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Nigeria resumes payoffs to oil militants

Published:Friday | August 5, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Nigeria's government has resumed paying stipends to former militants even as security forces' air and ground assaults have reportedly killed scores of fighters disrupting petroleum production in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

President Muhammadu Buhari's government is using power and persuasion in a bid to halt attacks on oil installations that have cut production from 2.2 million to 1.2 million barrels a day. The attacks have slashed the budget of a government dependent on oil for 70 per cent of its revenue.

The Nigerian Air Force says it has been bombing "legitimate targets, such as observation post, anti-aircraft gun position, boats laden with suspected stolen petroleum products and armed combatants".

Residents say scores of militants have been killed. There was no way to get a death toll independently.

The commander of a joint task force, Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, said the massive military deployment since Sunday is in response to "threats by militants to declare the Niger Delta Republic on August 1, 2016".

Renewed intentions for Biafra

Such demands are new in the Niger Delta, where oil militants are threatening to join forces with separatists from the southeast who have renewed their intentions to create a state called Biafra. Nigeria suffered a civil war that killed a million people in the late 1960s after the Igbo people declared an independent Biafra.

The oil militants are also angry that Buhari in February curtailed payouts under a 2009 amnesty programme that ended years of rebellion that killed 1,000 people a year and cut oil production by 40 per cent. Militants and the government say there was massive corruption in the programme that paid fighters to end their militancy.

This week, the government resumed paying former militants a monthly stipend of 65,000 naira (about US$200). Many among the 30,000 in the programme report are being paid, but not all.

Buhari said last month that his government is negotiating indirectly with the militants through oil companies and community leaders.

Earlier this week, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the group that negotiated the 2009 amnesty, said the government has agreed to free convicted and detained militants, on the condition they renounce violence.

But the Niger Delta Avengers, a new group responsible for this year's crippling attacks, has said any negotiations must include mediators from foreign governments whose multinationals operate in Nigeria, such as British-Dutch Shell, Italy's Agip and the US-based Chevron. All those companies have suffered attacks and hundreds of oil workers have been evacuated. Companies that would carry out repairs fear venturing into the region because of death threats.

On Thursday, the Niger Delta Avengers posted a response on their website to this week's military deployment: "We are not intimidated."

Eurasia Group risk analysts say a peace deal that excludes the Avengers cannot pacify the region, as they are the group "wreaking havoc".

- AP