Over the past six months, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have managed to bring the primary source of income in Nigeria (oil and gas) to its knees through fairly consistent and planned attacks on pipelines other oil assets. It’s hard to contextualize in an abbreviated manner the blowback the destruction has caused – multi-national egress, fractioning of tribes, resurgence of dormant militant groups, political chaos, and finally the sharp drop in the Naira. Now, it’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s close. An already struggling economy has become more hamstrung than the days of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) – and all this without even mentioning Boko Haram, which is still alive and kicking in the northeast. To say that Nigeria needs a life raft would be an understatement.

I’ll attempt an analogy – imagine the New England area, where the fishing industry was/is a huge part of the state(s) economy. Now, what would happen if local and unemployed young people started sabotaging that industry? — Attacked the fishing boats at night, destroyed gear, and threatened the owners of those vessels? So badly in fact, that the state economy started to suffer, and because of the lack of fish available from the northeast, began importing it. The youth’s intent, you ask? Well – they think they should get a direct share of the profits from the fishing industry despite not actually working just because their family grew up in the area. As a short-term fix, the government brings in the California National Guard to community police in an attempt to identify the youth on limited resources. See the dilemma? Now add corrupt politicians into the mix.

Both oil and non-oil revenues are down sharply and the recent unrest in the Niger Delta (along with technical outages) have dampened production to about 1.5 million barrels per day—700,000 bpd shy of the budget benchmark. And while the NDA has preferred to attack soft targets — unmanned platforms, pipeline and valve stations – some say the tide could change with the more direct threats to energy personnel. Where is the government in all this?

Throughout this year, President Muhammadu Buhari has preached intervention both through military means and by way of negotiations, but it was not until June that more substantive military operations commenced in the ‘Delta’ – after many oil and gas majors claimed force majeure – Shell evacuated in May.

The Delta is comprised of mostly three states: Bayelsa State, Delta State, and Rivers State – much of these are mangrove forests, almost impossible for non-locals to navigate through, much less dismantle NDA operations. Imagine wetlands and water bodies with creeks and rivers in the entire region; flooding and river-bank or coastal erosion will forever be a challenge. The local forces even admit to riverine operations being very difficult to conduct due to the scope of operations. Current operations, Crocodile Smile and Delta Safe remain more surgical, targeting known offenders as opposed to an attempt to flush the groups out. Kidnappings of local nationals in the Delta also spiked in June.


Timing and opportunity

You might be wondering, why now? In January of this year, one month before the MEND amnesty program was officially suspended, President Buhari indicated that the program would at a minimum continue until 2017 – in February it ended abruptly – which is exactly when the attacks began.