Nigeria: Niger Delta Avengers Calls for Brexit-Style Referendum

The Niger Delta Avengers militant group has called for a Brexit-style referendum on the region’s status within Nigeria. But Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari seems unlikely to listen.

The Niger Delta Avengers have claimed a series of attacks on pipelines and facilities mostly in theDelta and Bayelsa states. They’re attacking foreign firms’ infrastructures, arguing that they’re not benefiting from the region abudance in oil.

President Buhari Should call for a Referendum.

– Niger Delta Avengers (@NDAvengers) June 25, 2016

The group — which has been attacking Nigeria’s oil infrastructure since early this year — urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call the vote, in a post on Twitter at the weekend.

“It’s probably not going to happen,” says Ryan Cummings, a political analyst at Signal Risk. “The Niger Delta Avengers is not the first group to agitate for a seperate state in Nigeria. It’s a common place used by other groups in the country, most notably Boko Haram itself.”

The attacks have so far cut oil production by some 600,000 barrels a day. This, and the global oil prices remaining low, has sent Nigeria’s economy into a tailspin.

“[The government] should be concerned that they have a group that seems quite capable to strike targets in defiance of Nigeria’s naval capabilities,” says Chris Ngwodo, a security specialist of the region.

“In my view, they should not be answering to the requests of this group, because doing so would be a signal that violence is a tool of political engagement and that would be disterous for the nation”.

So far, the response of the government has been to send the army invading river land villages and huting for the Avengers. But the result has come with a heavy price: a return to anarchy in the delta, with civilians being caught in the crossfire.

Abuja has offered to talk with the Avengers but the militant group has denied reports it has met government representatives. The group also this weekend called for Buhari to visit the Niger delta region.

Without peace in the Niger delta, Buhari will struggle to source funds needed to kick-start the economy during its worst slowdown in a decade.

But starting negociations would be” quite difficult, because the demands of the Niger Delta Avengers have been quite significant and unattainable,” thinks Ryan Cummings. “They’ve asked for things like the removal of all foreign companies working in the region, for access of greater state patronage in the form of revenues derived from the oil industry.”

Some think that a political reform is equally needed.

“The government will have to think about how to reform the political architecture of the country,” says Chris Ngwodo. “Nigeria is a uber-centralised state in many ways. There are elements of the civil society who have been calling for decentralisation. The government has to create a situation where communities have greater autonomy, greater say, over the managment of their own ressources.”

Peace, however, isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Last month Buhari, canceled a trip to the region at the last minute. It would have been his first visit to the area since taking office in May 2015.

Source: Radio France Internationale