Niger Delta Crisis: Yar'Adua talks Amnesty, prepares for war
Amid tepid attempts at addressing the escalating conflict in the Niger Delta, there are strong indications that President Musa Yar'Adua's offer of amnesty to the militants will no longer be tenable after the 60-day deadline for militants to surrender all their illicit weapons and to unconditionally renounce militancy and endorse an undertaking to that effect.
Huhuonline.com has learnt from sources at the Presidency that hardliners within Yar'Adua's cabinet are planning a hydra-headed military crackdown to dislodge the militants from their bases while protecting oil installations and facilities in the Niger Delta region. Sources who have been briefed on the plan, told Huhuonline.com on conditions of anonymity that the Nigerian Navy will be called in to play a more central role, acting as cannon fodder to the Joint Task Force (JTF) Operation Restore Hope, which has triggered a veritable tit-for-tat escalation of the conflict.
To expand its security dragnet on the Niger Delta and Nigeria's offshore oil zones, the Nigerian Navy has requested and procured 35 new machine-gun equipped fast patrol boats. Lacking the resources to buy them, Nigeria's defense ministry, on the instructions of the Presidency, directed that shipyards get the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to pay for the boats. NNPC has every interest in seeing that the Nigerian Navy can defend oil installations in the Delta which are operated by joint ventures in which NNPC itself holds a stake, a source told Huhuonline.com.
The first consignment of two 38 meter Manta-class patrol boats built by the Nautica Nova Shipbuilding yard in Malaysia and fully financed by NNPC have already been delivered to the Navy. Defense ministry sources told Huhuonline.com that another four 17 meter Manta-class patrol boats from Singapore Technologies Marine have also been delivered while talks are currently underway with French and British shipyards. The issue was the focal point of discussions between the Nigerian Minister of State for Defence, Ademola Seriki, and Teresa Jones, the Director of Policy and Planning at the British Ministry of Defence, who visited Abuja, Tuesday, July 7.
Sources privy to the discussions told Huhuonline.com that a beleaguered Seriki bemoaning that the great loss of income arising from the disruption of economic activities in the Niger Delta region may create internal crisis in Nigeria "if care is not taken". The minister underscored the need for British support with the gun boats to stem the tide of violence in the Niger Delta region.
The operation and acquisition of Manta-class patrol boats was never reviewed by the House Appropriations Committee because the operational experiences highlighted a negative area of interest with the Defence Appropriations preferences. This explains why the Presidency directed the NNPC to bankroll the covert deal on behalf of the Navy.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has been hesitant and obstinate about the government's offer of amnesty saying it was a hoax aimed at dividing the movement. This latest effort at rearmament by the Navy only goes to vindicate hard line elements within the movement who have vowed never to renounce their militancy. To which end, they launched a series of attacks on Wednesday, sabotaging two major oil truck lines belonging to two oil giants, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) in Bayelsa State.
However, the JTF said it arrested two armed men which it suspected are MEND members in a speedboat loaded with explosives at Forcado in Delta State and foiled an attempt by militants to destroy an Agip oil facility at Tibidaba in Bayelsa State. Shell and Agip facilities have been the worst hit in the oil industry since the current hostilities between the militants and JTF started on May 13, 2009. MEND Spokesperson Jomo Gbomo said in a statement to reporters that: "The plague of sabotage descended heavily on major Shell and Agip crude trunk lines in Bayelsa State. The Agip pipeline which connects the Agip Brass terminal was sabotaged at Nembe creek while the Shell Nembe creek line was done at Asawo village, all in Bayelsa State.
After bearing the brunt of recent attacks by Nigeria's oil militants, American oil giant Chevron closed down five crude oil platforms producing a total of 230,000 barrels per day and evacuated 600 staffers from offshore locations in the oil producing Niger Delta region, local media reported Wednesday. Twelve militant attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta region have caused a shot-fall of 589,000 barrels per day between May and June, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said Tuesday.