The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have in a short space of time wrought havoc on the Nigerian oil industry with a series of well targeted and executed attacks that have reduced Nigeria’s production from 2.2m barrels per day to 1.4m barrels per day in less than 3 months.
This short piece will analyse the nature of the attacks and the groups objectives.
The NDA has launched a wide variety of IED attacks with against NNPC, Chevron, Shell and Eni/ Agip crude and gas pipelines and facilities mostly in Delta State but also in Rivers and Bayelsa States.
Most attacks have been at night/early morning and thus far there have been no casualties (a fact the NDA takes pride in) but there have been huge oil spills.
The attacks have mostly been Delta State, in and around the Forcados River channel on crude oil and gas pipelines or valves.
So far only foreign and NNPC facilities have been targeted rather than those of indigenous oil companies. Despite an increased military presence, the attacks have continued, some of the attacks have destroyed subsea facilities as well as surface pipelines.
In addition to its military achievements the NDA has a prolific media operation, with regular and factual (if grammatically taxing) updates on their website and regular tweets.
On 13 February, the NDA’s announced Op Red Economy, in which they explicitly state their opposition to President Buhari, seeking to ‘start a revolution to free the country from these vampires called APC government’. In this same piece they gave the government 2 weeks to accede to a series of demands. Another group last heard of in 2011 for bombing a mosque in Sapele, the Egbesu Mightier Fraternity called for the release of ex NSA Col Dasuki (retired), who is currently detained on corruption charges relating to the Boko Haram campaign. Towards the end of May another group, the Red Egbesu Water Lions also issued an ultimatum to the Federal Governmnt along similar lines.
It is unclear what the relationship is between these groups.
From all these factors one could make general assessments about the NDA, their campaign, objectives and desired end state
The NDA: their operations indicate good mobility around the Niger Delta in general and the Forcados River and its tributaries in particular, indicating their embers are most likely Ijaws from Delta or Bayelsa States. They possess diving and underwater demolition skills, fairly advanced IED making skills, good local knowledge and intelligence and a joined up approach to their operations. They have shown discrimination, focussing on attacks on facilities causing no casualties except environmental devastation. They have neither attacked nor specifically threatened personnel and have mocked the kidnapping and bunkering of previous militants.
Thus far they have demonstrated good operational security and despite the opposition of other more experienced, older Niger Delta militants have yet to engage in the internecine warfare that was common previously.
It is likely that the NDA is a relatively small group, consisting of a few skilled individuals who have worked in the oil industry and are from the local area. It is unlikely that the NDA will replicate the MEND model of numerous camps, active armed patrols and acts of aggression against the Army, not only would this expose them to loss and capture it would also increase the probability of civilians being harmed in the crossfire or heavy handed military reprisals, which would cost them the little sympathy they may have with locals.
Their attacks have utilised IEDs, with no evidence of a small arms or other capability but it is to be assumed that the fighters are suitably well armed and would fight in self defence if not offensively.
The NDA’s Campaign: the tactic of avoiding direct combat and attacking pipelines and facilities is successful and will continue to be in the difficult terrain of the Niger Delta. It is unclear how the NDA sources its arms, transport and logistics. To sustain their campaign, they would need funds from criminality such as bunkering, extortion, armed robbery or kidnapping unless they had a wealthy patron.
The NDA have focussed attacks on facilities that have multiplier effects. Attacks on gas pipelines shut down power plants, attacks on crude pipelines shut down refineries, attacks on export terminals affects oil exports. This strategy ensures that one attack has a ripple effect beyond the Delta and is felt by ordinary Niegrians.
The targeting of mainly foreign or state owned facilities is interesting, as the campaign develops it will be interesting to see if this trend continues. It will also be interesting to see which foreign firms are hit hardest and how the market share of indigenous firms is affected.
The NDA’s Objectives: the narrative of the Niger Delta conflict has been based on environmental degradation (MOSOP) and resource control (MEND). The NDA’s motivations would naturally be seen to follow from these however they are quite explicit in their opposition to President Buharis government and the anti corruption campaign.
Of the 9 specific demands on the NDA website only one relates to the general welfare of the Niger Delta (clean up pollution).
All other points refer to issues of interest to the political and economic elite such as the treatment of Alamieyesegha (a PDP Governor who fled corruption charges in the UK), ownership of oil blocks, the amnesty programme etc.
This eclectic mix of demands is of little interest to the average Niger Delta citizen but is of great interest to businessmen, contractors and former politicians who might be subject to corruption charges.
Thus it could be assumed that the NDAs objective is to obtain concessions for this group of people by threatening the oil industry. By including people such as Tompolo and Nnamdi Kanu the group attempts to tap into wider grievances of the South South and South East, however there is unlikely to be a genuine operational or even strategic link.
It is the opinion of this commentator that the NDA are a small, well equipped and professional criminal group working to protect the interest of an unknown group of people who lost access to patronage networks and political protection with the change in government.
By attacking facilities that provide crude or gas for domestic electricity or fuel production as well as for export the NDA ensures that the government is under increased pressure to find a quick solution, such as granting concessions to the militants, as has happened with the extension of the amnesty Programme.
The trajectory of the conflict will follow that of the anti corruption campaign and it is likely that attacks will surge as pressure on certain interests increase and decrease if pressure is reduced.
Far from being a popular insurgency, the NDA campaign has all the hallmarks of a well oiled protection and extortion racket.