* Militant group MEND claims ambush, warns oil companies
* Police deny MEND link, another faction claims attack
* Delta remains violent, insecure, despite 2009 amnesty
By Tife Owolabi
YENAGOA, Nigeria, April 7 Nigerian militants
have ambushed a police boat in the oil-producing Niger Delta
region, killing 12 police officers, authorities said on Sunday.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND),
the main delta militant group before a 2009 amnesty, claimed
responsibility for Friday's attack, staged shortly after it had
threatened to resume its campaign of violence.
However, another of the armed groups roaming Africa's top
oil producer said it had carried out the ambush near the village
of Azuzama, which a further 38 police officers survived.
MEND, whose activities at their peak cut oil production in
Nigeria by around half before the amnesty, threatened to restart
attacks this week in retaliation for the jailing of its leader
Henry Okah by a South African court.
MEND said it had attacked the boat heading to a funeral in
Bayelsa state because government forces had refused to take its
"For dismissing (our statement) ... as an 'empty threat',
heavily armed fighters from ... MEND intercepted and engaged
government security forces in a fierce gunfight at Azuzama,"
said an emailed statement signed by Jomo Gbomo, a pseudonym the
"All oil companies and the public are advised to ignore the
false sense of security being peddled," it said, maintaining
that the attack had been on Saturday, rather than Friday.
Bayelsa state governor Henry Dickson confirmed the 12
policemen were dead, calling the incident "most tragic, shocking
A resurgence of militant activity would be a blow to
President Goodluck Jonathan, who helped to negotiate the amnesty
and who is from the same Ijaw ethnic group as most of the
militants. His administration's security forces are already
stretched by an Islamist insurgency in the north.
It would also be a major problem for multinational energy
companies such as leading operator Royal Dutch Shell,
already contending with industrial scale oil theft by armed
gangs that saps up to a fifth of Nigeria's 2 million
barrel-a-day output, according to some government estimates.
Police Commissioner Kingsley Omire said the ambush was
actually carried out by militants once loyal to Kile Selky
Torughedi, who headed MEND's southern wing.
He blamed a dispute between the gunmen and Torughedi over
government payments made under the amnesty deal, which aims to
achieve peace in the delta by paying off thousands of militants.
A militant from the faction, Jaspa Adaka, told Reuters it
had attacked the boat, believing wrongly that Torughedi was
aboard and heading to the funeral with police protection.
Adaka said it was a "warning" to Torughedi, whom he accused
of embezzling amnesty funds meant for the faction's foot
The government is keen to wind the amnesty payments down but
fears the militancy will restart as soon as it does so.
Omire said the boat carrying 50 police officials was heading
to the funeral late on Friday when it developed engine problems
in one of the winding creeks of the swampy delta region that is
home to Africa's biggest oil industry.
"The craft developed an engine problem ... and the officers
became soft targets for some hoodlums, who we have confirmed
were part of a militant group that was supposed to be enjoying
an amnesty," Omire said, adding that all others on the boat were
While attacks in the Niger Delta region have dropped since
the amnesty, kidnapping, piracy, large-scale oil theft and
pipeline sabotage still occur almost daily.
MEND leader Okah was sentenced to 24 years in prison on
March 26 for masterminding two car bombings in the Nigerian
capital of Abuja in 2010 that killed at least 10 people.
MEND has been largely inactive since most of its members
agreed to the amnesty, although the group claimed an attack on
crude oil pipeline owned by Italian oil and gas group Eni
in April last year.
As well as having a leader in jail, most of the group's
senior commanders are enjoying generous government amnesty
payouts, and many of them no longer live in the delta.