The emergence of a new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), could spark another conflict in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region, an intelligence consultant has claimed. David Otto, CEO of UK-based global security provider TGS Intelligence Consultants, believes that the NDA's threats of attacks against oil fields should be taken seriously.
The group, the latest militant organisation to wage war against the Nigerian government due to perceived marginalisation in the Niger Delta, has claimed responsibility for several attacks at oil-production sites across the region.
In its latest statement it alleged to have "shut down 50% of crude production", having forced both Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell to close at least two sites in the past few weeks.
"These threats of possible attacks against oil fields cannot be taking lightly by the federal government. With claims that the security services has been infiltrated by the Avengers, efforts to tackle the group by brute force may result in another emerging conflict on the south," Otto said.
Among other things, NDA also accused the government of Muhahamdu Buhari of not following the law and allowing "unlawful detentions" of people such as Nnamdi Kanu, one of the leaders of an ongoing movement calling for the independence of the contested Biafran territories. Kanu was arrested in Lagos in October 2015 and is standing trial on six counts of treasonable crime charges.
"Asking for the independence of Niger Delta, speaking about the incarceration of pro-Biafran leader Nnamdi Kanu and Biafra at the same time shows a common goal," Otto continued. "One cannot be guaranteed if this translates to some kind of current or planned cooperation between the Avengers and Biafra secessionist.
"The dynamics of troubles in Nigeria is going beyond imagination at a time when the new regime is struggling to resuscitate the economy. Will the security infrastructure survive the scenario? I doubt it very much. There are to many cracks and the system is approaching a collapse if a comprehensive strategy is not applied for the benefit of Nigeria only."
Buhari has accused the NDA of vandalism and warned that the Nigerian government would deal with the group in the same way as it is dealing with Boko Haram terrorists in the country's northeast.
"The president gave special instruction to the military, especially to the chief of naval staff, that this ugly development of vandals in the Niger Delta should end immediately," a presidential aide was quoted by the Punch website as saying.
Niger Delta militants
Militant groups in the oil-rich Niger Delta region took hold in the early 2000s following the deterioration of the living conditions of people, which was due to 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 presence of 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.