A former militant who was granted amnesty by the Nigerian government has urged a new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), to engage in talks with the government and cease attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta region. Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, has already been negatively affected by renewed violence in the area as oil production has dropped to 1.6m barrels per day (bpd), from 2.2m bpd.
Earlier in June, Nigeria announced it would scale back its military presence in the Niger Delta in order to foster dialogue with militants and reduce attacks in the restive region.
Government Ekpemupolo, or "Tompolo" as he is also known, said dialogue was the best option to resolve the current crisis in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
"I believe fervently that the Government is serious and willing to end this re-occurring crisis in the Niger Delta region. Enough is enough", he said in a statement, according to Sahara Reporters.
Addressing NDA, Tompolo said: "I do not know you and how to reach you except through the mass media. Therefore it is high time you stopped the bombing and destruction of crude oil facilities in the Niger Delta region."
He then accused the militants of disrupting peace in the Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta state, as they caused the militarisation of the Niger Delta as it had already occurred in 2009.
NDA is the latest militant organisation to wage war against Nigeria due to perceived marginalisation in the Niger Delta. Attacks blamed on NDA forced Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell to close two plants, with the group vowing to bring the country's oil production down "to zero".
Tompolo and NDA
Tompolo, who has been rumoured to have fled to Libya, is the chief commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend). He has always denied allegations that he was part of the NDA.
Some analysts, however, have pointed out that this might be a tactic that both Tompolo and NDA are using to show they are not linked when, in reality, they are fighting together to achieve shared objectives.
"It's a strategy used to distance themselves from each other," counter-terrorism expert David Otto told IBTimes UK. "NDA is Mend with a new name."
Earlier in June, the Punch website reported that ex-militant leader, Africanus Ukparasia, known as "'Gen Africa" alleged Tompolo created the NDA to blackmail the Nigerian government over his cases. The claim was made as the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF) group – which claimed affiliation with NDA– urged the government to defreeze Tompolo's bank accounts.
The birth of militant groups in Niger Delta
Militant groups in the oil-rich Niger Delta region took hold in the early 2000s following the deterioration of people's living conditions blamed on the increase of oil-related activities by foreign exploration corporations. Tensions flared up in the local communities as some ethnic groups felt they were being exploited and did not benefit from the crude oil on their land.
The repeated oil spills that considerably damaged the environment and affected people's health further deepened the communities' frustrations. After being elected in 2015, Buhari extended a 2009 amnesty granted to 30,000 former militants in the area.