Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Foreign Hand Seen Behind Niger Delta Attacks

A top Nigerian defense official yesterday told ThisDay Online that he believes unnamed other countries may be using the attacks in the Niger Delta to hasten the breakup of Nigeria's Federal Government.

According to Nigeria's military drector of operations, Air Vice Marshal Femi Gbadebo, his commands feels "high suspicion that some foreign countries interested in the break-up of the country were fuelling the crisis."

The American CIA Director Porter Goss has suggested Nigeria may break up within the decade, and the American government has steadfastly opposed a third term for President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has led an anti-corruption drive that at time has embarrassed some of world's largest, U.S.-based multinational oil firms.

The same firms have found themselves forced to compete with Nigerian-owned or -controlled firms for new oil reserves that they once would have near-automatically been granted.

The role of ERHC Energy in the Nigeria-Sao Tome and Principe Joint Development Zone, validated by a treaty ratified in 2002, is a case in point.

ExxonMobil and Anadarko Petroleum have both sought Block 4 in the JDZ but were rebuffed when their bids were submitted late, in the case of Exxon, or failed to provide a timely work plan, as was the case with Anadarko.

The United States has been critical of Nigeria ever since, but Nigeria has so far been unmoved by its protests and ERHC Energy with Addax Petroleum remains the operator of the coveted block. There is no indication that the CIA or the United States is sponsoring the attacks, however.

A signing ceremony for the Production Sharing Contract covering the block and its multiple venture partners is due to be signed March 14, but questions have arisen as to whether Sao Tome's leaders are ready to sign the deal due to a problem with the Joint Operating Agreement between ERHC, Addax and Godsonic, a virtually unknown corporation that had been awarded 5 percent of the block and now has apparently acquired another 9 percent of the block from ERHC for reasons that remain unknown to ERHC shareholders.

Here is the ThisDay Online article:

Defence fingers foreign influence in Niger Delta crisis
Army redeploys task force chief

From John-Abba Ogbodo (Abuja) and Chido Okafor (Warri)

AN insight into the lingering crisis in the Niger Delta, which recently culminated in hostage-taking, came from the Defence Headquarters yesterday. The Director of Operations, Air Vice Marshal Femi Gbadebo, alerted that the crisis was being externally influenced by some countries who are interested in the break up of Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF) code-named "Operation Restore Hope", Brig.-Gen. Elias Zamani, has been redeployed to the Army Headquarters.

Briefing the committee yesterday in the National Assembly, Gbadebo told the committee that there was high suspicion that some foreign countries interested in the break-up of the country were fuelling the crisis.

The military top brass also told the members that some indigenes of the Niger Delta who are outside the country were also giving the militants in the area some support, positing that the situation could snowball into full-blown agitation for independence if not properly handled.

"It is possible for the entire Niger Delta to become a recruiting ground for militants. Remote involvement of mercenaries cannot be ruled out. The most problematic is that the crisis could snowball into a full agitation for self-determination and independence. In that case, it is necessary for government to take both political and drastic military action to stop the drift, especially now that the Niger Deltans in Diaspora and their sympathisers are

supporting the action of the militants", he said.

Gbadebo, who stood in for the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, said the militants are in possession of sophisticated weapons such as general purpose machine guns, grenades, rocket propellers and AK 47. He added that a former governor in the Niger Delta and some powerful politicians were funding the militants. He also said that while the militants engage in oil bunkering and use the proceeds to buy high caliber weapons, the military was being subjected to due process in the acquisition of weapons and in most cases, experienced a lot of delay.

The Director of Operations further said that military equipment and hardwares take long time to produce and they are done to specification but the due process mechanism had been a stumbling block.

Speaking on the way out, Gbadebo said the military has the capacity to flush out the militants but cautioned that the solution would be to seek a socio-political dimension while there would be serious military action.

He said right now, the military in the Niger Delta area was not targeting the militants but there exist many groups in the area, emphasising that there is a possibility that many countries interested in the break-up of the country could be supporting the militants.

"It is not just a case of military option. It also requires a socio-political dimension. Yet, there is need for increased military action as we will not like a situation where our military will be disgraced. We are not exactly taking on the rebels. There should be increased military action because we are facing many groups. Their activities have gone beyond mere bunkering. It is possible that some foreign powers interested in the breaking up of Nigeria are supporting the militants", he added.

He blamed part of the problem on the embargo on importation of military hardware at a point, which made it difficult for the military to access some spare parts.

Earlier, the Minister of State for Defence, Rowland Oritejafor, had lamented the path chosen by the militants to express their anger. He added that the present administration had done a lot to ameliorate the situation in the Niger Delta. He said the Federal Government had taken some measures to prevent the situation from deteriorating into a conflagration. The committee members urged the Defence Headquarters to swing into action before the situation got out of hand.

The redeployment was announced by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Martins Luther Agwai.

Several militant groups in the region, particularly the Front for Ijaw Survival and Hope (FISH) had demanded Zamani's removal as one of the conditions for the release of the nine expatriate hostages.

Zamani came under severe criticism following his approval to use helicopter gunship to strike at illegal bunkerers in Gbaramatu kingdom, Warri South-West Council, Delta State, after the militants released the first four hostages taken on January 11 in Bayelsa State.

Ijaw militants and leaders alleged that their communities were hit by missiles and that over eight persons were killed. This was the chief reason the militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), gave in seizing the nine hostages in Delta State against their avowal not to take hostages again in the Niger Delta. The militants later released six of the hostages after 12 days in captivity.

The out-going JTF commander assumed office in August 2003, at the peak of the inter-ethnic Warri wars.

Initially, the mandate of the JTF was to keep peace in Warri, but its mandate was later expanded to include the whole of the Niger Delta as well as to put an end to illegal bunkering in the region.

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