LAGOS (AFP) – Nigeria’s most prominent armed group MEND said on Tuesday it had attacked and destroyed an oil pipeline feeding a refinery in the restive oil-rich Niger Delta region.
“On Sunday … fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta attacked and destroyed the Obidi refinery trunk line,” the group said in a e-mail statement to the media.
MEND said the pipeline transported crude oil to the refinery in the oil city of Warri in southern Delta State.
The attack came after the militants issued warnings of renewed attacks aimed at crippling the oil sector in one of the world’s leading crude producer after security forces claimed to have arrested dozens of their members.
The joint military task force deployed in the region said it was unaware of any such attack.
The Nigerian army at the weekend claimed to have arrested 63 militants as part of a clampdown on recent kidnappings and attacks on oil facilities in the region.
The militants were accused of the kidnapping of 19 oil workers, including several foreigners, in recent weeks.
“This attack and similar attacks on pipelines which will take place within the next few days is a reminder to the Nigerian government of the futility of wasting the nation’s resources in combating militancy without addressing the underlying causes of agitation in the Niger Delta,” said MEND.
The military had in an operation on Wednesday freed the 19 hostages from the creeks of the Niger Delta region, the heart of one of the world’s largest oil industries. The victims included American, Canadian, French, Indonesian and Nigerian nationals.
Two days later it claimed to have raided a militants camp and captured a gang.
But MEND said the militants were not captured but surrendered voluntarily following negotiations and promise of money by government.
“All militants ‘supposedly captured’ by the Nigerian military will soon be driving around in the streets of the Niger Delta in expensive luxury cars,” it said.
Recent attacks on oil installations in the volatile Niger Delta had signaled a new round of kidnappings in the region after an amnesty programme last year.
Violence in the Niger Delta before the government offered the amnesty deal had slashed production in the OPEC member country.
The amnesty was credited with greatly reducing unrest in the region and oil production has rebounded to an estimated 2.2 million barrels per day.
The fresh attacks come ahead of general elections early next year in which President Goodluck Jonathan, from the Delta, is running. He is under severe pressure to rein in the unrest in the region.
Critics say the amnesty has failed to address underlying issues of poverty and unemployment in the Niger Delta.
They warned that militant leaders given stipends in exchange for turning in their weapons would eventually be replaced by others.
MEND, which claims to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue, has also been seen as an umbrella organisation for criminal gangs. It is believed to have splintered, particularly over the amnesty.