The intrinsic link between oil and terrorism is the new focus of intense academic and policy interest. It seems that the festering nature of terrorism today has much to do with petro-dollars; either the terrorists capture and control the oil fields (in order to sell the oil to fund their agenda like the Islamic State – ISIS- is doing) or oil-producing countries would sponsor terrorists from oil proceeds (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Libya, Iran etc.) or yet still, terrorist groups would want to sabotage a government by attacking oil infrastructure – blowing pipelines etc. (as happening in the Delta swamps of Nigeria).
In the 2000s, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) took up arms against the Nigerian government with attacks on oil installations, especially belonging to the Shell Company. A long standing agitation of the Ogoni people went unheeded. Their outspoken leader, Ken Sarowiwa was indicted of murder and killed by the then government of Sani Abacha, a situation which drew world-wide condemnation. It was felt that the Ogoni (and generally, the Ijaw people of the Delta area were making legitimate claims – oil spillage had turned their arable lands into mud clays of oil, their rivers and creeks into rivers of oil. It has been estimated that it would take close to fifty years for full reclamation, if cleaning should start today. The impoverishment of the area as a result of the aforesaid, the impunity of both government and the oil conglomerates exploiting oil in the Delta area, the unbridled corruption, especially in Nigeria’s oil sector, and the high-handedness of the military against the agitators combined to create grounds for the rise of militancy in the Delta area. The emergence of the MEND was no surprise. The past immediate President, Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from the epicentre of the unrest, Bayelsa State, (and before him, the late President Yaradua) had noted that a heavy-handed response was not the answer to the region’s woes. An amnesty was instituted and a fund established to ensure that the poverty levels were minimized. The MEND laid down their arms in 2009. Indeed, most of the militants were paid monthly stipends.
But the southern Delta swamps, where many complain of poverty and oil spills, have been hit once again by militant attacks on oil and gas pipelines which have brought Nigeria’s oil output to a 20-year low. This is extremely devastating to the Nigerian economy, whose budget expectation from oil revenues is 70%. Over the last two months, when the activities of the new groups started, Nigeria is alleged to have lost over 600 000 barrels of oil. What is worrisome is that, whereas the militant groups of the past (the MEND) were primarily composed of the Ijaw ethnic group, today there seem to be branches opening up of other ethnic groups that were not included in the amnesty programme of 2009 and they seem to be more militant than the previous groups. The main group, calling itself the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF), said it would hit “all those infrastructures that were built with our oil and gas monies in this country”. The list of targets included the presidential villa, government ministries, parliament, the state-run oil firm, and the central bank in Abuja, plus the offices of oil majors and the military. The new JNDLF, which said it would carry out its threat with “missiles”, has also vowed to fight troops sent to the delta to bolster the protection of key infrastructure. What is even scarier is the fact that the group has added self-determination for the region to its aims and allied itself with ethnic Igbo campaigners in the southeast wanting an independent Biafran homeland. Already, the Biafran question is being resurrected by Nnamdi Kanu, through the formation in 1999 of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the first “formalized” platform for articulation of and the agitation for the Biafran cause. Kanu has been accused of hate speech and treason and his arrest in 2015 caused much problems for the Federal government. Alignment by JNDLF to the Biafran struggle through oil would be disastrous for Nigeria. The other worry is that the group has a website and a radio station and runs as any other terrorist group does. They have a Joint Revolutionary Council, which from time to time issues messages to the outside world. One of such statements read: “We will make (the) federal government and oil companies suffer as they have made the people of the Niger Delta region suffer over the years from environmental degradation and environmental pollution,”.
As indicated already, several other groups have sprang up, making it difficult to know who to deal with and who is responsible for which atrocities committed. It is also difficult to track activities and/or gather proper intelligence. This is characteristic of the new form of organizing terrorism. Terrorism has become more cellular and defused. One of such groups is the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). Most of the recent attacks on oil facilities in the oil-rich south have been claimed by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), who want a fairer share of revenue from the sector for local people.
The Niger Delta Avengers claim to be a new group made up of the youth from the region. They claim to be “young, educated, mostly in eastern Europe, and well-traveled’. They have criticized previous Delta insurgent groups for working with the government. Incidentally, the government is employing a heavy-handed military crackdown. President Buhari should know that the resurgence of militancy has much to do with his election. Jonathan is an indigene (from Bayelsa). Secondly, his budget-tightening and anti-corruption crusade have dislodged most of the Delta ex-militants. The president has slashed funds to an amnesty program that since 2009 provided former fighters with a monthly stipend, and canceled lucrative pipeline protection contracts to companies run by ex-insurgents. The programme is to be halted in 2018. This must have annoyed some of the ex-militants. True, the programme is fraught with corruption, but Buhari needs to find a better way of fighting it, especially where the Delta area is concerned. The new militant campaign has actually shattered seven years of relative peace in the Delta region, which has long been troubled by poverty, environmental destruction and unrest. A five-year insurgency in the Delta that erupted in 2004 saw dozens of oil workers kidnapped and thousands of people killed. While Nigeria battles with oil and terrorism, Ghana has a lot to learn from the Nigerian experience. With corruption so high in our system, indiscipline so legendary, crime rising to the clouds, and poverty so endemic of late in our society, the earlier we do something about life and living, about governance and transparency, the better for all of us.