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”.