Renewed battle between the Nigerian military and rebels of the Niger Delta has intensified. And rebels have alleged that some 100 people, mostly civilians, were killed during a recent attack on militant camps by the military during which sophisticated weapons were seized.
According to a statement released by the Niger Delta Liberation Force, a little-known militant group, more than 100 people, the majority of them civilians, died during a Wednesday attack by the Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF).
Spokesman of the Joint Task Force Lt. Col. Timothy Antigha confirmed the attacks on three camps operated by fighters loyal to militant leader John Togo.
Antigha admitted to reporters that there were casualties but did confirm any numbers. According to him, the JTF recovered anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles and dynamite from the camps.
Rebel attacks on pipelines, kidnapping of petroleum company employees and fighting against the Nigerian military since 2006 severely affected crude production in Nigeria.
However, an amnesty deal put forward by the federal government enhanced oil production. But the government failed to pacify, rehabilitate and reward repentant rebels as it promised hence the rebels resumed their attacks on the oil sector and the government.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) promised to resume its attacks after claiming responsibility for kidnapping seven émigré workers in November from offshore oil rigs operated by London-based Afren PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp.
MEND subsequently claimed responsibility for a dual car bombing that killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more during an October 1 independence celebration in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
And since the car bombing, the Nigerian government has since taken a hard line against the rebels.
While securing the Niger Delta remains fundamentally important to Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from the region and faces election next year, some analysts describe his hard-line on rebels as a test of the limits of his power.
“The Niger Delta campaign is now testing his ability to protect Nigeria. If he fails his political opponents will capitalize on it, saying that he is a man who is not prepared for the job,” Thompson Ayodele, executive director of the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis in Lagos told reporters.