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Trouble brewing in Nigeria swamps threatens economy

Warri, Nigeria | AFP | Months have passed since the Niger Delta Avengers have launched an attack on Nigeria’s oil pipelines, yet leaders in the region are warning trouble is brewing in the southern swamplands.

A charm offensive led by Nigeria’s acting president Yemi Osinbajo has kept the uprising at bay, with renewed amnesty payments buying calm in the creeks, helping boost production to around 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd) from a low of 1.4 million bpd in August last year.

But now those in the Niger delta say the fragile peace is under strain as the Nigerian government takes time to carry out reforms ranging from the construction of a maritime university to cleaning up oil spills.

“The boys are impatient and they have been disturbing me with a series of telephone calls and messages, with some of them even giving notices to disown us,” Niger delta leader Edwin Clark, who has been negotiating with the Nigerian government, told AFP.

As frustration has grown, Niger delta leaders have threatened to quit the talks, a new militant group announced it will attack pipelines and oil thieves are siphoning off crude in sabotage that is dragging down production, albeit not as dramatically as bombings.

“Government announced in March there will be $10 billion of investment in the Niger Delta, but of course money is tight and it will be a while before people notice any investment, so there is bound to be pressure,” said Gail Anderson, lead Nigeria analyst at energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

“As long as money keeps flowing then the militants will stay quiet. If the money stops flowing then things could flare up again.”

The pressure comes at a time Nigeria desperately needs oil revenue to keep its battered economy running.

Central bank governor Godwin Emefiele described Nigeria’s recovery from its worst recession in over two decades as “fragile”, warning the country “could relapse in a more protracted recession” if the right policies aren’t put in place.

Minimising output disruptions in the Niger delta is key to growth in Nigeria, which relies on oil revenues for infrastructure investments to diversify the economy, Udoma said, explaining that “you have to use what you have to get what you want.”

– New threats –

The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), a group of regional stakeholders, had issued a November 1 ultimatum, saying if its demands aren’t met it will pull out of peace talks with government.

But the ultimatum was withdrawn after the group met with government representatives led by Osinbajo on Thursday.

“No more ultimatum. We agreed on many things,” Clark told reporters.

“We are satisfied. We have agreed to work together…” he said.

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