…Peace remains fraught despite cessation of hostilities
29 August 2016, Sweetcrude, Abuja – The Nigerian military said it had launched a new offensive against militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta, killing five and arresting 23.
A special forces battalion moved against militant camps on Friday in an operation “aimed at getting rid of all forms of criminal activities”, army spokesman Sani Usman said in a statement.
“In the course of the operation, five militants that attacked the troops were killed in action, while numerous others were injured and 23 suspects were arrested.”
There was no immediate reaction from militant groups, which operate from hard-to-access creeks in the swampland.
Militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta have claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on oil and gas pipelines in the southern region, reducing the country’s oil output by 700,000 barrels day.
The groups are demanding a greater share of Nigeria’s oil wealth to go to the impoverished region. Crude sales account for about 70 percent of Nigeria’s government revenue and most of the oil comes from the Delta.
A similar military campaign in May drew sharp criticism from rights groups and residents who said soldiers had laid siege to villages, arrested civilians and raped women in an bid to force them hand over militants. The army denies this.
The government has been trying to broker a ceasefire but the militant scene is divided into small groups whose fighters, drawn from unemployed youths, are difficult to control even for their leaders.
There are worries that the latest military offensive may jeopardise government efforts towards dialogue and initiating lasting peace in the region. Some of the militant groups, like the the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate (NDGJM), have said it was not part of the cessation of hostilities against oil infrastructure as announced by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) last week.
The group, in a statement signed by its spokesman, Aldo Agbalaja, maintained that it will continue to carry out more deadly attacks until the right thing is done.
Last Thursday, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Kachikwu met traditional leaders from the Delta to ask them to mediate in talks with militants but they said they wanted the army first to release prisoners taken during a previous sweep.
The army in May arrested a group of school teenagers who community leaders say are not linked to militants.
Recall that the most notorious of the militant groups, the Niger Delta Avengers, which has claimed several major attacks that have destroyed oil and gas assets in the region, said in a statement last week they had agreed to a ceasefire to start a dialogue.