration withdrew the pipeline protection contracts from former militants, the administration announced in early January 2016 that it had decided to continue the amnesty payments and even sorted out the back payments of those who were being owed.

In fact the only major change to the amnesty program was that instead of paying the leaders to distribute the payments to the reformed militants, the payment was going to be disbursed directly to the amnesty participants. Despite this amnesty continuation reassurance, pipelines were once again recently attacked.

What Should the Government Do?

The amnesty was not as effective as it could have been due to corruption and greed. Unfortunately for the militants, business as usual cannot continue in the Niger Delta. President Buhari inherited a much depleted treasury and global oil prices continue to decline further straining Nigeria’s fiscal abilities.

The rescinded pipeline protection contracts and latest corruption crackdown by the new administration has probably started to affect the flow of cash getting to the Niger Delta militants. The militants are going to attempt to continue carrying out attacks on oilfields in an attempt to show how much power they wield over the stability of Nigeria, and force the government to acquiesce to their personal interest and terms. This is where the government security agencies are going to have to do what it takes to protect the stability of the country, while showing the administration’s zero tolerance for sabotage.

Were security forces caught unawares?

Nigerian security operatives tend to be more reactive in their security responses. If the general public was aware of a possible resurgence of oil field attacks, surely the security agencies should also have been in-the-know and have been ready to prevent these attacks by gathering intelligence through their network of informants along with their various surveillance and early warning detection systems installed on critical infrastructure.

In addition to these prevention strategies, there should have been a heightened alert posture assumed by the security agencies after the first blast, preventing opportunities for subsequent attacks. But this did not happen till about the third attack.

The militants probably remember their last campaign back in 2008 when attacks on oil assets were at its peak. They brazenly confronted government security operatives, causing a number of deaths and injuries, destroying and seizing military gunboats, and weapons, and even at some point attempted the use of surface-to-air missiles to shoot down naval and Air Force helicopters. The militants managed to cause a lot of instability in Nigeria which increased their prominence on the international scene and even impacted the global oil market. They are probably hoping to replicate similar outcomes, but with a more proactive stance, the military can prevent this devastating threat from reoccurring.

Ongoing military operations such as OP PULO SHIELD have attempted to strategically target for destruction militant camps and hideouts. One of such ops led to the discovery of several sophisticated weapons which continue to be proliferated throughout the region. Conditions allowing easy access to weapons must be checked through effective interagency collaboration.

The Buhari administration must continue to fight corruption as this is the primary reason the Niger Delta communities are still experiencing underdevelopment and hardship. The leaders of these communities need to be held accountable to maintain peace and must be dealt accordingly if they are found to be involved in inciting violence in the region.

When it comes to the youth, it is becoming more apparent that some sort of counter narrative program needs to be implemented within the region. A kidnapping cell was recently apprehended by security forces and the suspects stated that “unemployment along with advice from bad friends” forced them into crime. Recently, some Niger Delta youth threatened to shut down the activities of an oil firm because workers were sacked. The slumping oil prices have led to widespread layoffs within the oil and gas industry. The youth group said they needed to be employed in order to prevent criminality and insecurity in the area. The counter narrative needed is to alter the philosophy among the youth in the region from the belief that criminal actions, violence and sabotage is the only way to get ahead or to get paid.

Insurgency Impact on Communities

After the bombing attacks on the oilfields, Nigerian military troops invaded the affected communities in search of arms and those responsible for perpetrating the attacks. A member of the community stated that “At the moment, my community is practically a ghost town; the people are running away to Warri and other places”.

Initially, Nigerians felt for the plight of the Niger Delta people whose communities had greatly undergone environmental destruction due to oil spillage. But increased allocation to the region has done little to develop the region and ease the plight of the people. In essence, the militancy resulted in wealth in the pocket of a few and continued suffering among the many.

A resurrection of the militant attacks is simply going to draw the fury of a re-energized Nigerian military which will inevitably lead to needless loss of properties, lives, more ghost towns, and a wave of internally displaced persons. The people in the affected communities should cooperate with security personnel by sharing information whenever possible, in order to prevent the area from being turned into a war zone for their sake, and for the sake of all Nigerians.