15 July 2009

Nigeria: MEND Spurns Amnesty, Bombs Agip, Chevron Facilities

Nigeria's losses mounted on Tuesday as militants piled up attacks on oil infrastructure for two straight days, shifting from Lagos to their base in Deep South, where they bombed two installations.

The targets were Chevron and Agip; and Agip alone has shut in an additional 24,000 barrels per day (pbd).

Agip declared a force majeure on some crude exports after its pipeline located north of the Brass River field in Rivers State was hit.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which claimed responsibility, also confirmed that it damaged another pipeline in Abiteye in Delta State which belongs to Chevron.

Before last weekend, Nigeria had recorded a shut in of over one million bpd, cutting total output to a little over one million bpd, according to statistics released by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), raising fears that the country may not attain its target of four million bpd and reserves of 40 billion barrels by 2010.

The MEND has in the past one month attacked several facilities, including Afremo oil field.

Last week, Agip shut in about 33,000 barrels of oil and two million cubic metres of gas per day in Bayelsa.

On Monday, militants destroyed the recently repaired Chevron pipeline linking Alero Creek through Abiteye to the Escravos export terminal in Delta.

The attack came despite the freedom granted MEND leader, Henry Okah, upon whose release from detention the MEND had hinged its cessation of hostilities.

MEND Spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said the group is miffed by the government eagerness to resume oil exports without resettling the people displaced by the incursions of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in May.

He said the militants waited till repair work on the pipeline was completed before moving in to destroy it again.

Gbomo expressed gratitude to the 200 soldiers guarding the facility for not challenging the attackers.

Just on Monday, Lagos played host to militants on Sunday night with devastating effects on the freewheeling city.

Four Naval officers and four civilians were killed at the Atlas Cove jetty in the first attack carried out by the MEND outside the South South, as part of its strategy of combining dialogue with attacks in the course of negotiations with Abuja on how to upgrade living conditions in the Niger Delta.

In Abuja on Tuesday, the Amnesty Panel headed by Defence Minister, Godwin Abbe, briefed President Umaru Yar'Adua on the release of Okah.

Abbe later told reporters that Okah has assured him of his co-operation in returning peace to the Niger Delta.

"Okah assured me that he would do everything possible to bring about peace in the region and Nigeria. But he is human, he is not God. The country is demanding peace from God. Okah will only be a useful facilitator in that request. His release will enhance peace in the region," Abbe said.

He added that the meeting briefed Yar'Adua on the work of the panel.

"So far so good; we are hopeful that lasting peace will return to the region and to the country at large."

Yar'Adua explained in his declaration of amnesty on June 25 that it is "predicated on the willingness and readiness of the militants to give up all illegal arms in their possession (and) completely renounce militancy in all its ramifications unconditionally."

The offer is open for 60 days, ending October 4.

But Okah, who was released from two years' detention on Monday, seemed to have flown out of the country for medical treatment on Tuesday without honouring a planned visit to Yar'Adua, according to a source.

Another source said he had been to the Villa on Monday night after his unconditional discharge by the Federal High Court in Jos, where he was being tried for treason.

Okah's lawyer, Femi Falana, disclosed on Monday that his health deteriorated in detention.

He is said to be suffering from a renal problem and a partial obstruction of the pelviureteric junction.

Justice Mohammed Liman ordered his discharge from all the 62 counts of treason, based on a letter submitted to the court by federal Attorney General and Justice Minister, Michael Aondoakaa, who said the government has "extended hands of fellowship to Okah, he has gladly accepted the offer," and "based on the powers conferred on me by Section 174 1(c) of the Constitution, I hereby withdraw all cases against the accused and pronounce him free."

Falana welcomed the amnesty but noted, nonetheless, that "while we are not opposed to the termination of the case, we try to impress it on the court that the best course of action in the circumstance was to have come under Section 175 1(a) of the Constitution in order to capture the amnesty that has been extended to the accused person."

Okah himself expressed gratitude to the media for standing by him through out his incarceration, and the MEND expressed appreciation to God and to the government for dropping the charges.

Gbomo, the MEND Spokesman, noted that "now (Okah) will be able to deal with his health, spend time with his family and revive his business. We hope that the hundreds of other men and women languishing in detention over the Niger Delta issue will also be set free.

"For those killed extra judicially by the Army and police, we pray for their souls. The MEND considers this release as a step towards genuine peace and prosperity, if Nigeria is open to frank talks and deal sincerely with the root issues once and for all."

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