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Looming cost of resurgent militancy

By Julius Osahon (Yenegoa) and Ikechukwu Onyewuchi
19 June 2016   |   2:50 am
When it seemed the country was set to sail and overturn much of it’s dashed hopes after the passage of the 2016 budget, Nigeria was hit by the surprising resurgence ...


‘Why Nigeria must seize the moment’

When it seemed the country was set to sail and overturn much of it’s dashed hopes after the passage of the 2016 budget, Nigeria was hit by the surprising resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta.

The onslaught, championed by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), has almost crippled the economy, with ripple effect not just on government revenue but power generation. It has also cast a blemish on the healthy perception of a peaceful country President Muhammadu Buhari procured with his recent foreign trips.

Governors of Bayelsa and Delta states, Seriaki Dickson and Ifeanyi Okowo, respectively, are also caught in the dilemma of containing the rampaging youths, who have vowed to ground oil production in the country.

However, experts warn that if the development is not nipped in the bud, Nigeria may be heading for fiscal crisis, such that not only would Federal Government be unable to meet its obligations to other tiers of government, it may not be able to finance the 2016 budget, regardless of the volume of recovered loots.

They argue that Nigeria must seize the moment and address age-long abnormalities in the economy as well as settle political scores that may eventually see the country weaned off reliance on oil.

In Bayelsa State, the situation appears more pathetic. State workers cry under the weight of unpaid salaries and are on strike. Governor Dickson, it was learnt, is torn between focusing on his election tribunal hearing and dealing with the militants, amid upswing of more armed groups.

In Delta State, Okowa is contending with the theatre of operation of the resurgent NDA, whose activities have brought oil production in the region to a 20-year low.

The grouse of the militant group is for the continuous funding of the Amnesty programme; apologies from the Federal Government and the Minister for Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, for the cancellation of the Maritime University; release of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), among others.

The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Emmanuel Kachikwu, said Nigeria budgeted for production of 2.2m barrels per day but the attacks have cut output to 1.4m bpd.

“The sabotage couldn’t have come at a worse time, with Nigeria, which normally depends on oil export sales for 70 percent of government revenue, tethering on the brink of a recession. Internationally, Nigeria’s oil disruption — along with unrest in Libya and wildfires in Canada — has pushed up the price of the commodity around the world,” he said.

The security situation in the creeks coupled with militants threats have led international oil companies, including Shell and Exxon­Mobil to evacuate workers from oilfields in the region.

Activities of NDA have also forced Shell to shut down its Forcados terminal, just as the Chevron offshore facility in the Escravos system has joined other companies to declare ‘force majeure’.

Thousands are fleeing their homes in both Delta and Bayelsa communities, as the military comb the creeks in search for the group, an action that has so far yielded little or no result.

The group’s onslaught began February 10, 2016, when it carried out coordinated multiple attacks on the Shell Bonny Soku Gas Export Line, which is one of the country’s gas exporting platforms in Rivers State.

Most Nigerians and indeed the Federal Government may have dismissed their threat with a wave of the hand, but the militants’ effrontery in continuing with the attacks despite onslaught by the military has jolted many.

The Shell Bonny Soku Gas Export line conveys natural gas to the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant, and an independent power plant at Gbaran, near Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State. The attack blighted hopes of improved power generation in the country, as most power plants are fueled with gas.

Not relenting, the avengers bombed the SPDC’s vital underwater Forcados 48-inch export pipeline and on the same day they blew up the Clough Creek Tebidaba Agip Pipe­line Manifold in Bayelsa State.

Perhaps, in order to re-strategise as the military combed the creeks in search of them, the NDA went on a short break, but later resumed attacks on oil facilities in May, with the attack on Chevron Valve Platform located at Abiteye, a Chevron offshore platform.

Oil experts say the platform is the most significant of Chevron’s assets, as it serves as the major connecting point to other platforms.

On a day the military were busy in Oporoza, searching for ex-ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemekpulo, aka Tompolo, the rampaging militant group carried out another devastating and its third consecutive attack on oil facilities

A key strategy of the group is the deployment of the Internet and social media in their operations, as they run a website —which was recently shut down — and a twitter handle.

They announced the attacks via their Twitter handle where they also reiterated threats, in one of which they announced dramatically: “Something big is about to happen.”

On Wednesday, the 2nd of June, the avengers blew up two major oil wells located at Dibi in Warri South West local government area of Delta State.

The oil wells are Well RMP 23 and RMP 24 belonging to Chevron Nigeria Limited.

Associate Professor of Economics and Policy Analyst at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Femi Saibu, said the economy would continue to be held hostage by agitators as long as Nigeria delays on the march to diversification.

He argued that the economic structure of the country gives it up to manipulations by groups such as the NDA, adding, “Supposing we have alternative sources of revenue, this wouldn’t be an option for aggrieved groups.”

Asked what would be the fate of the country if foreign refineries fail to buy crude from Nigeria as they threatened recently in response to production fluctuations, he said such a development would spell fiscal crisis for Nigeria.

He said, “It is going to be difficult for fiscal relations among the tiers of government. It is going to affect a lot of things. Even the budget is going to be affected without such financing. If they want to deploy the money from recovered loots, it would be unsustainable because you don’t rely on such income.

“If things don’t shape up, we are going to have fiscal challenges in the coming months and years. Government wouldn’t want that. Also, those people who have been supporting the militants might back out when what they are expecting doesn’t come.”

He said the situation equally provided an opportunity for Nigeria to look away from the lure of oil and invest in becoming an industrial hub.

“Government has to develop our industries. That’s one of the most viable ways to get away from oil. We seriously need to be part of those countries that are industrialising. When they classify Nigeria, they say it is an emerging market, that is, a market that has high demand for goods and services. We need to produce goods that we can export and consume,” he said.

He continued, “They need to build infrastructure that would encourage the setting up of these industries and developing agriculture. Once this happen, jobs would be created. Once that happens, people would pay taxes, and government, in turn, would have resources to finance its operations and not rely solely on oil.

On solutions to the impasse, he said, “It is going to have an effect on the revenue of government and finances at the federal and state levels. Government has to find a way out of the situation, whether through military or political means. Otherwise, as they are handling one, other people would come up with their own demands. We should be shopping for a solution that would ensure that this kind of agitations do not come up again.”

For Bunmi Agbaje, an environmental consultant at Temoflak Nigeria Limited, the resurgence of militant activities brings environmental issues to the fore, especially in the wake of commencement of cleanup of Ogoni land.

He argues that the activities of the militants have devastating effects on the environment, notably impacts on soil, air and water quality, noting that the development points to the insincerity among leaders to get the people to benefit from resources in their region.

He said, “the vandalisation of pipelines worsens the environment in the region. There is going to be iron in the water, which would affect fish farming and aquaculture. The air quality would also be altered. There is going to be a lot of hydrocarbon in the air, which would affect baseline studies of air.”

There is a need, according to him, to draw global attention to the needs of youths in the Niger Delta in the face of failings by the programmes of the Nigerian government to placate them.

“They need to get the youths to be productive. We know that in the past, funds meant for the people were going into private pockets. The youths were not properly mobilised to be benefit from the scheme, if they were, we wouldn’t have what we are faced with today,” he said.