* Niger Delta militants took up amnesty in 2009
* Military blames criminal gangs for attack
* Oil-producing Bayelsa state holds vote next week
By Tife Owalabi
YENAGOA, Nigeria, Feb 5 A Nigerian
militant group based in the oil-producing Niger Delta said it
attacked an oil pipeline owned by Italian firm Eni on
Sunday, a strike the military said was the work of criminal
Witnesses reported a fire on the oil and gas group's
Nembe-Brass pipeline late on Saturday, and ENI said the damage
would mean the loss of about 4,000 barrels of oil equivalent a
A statement sent to media said it was from the Movement for
the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), formerly Nigeria's
main militant threat and responsible for years of attacks on the
oil industry until a 2009 amnesty.
Under the amnesty thousands of militants gave up their
weapons, joined training schemes and drew stipends. Security
sources say remaining gangs in the Niger Delta do not have the
capacity to do the damage seen in the past, which at its height
cut more than a third of the OPEC-member's output.
Several false threats purporting to be from MEND have been
sent in the past and most recent damage caused to Nigeria's oil
infrastructure has been done by gangs stealing oil for illicit
refining and sale, rather than due to militant strikes.
"On Saturday the 4th of February at 1930hrs, fighters of the
Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D)
attacked and destroyed the Agip (ENI) trunk line at Brass in
Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria," the emailed
"This relatively insignificant attack is a reminder of our
presence in the creeks of the Niger Delta and a sign of things
Bayelsa, the home state of President Goodluck Jonathan, is
due to hold a governorship election next week.
A falling out between him and former governor Timipre Sylva,
who was barred from running again on the ruling party ticket,
has degenerated into a slanging match in local media.
Such disputes often trigger a spike in violence in the
volatile Delta, although no one suspects this pipeline attack to
be directly linked to the row.
The joint military task force (JTF) operating in the Niger
Delta said recent unrest stemmed from criminal gangs who wanted
expired amnesty benefits.
"Unfortunately, people who were never part of the agitation
have emerged and want to claim amnesty and its benefits by
force," Timothy Antigha, spokesman for the JTF in Bayelsa state,
said in reaction to the MEND statement.
"The JTF advices Niger Deltans to be mindful of people who
are out to swindle them by wrongfully appropriating the identity
of the erstwhile leadership of MEND to curry sympathy for their
selfish and criminal interests."
The military presence in the state has been beefed up ahead
of the Feb. 11 governorship vote.
Governors are some of the most powerful politicians in
Africa's most populous nation, in some cases controlling budgets
bigger than those of entire nations.
Jonathan can ill-afford unrest in his home region as he is
already struggling to cope with almost daily violence carried
out by radical Islamist sect Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.