Nigeria’s Petroleum Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said on Monday that the government was ready to begin a dialogue with stakeholders in the Niger Delta, a region which suffered an insurgency during the mid-2000s by militants who claimed that the country’s oil wealth was not being fairly distributed. “I want to call on the militants to sheath their weapons and embrace dialogue with the government,” said Kachikwu, who also indicated that the Nigerian military would suspend its operations in the Niger Delta.
The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), which has carried out a spate of attacks on oil infrastructure since February, announced early on Wednesday that it was not involved in any negotiations. “We’re not negotiating with any committee. If [the federal government] is discussing with any group they’re doing that on their own,” said the group via its Twitter feed.
The group continued its campaign of attacking oil pipelines, claiming to have blown up an oil platform run by U.S. company Chevron early on Wednesday in Warri, Delta state, southern Nigeria. The attack was confirmed to Reuters by a local community chief, although Chevron declined to comment.
A senior officer in the Nigerian Army confirmed on Wednesday that it was observing a two-week ceasefire in the Niger Delta, though warned that military operations could resume if the militants did not respond to requests for dialogue. “The two-week ceasefire was such that all military operations in the region were supposed to stop to enable government to apply the non-kinetic means of reaching out to the militants,” said Ibrahim Attahiru, a major-general in the Nigerian Army, according to Nigeria’s Premium Times. “Now the militants have resorted to continue with the attacks on pipelines, we will tarry for a while and if this does not stop, we will decisively act wherever it is necessary.”
The NDA launched its first attack in February, blowing up an underwater pipeline at the Forcados terminal operated by Shell. The group appears to have links with the pro-Biafran movement, which is campaigning for the secession of Biafra in southeast Nigeria. Biafra existed as an independent republic between 1967 and 1970 before being reintegrated into Nigeria. The NDA has also disavowed links with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a militant group that led the mid-2000s insurgency in the Niger Delta. The insurgency only came to an end following the introduction of a presidential amnesty program in 2009.
Nigeria’s oil output has dropped from 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) at the start of 2016 to between 1.5 million and 1.6 million bpd, Kachikwu said. Nigeria’s economy is heavily dependent on the oil and gas sector and the country has now fallen behind Angola as Africa’s biggest oil producer.