Militant groups in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region first emerged in the early 2000s, following the deterioration of communities' living conditions due to oil-related activities by foreign oil corporations.
Resentment and frustration became rampant among some ethnic groups, who felt they were being exploited and could not benefit from the presence of oil in the area.
Repeated oil spills that considerably damaged the environment and affected people's health further deepened communities' frustration. Attacks on oil installations, kidnappings for ransom, and piracy rocked the region until 2009, when the government set up a 60-day amnesty programme and granted unconditional pardon to militants, as long as they ceased violent activities.
The amnesty programme – which has been extended, and is ongoing – has been largely deemed as a success, with thousands of people surrendering in exchange for monthly payments, training and reintegration into communities.
However, since the beginning of 2016, the Delta has been witnessing renewed violence with militant groups – mainly the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) – bombing oil and gas installations, calling for an end to perceived poverty and disenfranchisement.
Who are the Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders?
Numerous groups have emerged in the past 12 months. One of these is the Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders (NDRC), which claimed responsibility for an attack at the Brass Creek Manifold in Bayelsa State in July 2016.
The group praised vice-president Yemi Osinbajo for his recent visit in the Delta. Osinbajo led a delegation of government officials who met local stakeholders and some militants and engaged in talks on how to end renewed violence.
Attacks in Niger Delta
Attacks on oil installations have resumed in Niger Delta. Bombings, carried out mainly by the NDA, have brought Nigeria's oil production to a 30-year low.
NDA, which says it fights to end disenfranchisement of impoverished communities in the Delta and obtain greater shares of oil revenues, vowed to bring the country's oil production "to zero".
Nigeria, one of Africa's biggest oil producers, currently produces around 0.8m bpd (barrels a day). Oil output was 2.2m bdp at the beginning of 2016, before attacks started.
NDRC, however, has long accused the federal government of politicising peace talks, ignoring "well-respected leaders" in the Delta, and using the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) "as a political machinery" to cause disunity.
"People who should be included are our founders, our elders, people who guide us and know us. The government should talk to them and they would, in turn, talk to us. But this is not happening. We gave them [the government] room for dialogue and they lost an opportunity," the group's operational manager and spokesperson, known as "Izon-Ebi", told IBTimes UK.
The spokesperson also called on the government to help fishing communities who, he claimed, are now starving as rivers have been polluted by oil spills.
"The Niger Delta is the only place with crude oil in the whole nation, and it is the number one source of income for the economy of the country. Thus, the Niger Delta should be developed to the standards of the UK, but we don't even have roads here. We want good roads, electricity, schools," he said. "We have never received any money from the oil production and our areas are not developed. We have been suffering for a very long time and it cannot continue any longer. This is why there are so many militant groups in the Delta," Izon-Ebi continued.
Lat year, President Muhammadu Buhari said the Nigerian government would invest $10bn (£8bn) in the Delta to build infrastructure and put an end to the militant insurgency.
Izon-Ebi denied to comment on whether the group was planning any new attack. However, the NDRC recently supported the NDA's decision to break a ceasefire and resume attacks, claiming the government's commitment to engaging in a dialogue "was not genuine".
The militant also explained that, by bombing oil facilities owned by foreign companies, the goverment would resort to buying oil "directly from us".
When asked how the group funds its activities, Izon-Ebi said: "I will not tell you the names, but we are supported by community elders, we receive funds by elders because they know what is happening in the country and they do not want these issues to continue. They know the history of the Niger Delta and they are ready to fight for it."
Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar, Nigeria's director of defence information, told IBTimes UK the government remained committed to engaging in a peaceful dialogue.
"This region is already facing a lot of challenges, including environmental ones, the government is aware of that and knows that the dialogue should continue," he explained. Abubakar added the Nigerian army was working to protect people and infrastructures from those "who have taken arms".
"We are making sure we contain and stop any activity that minor groups are triggering to hamper the progress of this nation," he said. "Nigerians and people who love Nigeria should commit to helping transform Nigeria and the region, it is a collective requirement."
As part of a dialogue to end violence, leaders from the Delta presented, last November, a 16-point proposal that calls, among other things, on the full implementation of the amnesty programme, assistance to displaced people, improvement of infrastructure and the clean-up territories damaged by repeated oil spills.
Buhari welcomed the 16-point request, but stressed that leaders in the Delta "had more to do" to ensure peace, given their influence on militant groups in the area.