Human Rights

Nigeria: President Buhari Confirms Talks With Niger Delta Militants

President Muhammadu Buhari has finally confirmed that his administration is in talks with Niger Delta militants with the help of oil companies and law-enforcement agencies to find a lasting solution to the insecurity in the region.

But as he said this, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), the militant group that has claimed responsibility for the recent wave of attacks on oil assets in the region, issued another threat to oil workers, asking all of them to vacate the oil fields and terminals because it was ready to wage a dirty war.

A statement issued in Abuja yesterday by the president’s media aide, Mr Garba Shehu, said Buhari spoke of the government’s engagement with the militants in the oil-rich region when he met with the outgoing Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Michael Zinner, at the State House.

Shehu also quoted the president as saying that government was studying the instruments of the Amnesty Programme inherited from the previous administration with a view to implementing the commitments made, but remained undelivered.

Buhari assured his guest: “We understand their feelings. We are studying the instruments. We have to secure the environment, otherwise investment will not come. We will do our best for the country.”

The president used the opportunity to thank the government of Germany for its continuing support to Nigeria in the efforts to tackle insecurity and the on-going rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced citizens in crisis areas in the North-eastern parts of the country.

The president also thanked Nigeria’s neighbours for their firm and unflinching support in the war against terror.

The German ambassador said that bilateral relations between Nigeria and Germany had improved considerably in the last 12 months of this administration.

He expressed the readiness of Germany to assist Nigeria in the rehabilitation process in the North-east to help displaced persons return to their villages.

He also expressed the eagerness of German businesses to invest in the country, now that “conditions for investment have been put in place”.

The German ambassador reiterated the standing invitation of Chancellor Angela Merkel to President Buhari to visit Germany.

‘Leave the Niger Delta’

But as Buhari assured the ambassador of peace talks in the oil region, the Avengers issued another threat to oil workers, asking all of them to vacate the oil fields and terminals because it was ready to “fight dirty”.

The militant group, in a statement by its spokesman, Mudoch Agbinibo, yesterday morning, specifically warned the two major oil workers’ unions in the country – the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) – and foreign oil company workers to leave the oil fields and terminals because “it will soon be very dirty”.

“We are warning NUPENG and PENGASSAN to leave all the oil field and terminals in the Niger Delta because it will be dirty very soon. Foreigners are to leave too,” it warned.

The Avengers, which reacted angrily to the claim by the Nigerian Navy that its logisitics supplier had been arrested, described it as the biggest joker of the 21st century, boasting that all its members were intact.

It upbraided the navy as having lost all sense of professionalism by claiming that every suspect arrested is a member of the NDA.

“As it is now any Tom, Dick and Harry is a suspect of the Niger Delta Avengers. Nigerian Navy has lost all sense of professionalism.

“The Nigeria military arrested school students in Oporoza and called them the Niger Delta Avengers, any criminal caught is NDA, even their business partners (illegal oil bunkerers) with whom things went sour, are NDA, sea pirates are now NDA,” it said.

The group also lambasted the military for always denying any of its successful attacks on oil pipelines, only for it to go after criminals and parade them as its members that breached such facilities.

“When Niger Delta Avengers carries out any major attack they (Nigeria military) will deny it.

“First was the NNPC pipeline that was blown, second the 48-inch ExxonMobil pipeline that was blown by NDA. Mobil and the government denied it, only for ExxonMobil to declare force majeure a few days after the attack,” it stated.

The militant group maintained that the Qua Iboe export pipeline operated by ExxonMobil which was blasted two weeks ago remained non-operational.

“Let me give a little brief about the Qua Iboe Export terminal. This is a subsidiary of Mobil and it is the biggest export stream in Nigeria. They export one million barrel every two days.

“I Brig. Gen Agbinibo personally led this operation. Unlike the Nigerian Chief of Naval Staff that sits in the comfort of his office to pass orders,” the statement added.

The Avengers advised the military to stop deceiving the public and its commander-in-chief and be truthful over the Akwa Ibom blast instead of claiming that its operatives did not blow up the pipeline, “but called it a system anomaly”.

“Shame on the Nigeria military. Reports from our intelligence agent, the only way funds can be allocated to various department of the military is only when they arrest the Niger Delta Avengers operatives.

“But soonest, the Nigerian public and their commander-in-chief will know that the military is not capable of handling the Niger Delta Avengers.

“How do you explain a military officer having a house in choice areas in Nigeria and outside the country?

“Nigeria’s serving and retired top officers are the richest people in Nigeria. How do they get such wealth? Right now, they are using Niger Delta Avengers to defraud the Nigerina government and tax payers of their money.

“We want to make this clear, all Niger Delta Avengers operatives are intact, our intelligence agencies are all intact and our operative teams are in high spirit because we are winning the war.

“The Nigeria Navy can’t arrest any of our operatives until we bring down the economy of this country,” it boasted.

Tompolo’s Aide Confesses

But as the Avengers boasted about its invincibility, a startling revelation was made thursday, when one of the suspected members of the notorious group admitted that he had been ferrying explosives for ex-militant leader and fugitive of the law, Mr. Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo.

