Niger Delta Avengers: Meet Nigeria’s Anti-Oil Eco-Terrorists

REUTERS/George Esiri

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Deep in Nigeria’s top oil producing region, a new band of militants, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), has been sabotaging vulnerable pipelines in Delta state’s rugged, swampy terrain that are used to get crude to the rest of the country.

NDA don’t seem to be a regular militant group. It’s tech-savvy, carrying out coordinated attacks against pipelines and oil wells. It seems to have a political and environmental goal, making the group, if true, literal eco-terrorists.

“We shall no longer sacrifice oil to feed all, nor are we willing to subject our environment to pollution while the proceeds are used to beautify now oil producing states,” the group says on its website.

NDA has not only been targeting state-owned oil assets, but the group has also carried out extensive attacks against assets of major oil companies, like Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell. NDA says it’s motivated, in part, by multinational oil companies exploiting Delta state’s resources.

Strangling Oil Production

“It’s cut production,” Jennifer Cooker, the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Africa Program, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

So far, NDA attacks have taken as much as 800,000 barrels of crude oil off the market, according to Cooke, adding to Nigeria’s financial woes in the wake of the oil price crash of 2015. NDA’s sabotaging of pipelines and oil wells has even been credited with helping to keep oil prices hovering around $50 a barrel.

Most recently, the group claimed to have carried out five attacks against three pipelines owned by Nigeria’s state-owned oil company and two oil wells operated by Chevron, according to The Wall Street Journal.

NDA also claimed responsibility for attacking Chevron’s offshore oil platform in May, as well as pipelines run by Royal Dutch Shell. Both companies were forced to evacuate employees as NDA moved in.

A New Type Of Militancy

The new wave of attacks came after a supposed ceasefire was reached between militant groups and the government last month, but NDA has denied being part of such a truce.

Delta state has a long history of violent militias attacking energy infrastructure only to get paid off by the government. NDA has explicitly targeted multinational oil companies, and has also been pressing for the government to give Delta state more control over oil resources.

“Mr. President come and see for yourself what the host communities are going through in the hands of Nigeria government and the multinationals,” the group’s spokesman, Brig. Gen. Moduch Agbinibo, wrote on NDA’s website to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.

Cooke told TheDCNF Delta militants see oil companies as an extension of the central government, and for decades have seen oil revenues go from the primarily non-Muslim region to Nigeria’s capital in Abuja.

That oil money is supposed to be given to Nigeria’s 36 states, but rampant corruption in Abuja and the countryside has siphoned off billions of dollars. Old militant groups took to stealing oil and kidnapping Westerners to air their grievances.

“This group doesn’t appear to be stealing oil or kidnapping,” Cooke said. “It’s almost a purely destructive force.”

Who Are They?

NDA has criticized older militant groups, especially those participating in a wave of attacks about a decade ago, for using killing and kidnapping in order to get paid off by the government.

“The old militants,” Cooke said, “have all condemned them, and the Avengers have in turn condemned the old guard.”

Nigeria started an amnesty program in 2009 to pay militants to lay down their arms. Lots of older militant groups were paid off, and occasionally a new group pops up and wreaks just enough havoc to get a payoff due to rampant corruption in the way the amnesty program was carried out.

“What happened is that most of those funds went to the leadership of the men,” Cooke said. “Some of these former militants have security companies that are now protecting the government.”

“If you continue to have that money filter through leaders, who take most of it, you are gonna have a generational rift. Another wave of militancy,” she said.

Some Delta state locals have claimed NDA is made up of militants who didn’t benefit from the 2009 amnesty program — hence their anger with former militants. Though NDA has stressed it’s “young, educated, well traveled and most of us were educated in east Europe.”

Worse Than Boko Haram?

NDa’s attacks have been devastating to government resources, and Nigerian pundits have taken notice. One commentator even claimed there is essentially no difference between NDA and the Islamic terror group Boko Haram.

“I would say that the Niger Delta Avengers are more deadly, more destructive, more dangerous and consequently more devilish,” wrote Joe Igbokwe, spokesman for the All Progressives Congress in Lagos State — APC is the party of Buhari.

“Boko Haram has been on a hit and run warfare that derives pleasure in hitting and killing soft targets, but the destructive Avengers of Niger Delta targets oil installations and the Power Sector, the two most critical sectors of our economy today,” Igbokwe wrote.

NDA has rejected that label, and it has a point. Delta state militants have never been as bloody as Boko Haram. The main damage being caused by NDA is to the government’s oil revenues.

“I would not call them as bad as Boko Haram,” Cooke said. “There were never that many deaths in the Niger Delta. That was never really their purpose.”

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