The Niger Delta Militancy 2.0: What Should We Expect?

The Niger Delta militants had threatened to resume bombing attacks on oil infrastructure if the amnesty program was eliminated. The amnesty program was not eliminated, but the pipeline attacks recommenced. There have been several reasons given as to the resumption of bombing attacks in the Niger Delta.

One of the first reasons floating around is the cultural issue. According to reports and interviews of local indigenes of the Niger Delta President Jonathan was considered a “fellow brother” and it was assumed that his ascension to presidency would lead to an impressive development of the area. President Buhari on the other hand was regarded with little enthusiasm in the region as there’s a narrative being played out in some parts of the Niger Delta that a Northern president does not have the Niger Delta’s best interest at heart. Therefore some people within the region are willing to do whatever it takes to cause problems during Buhari’s presidential tenure.

The second and third reasons cited for the resumption of pipeline attacks has to do with politics and Tompolo. The recent attacks have been said by some to be as a result of spillover of political tensions within the region. Others cite the warrant for ex-militant Tompolo’s arrest as the main reason for the pipeline bombings. The attacks occurred a few hours after a former militant leader Tompolo was declared wanted with a warrant out for his arrest. The former militant has separated himself from the incident saying that he is being framed by those seeking revenge based on his role in the recent political elections.

A fourth reason simply says that militants are just acting based on instructions received by their various leaders. For example, there was a recent attack in the new Shoprite mall in Delta State carried out by some local youths. The police apprehended one of the attackers who confessed that they had been hired by a community leader to carry out this attack for reasons unknown to them. These oil field attacks could also be as a result of the same thing in which orders were simply given to carry out these attacks for individual selfish reasons.  One of such selfish reasons floating around is that some individuals are upset that the pipeline surveillance contracts were taken away from them and awarded to another company. As such, the affected individuals decided to pay some militants to blow up the pipelines and discredit the contracted firms.

One more reason cited as a possible cause for the bombing resurgence has to do with civil/ethnic rivalries, between the Ijaws and Itsekiris. Some reports state that the Ijaw militants are carrying out the attacks on oil facilities in Itsekiri towns knowing that it would lead to a military crackdown on the local Itsekiri communities. In essence, some claim it’s a plan to stoke the flames of old civil rivalries.

Whatever the reason for the resurgence may be, we can all agree that the attacks must cease as Nigeria cannot afford to allow this militancy to fester. President Buhari stated that “the oil thieves and abductors are less of a problematic target” saying they will be swiftly dealt with. Defeating this Niger Delta militancy resurgence may not be as easy and swift as expected due to several challenges being experienced by the military services involved.

Challenges with Defeating This Militancy

Some of the challenges the Navy has had in preventing militancy has been in the judicial system. According to the Chief of Naval Staff, over 163 suspects were arrested by the Navy for various crimes in the Niger Delta and handed over for prosecution by relevant law enforcement agencies between Jan. and Dec. 2015. However, these suspects have been able to use lapses in the judicial system to evade prosecution.

However, just like the Army was dealing with supply issues with regards to the Boko Haram insurgency, the North East, so also did the CNS state that the Navy was dealing with inadequate funding, poor industrial base, inadequate barracks accommodation for personnel and contemporary threats to maritime security as some of challenges militating against the actualization of the Navy’s broad objectives.

Another challenge the Navy will face in dealing with the Niger Delta militancy resurgence is in the area of prevalent weapons. A recent headline stated that no less than 7,000 ex-militants from Akwa Ibom State are expected to lay down their arms in the state. These former militants had apparently been armed to protect the nation’s pipelines and in an effort to disassociate themselves from the new group of militants who have resumed attacks, these ex-militants have agreed to surrender their weapons.

Weapons proliferation are an ongoing issue in the Niger Delta and so the Nigerian Navy operatives who will be dealing with the war against oil infrastructure attacks can expect to face well armed fierce battles. During a military operation in the area, which took place on September 5, 2015, suspected militants sighted troops approaching their camp and opened fire on them. It led to a 30 minute gun battle between the militants and the security operatives.

The militants were eventually overpowered and fled. When the military troops stormed the militant’s camp, they discovered sophisticated weapons, including Medium Machine Gun, AK 47 light machine gun, AK 47 automatic rifle, one Fabrique Nationale, SMI and G3 rifled, one single barrelled gun, 7.62mm Nato special ammunition, 11 improvised explosive devices.

Militants are able to amass such sophisticated weapons by over-powering military personnel or installations and carting away official weapons as bounty. For example, there was an attack in Oron, Akwa Ibom state, where the militants over powered the marine police and carted away their arms while the policemen fled for their lives. There was another militant attack on the Nigerian Customs Service Base in Oron, Akwa Ibom State, in which an officer was killed and about 10 rifles were carted away by the militants.

What Can We Expect

With a plethora of reasons abounding as to the real cause of the renewed pipeline bombings, the Government security agencies will carry out more interagency collaboration and joint operations. Now that there is heavy crackdown on corruption and military arms acquisition, the Navy will finally get access to much needed equipment and tools needed to protect the maritime borders and critical national infrastructures from pirates and militants. The amount of time it will take for the Navy to receive all their needed weapons and equipment may affect how quickly the militancy is defeated.

As time goes on, the Nigerian government will finally admit to the difficulties in securing the vast area of oil pipe lines with personnel on land and water transportation systems. Thus, we will begin to see greater interest and a gradual increase in the use of overhead (aerial) surveillance systems.

Security personnel involved in the Niger Delta militancy crackdown should expect to face some challenges with the locals in the area. The military JTF said that it will begin to hold community leaders responsible for oil infrastructure attacks occurring within their domains. Based on the amount of influence leaders in the Niger Delta wield over some militant groups, this is a plausible suggestion. However, the military should ensure that they enlist the help of members of the communities and not treat them all as perpetrators without respect or dignity.

Just as in the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and with the community policing strategy adopted by the Nigerian Police across the country, the role the local citizens’ can play in defeating this militancy cannot be underestimated.

Finally, we should expect increased vigor and tenacity to be shown towards bringing this militancy crisis to an end. Government security agencies must not disappoint.

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