The suspect, Felix Ebiaedor, said to be an Avengers’ supplier, was paraded thursday in Warri, Delta State, along with five others apprehended for pipeline vandalism by the Nigerian Navy after their arrest recently. One of the suspects was alleged to have killed a naval personnel and a Nigerian Navy impersonator.

Ebiaedor said he was merely transporting the explosives-making materials to Tompolo’s guest house in Oporoza, Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta State for some persons when he was arrested.

Ebiaedor was arrested along with Prince David Oyafogha, said to be an Avengers’ mechanic while another suspected kidnapper was identified as Ebiye Ozano.

Ebiaedor, who was reportedly arrested with materials used for making explosives such as batteries and cables, said he had been doing this since January.

“The cables and the batteries are usually brought down to the waterside by Akpos, Rowland and Godbless, and whenever they bring them like that they charter the boat and Stanley is the name of the driver. They started early this year, in January.

“Whenever they bring it, we have a driver that takes them down to Oporoza, to the guest house. The guest house belongs to the ex-militant leader, Tompolo,” Ebiaedor revealed.

The new Commander of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Delta, Commodore Joseph Dzunve, who paraded the suspects, also told journalists that his command had destroyed five illegal oil refining sites in the last two weeks.

Giving details of the involvement of each of the suspects, Dzunve said the suspects were arrested during different operations.

Speaking on the suspected militants, he said they were apprehended with incriminating evidence on them.

“One of the militants was arrested about a week ago. He’s suspected to have taken part in the murder of a naval rating sometime earlier this year. He’s also involved in the kidnapping of citizens for ransom.

“The others are buyers of some of these illegal refined products. They were caught when we went for an operation last week. They are also suspected members of the Niger Delta Avengers.

“Felix Ebiaedor is a supplier of equipment they use for the bombing of pipelines, while the other one is the mechanic who repairs their boats which they use in conveying the materials whenever they have problems,” he explained.

Dzunve said further investigations, when handed to the prosecuting authorities, would reveal the extent to which they took part in the criminal activities.

NNPC Bemoans Impact of Militancy

Meanwhile, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has admitted that Nigeria’s 2016 budgetary projections had been grossly impacted by renewed militancy in the Niger Delta.

The state-owned oil firm also said pipeline vandalism in the region had led to the curtailment of about 700,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

NNPC’s Group Managing Director, Dr. Maikanti Baru, disclosed this to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Major-General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin, yesterday when he met with the defence chief in Abuja.

He told the CDS that the country’s power sector was equally impacted by the heightened militancy in the oil region, and that from January to May this year, an equivalent of 1,447 incidents had been recorded in the country, resulting to a loss of the equivalent of 109 million litres of petroleum products and the equivalent of 560,000 barrels of crude oil to the nation’s refineries in Warri, Port Harcourt, and Kaduna.

“CDS sir, as you may be aware, Nigeria’s energy supply security is underpinned by a robust network of over 8,000kms of pipeline assets used in the transportation of crude oil, petroleum products and natural gas.

“These critical national assets have become the subject of incessant vandalism, theft and sabotage. The CDS is invited to please note that the 2016 national budget plan was based on 2.2 million bpd of crude oil production.

“However, the budget plan is now grossly impacted due to renewed militancy, with about 700,000bpd of oil production curtailed due to pipeline vandalism,” Baru said.

He added: “Domestic natural gas supply to power is equally impacted with an estimated drop of about 50 per cent from 1400mmscfd to barely below 700mmscfd resulting in significant power outage exposure of between 2,500MW to 3,000MW as a result of direct and indirect impact.”

He said petroleum products supply and distribution pipelines had also suffered huge product losses with the attendant cost of repairs and loss of revenue.

According to him, “For example, over 3,000 vandalism incidents were recorded every year from 2010-2015. In 2015 alone, pipeline losses of PMS volume of over 643 million litres valued at over N51.28 billion was incurred.”

He noted that along with this menace was the incessant case of kidnapping of personnel and piracy in the corporation’s areas of operations.

“Other impacts of these despicable acts include loss of lives, high cost of operations, refinery shutdowns, fuel crisis and large scale environmental degradation, and the attendant cost of oil spill clear-ups,” he added.

He said under his watch as GMD, the corporation would commit to collaborating with the CDS and other government security agencies to emplace lasting solutions to eliminate the hemorrhage of losses, revenue deferments and energy security threats.

According to him, “I will work to strengthen our collaboration with the CDS and other government security agencies in securing and safeguarding oil and gas assets.”

He requested that the CDS facilitate and sustain personnel deployment to NNPC’s critical operational facilities when required, provide support to its corporate and strategic business units that require security presence to operate, and provide support for the corporation’s re-entry into the Lake Chad Basin and Benue trough for resumption of exploration and drilling activities.

“As part of current NNPC management agenda, an internal Security Advisory Council (SAC) is proposed for establishment to principally renew our strategies and the security architecture and to regularly provide crucial inputs to the national security team,” Baru explained.

Source: This Day.