Thursday, April 14, 2016

President Buhari vows to crackdown on oil militants in the Niger Delta

Nigeria’s President Buhari has vowed to crack down on groups responsible for attacks on oil pipelines, which have contributed to a fuel shortage in the country.

Buhari made the comments during a state visit to China on Wednesday, where he has been meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to secure support for infrastructure projects. The Nigerian president said he was aware that the country’s national grid had collapsed several times in recent weeks and threatened the “vandals and saboteurs” responsible for blowing up pipelines and oil facilities. “We will deal with them the way we dealt with Boko Haram,” said Buhari, according to a statement from the Nigerian Presidency.

The Nigerian military has regained much of the territory previously held by Boko Haram as part of a sustained offensive beginning in 2015. Buhari claimed that the armed group—which is affiliated to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS)—controlled 14 local government areas when he came to office in May 2015 but these had all now been liberated and Boko Haram’s fighting capacity had been “significantly degraded.”

There has been an uptick in attacks on oil pipelines in 2016. Three people were killed when militants blew up a pipeline, owned by Italian company ENI in the Niger Delta, Reuters reported. Two of the four refineries owned by the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) were temporarily closed in January, due to attacks, which Nigerian power minister Babtunde Fashola said were costing the country $2.4 million per day at the time. One of the refineries was reopened in March.

The Niger Delta region was plagued by militant groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) during the mid-2000s, who kidnapped oil workers and blew up pipelines in protest at what they saw as the unfair distribution of wealth. At its peak, the militancy cut oil production to 800,000 barrels per day, less than a third of the maximum 2.5 million barrels per day. Buhari has extended a multi-million dollar amnesty program—which involves the payment of monthly subsidies to ex-militants—but has ended the practice of giving militants generous contracts for pipeline protection.

The recent attacks have resulted in massive queues gathering outside gas stations as desperate Nigerians attempt to buy fuel for their vehicles. Nigeria’s petroleum minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu was recently summoned to appear before the Senate to explain how the ministry was working to solve the shortage.

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