On 5 February, a group identifying itself as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), claimed responsibility for an attack on an oil pipeline owned by the Italian firm, Agip (Eni), in Bayelsa State. Witnesses had reported a fire on the company’s Nembe-Brass pipeline late the previous day.
In a statement sent to the media, the group said: “On Saturday, the 4th of February at 1930hrs, fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D) attacked and destroyed the Agip (ENI) trunk line at Brass in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria”.
The statement added that: “This relatively insignificant attack is a reminder of our presence in the creeks of the Niger Delta and a sign of things to come”.
MEND was the main militant group in the Niger Delta and responsible for years of attacks on the oil industry. However, following the Federal Government’s offer of amnesty in 2009, virtually all of its known commanders and thousands of its fighters dropped their arms and joined the government’s re-orientation and rehabilitation programmes, which also guaranteed them monthly stipends from the government. Several thousands have been enrolled in vocational and academic training courses, in Nigeria and abroad.
MEND purportedly sent several threats to the media in 2010 and 2011, but the threatened attacks never materialized. Oil industry sources said most of the recent damage to oil infrastructure in the region had been caused by gangs stealing oil, rather than insurgent militants. Security sources add that these gangs lack the capacity to cause the level of damage and disruption that was seen in early 2011, when attacks slashed the country’s oil production by more than 50 per cent.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta said: “JTF advices Niger Deltans to be mindful of people who are out to swindle them by wrongfully appropriating the identity of the erstwhile leadership of MEND to curry sympathy for their selfish and criminal interests”.
On 6 June, the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) announced that it would resume attacks on oil facilities in the region, specifically targeting facilities of the Italian oil firm, ENI.
In an online statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, the group which had suspended attacks on oil facilities on 2 April, said: “The Eni group has actively participated in the theft of oil in the Niger Delta for decades, assisting the Nigerian military in its scorched earth and genocidal actions against the justice-seeking citizens of the Niger Delta…ENI and its subsidiaries are simply thieves and cheap opportunists.”.
The statement further accused Eni of backing the air raids being conducted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against the regime of Muammar Ghadafi in Libya.
It said: “MEND observes with outrage the involvement of the ENI group of Italy in the attacks on the innocent citizens of Libya by western nations intent on plundering the mineral resources of that nation”.
“Why have these Western nations ignored the bombing of villages and civilians in the Niger Delta by the military?”
“If they are so concerned about the removal of dictators in Africa, why do they enjoy good relationships with dictators in Angola and Equatorial Guinea?”
“In solidarity with the oppressed people of Libya, we vow to henceforth pursue the complete destruction of all investments owned by ENI Group in Nigeria and urge all around Africa to do so”.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta has not made any response. Its spokesman, Lt. Col. Timothy Antigha said: “JTF is studying the purported statement from MEND, to determine its authenticity and will make its position known later.”
Also ENI has made no comment yet.
The company’s presence in Nigeria dates back to 1962. At present, it operates through its subsidiaries the Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd (NAOC), Agip Energy & Natural Resources (AENR) Ltd. and the Nigerian Agip Exploration Ltd (NAE). Eni also holds a 5% stake in the joint venture Nigeria-Agip-Shell-Elf (NASE), the main oil producing joint venture in the country.
Attacks by armed groups targeting the oil industry cut more than 30 percent of Nigeria’s crude production from 2006 to 2009. Since the third quarter of 2009, those attacks have subsided, after more than 25,000 militants, who had been campaigning for more local control of the delta’s energy resources accepted a government amnesty and disarmed. But some diehard elements had still not given up their arms.
In mid-March this year, a group blew up an oil well head belonging to ENI’s Agip unit in Clough Creek in Bayelsa State. An e-mailed statement claiming to be from MEND took responsibility for the attack and said it marks “the start of our promised campaign against the Nigerian oil industry”.
The statement said: “This attack and similar attacks on pipelines and flows stations which will take place within the next few days is a reminder to the Nigerian government and the general public not to take our threats for granted”. Col Antigha, dismissed that threat, saying the attack was “an isolated case”. MEND itself later issued another statement on 2 April, saying it had decided it suspend armed violence.
The cause was not immediately clear and the extent of damage is not yet determined. However, on 16 March, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), in an email, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the operation “was carried out by our fighters”. It said the attack “is to mark the start of our promised campaign against the Nigerian oil industry”.
MEND had, in two earlier emails, warned that it would carry out attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta as well as campaign rallies in Abuja and Lagos. In claiming responsibility for the latest explosion, it stated that similar attacks on pipelines and flows stations will take place “within the next few days”, threatening that “the fight for the liberation of the Niger Delta has only begun” and that “the worst is yet to come”.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) for security in the Niger Delta has not confirmed MEND’s claim. It said local community youths were suspected to have been behind the explosion. JTF spokesman Lt Col Timothy Antigha said: “The attack occurred on an oil well-head in the southern Ijaw area of Bayelsa State. It is an isolated issue … and investigations are ongoing to know the motives behind the attack”.
Some other sources suggest the explosion might have been the handiwork of a renegade militant leader in Bayelsa State who is said to have written the Agip authorities to demand some money, threatening the company to get set for an attack if it failed to pay.
On 19 January, unknown gunmen abducted an Egyptian engineer, Mohamed Shaaban, from a ship off the coast of Niger Delta, after controlling the vessel for several hours. A 20 January statement by the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta reported that the vessel, named Melody, owned by a Nigerian company but contracted by the Italian energy company Agip for its offshore oil operations, was attacked by robbers the previous day.
The statement gave no indications about the whereabouts of the Egyptian and it is not clear whether the kidnappers have demanded a ransom. Egypt’s Assistant Foreign Minister for Consular Affairs, Mohamed Abdel Hakam, says his country is monitoring the case closely and following up the Nigerian government’s efforts to release the engineer.