There are palpable fears that fresh hostilities and attacks on the oil facilities in the Niger Delta region may resume with the tense atmosphere created by the upcoming elections. Already, the Niger Delta Avengers have threatened to resume attacks if President Muhammadu Buhari is re-elected.
The Niger Delta Avengers, said they backed opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar because of his promises to devolve more power to the regions in his proposed “restructuring” policy that would enable oil-rich states to retain a greater share of the revenues generated from crude production.
“We are adopting Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as the sole candidate to be voted for by all the people of the Niger Delta as a result of his political ideology which is in tandem with our agitation for equitable and fair principles of federalism,” the group said.
About 15-20 Nigerian crude oil cargoes remained from the March programmes and a delay was expected on the issuing of April schedules depending on the outcome of the presidential election. Traders said the elections could delay the release of the April loading programmes and spot activity stayed on the sidelines because of uncertainty over potential violence in the oil-rich delta region as sellers awaited the new programmes.
Attacks in the Niger Delta peaked in 2016, cutting Nigeria’s crude output from 2.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) to less than 1 mbpd, the lowest level seen by the country in at least 30 years. Combined with low oil prices, Nigeria went into recession as crude sales make up two-thirds of government revenue and 90 percent of its foreign exchange.
It will be recalled that militancy in the Niger Delta ended after the government on June 26, 2009 announced that it would grant amnesty and an unconditional pardon to the militants by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Armed youths surrendered their weapons to the government in return for training and rehabilitation by the government. The weapons surrendered by the militants include rocket-propelled grenades, guns, explosives, and ammunition. Even gunboats were also surrendered to the government in exchange for monthly payments, vocational training and in some cases lucrative contracts for guarding the pipelines.
However, President Buhari saw the amnesty programme as a waste pipe for enabling corruption and discontinued it, a move that pushed restiveness in the region to overdrive. A February 2016 explosion in a pipeline operated by Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, the Forcados export terminal, halted both production and exports. On May 11 2016, Shell closed its Bonny oil facility. A week earlier, a bomb attack had closed down Chevron’s Escravos GTL facility. On May 19, 2016, ExxonMobil’s Qua Iboe shut down and evacuated its workers due to militant threats.
According to a report released by AON, a risk management and insurance provider, Nigeria recorded a total of 56 attacks on its oil and gas installation in 2016. This is almost more than double a total of 22 attacks recorded in Colombia.
However, no substantial attacks on Nigeria’s oil facilities have been carried out since January 2017, allowing oil output to stabilise. But fears persist. Nigerians continue to hold their breath as the country struggles to hold an election free of rancor and violence.