LAGOS, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Militants in Nigeria’s oil-producing south threatened on Wednesday to create a “state of anarchy” unless local government officials accused of corruption are properly dealt with. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has said it is investigating allegations that large sums of money were withdrawn in a suspicious manner from the funds of Rivers state, one of the three main oil-producing states in the Niger Delta.
EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi said the chief of staff to the governor of Rivers state and the secretary of the state government were in its custody. He said the EFCC was also looking for two other state officials.
“There are allegations that large sums of funds were withdrawn from state government accounts in a curious manner,” Babafemi said.
He said the chief of staff had made a statement saying payments had been made for a legitimate project.
Rivers state governor Rotimi Amaechi has taken a tougher line with militants than neighbouring states, beefing up the armed forces, who have been patrolling with helicopters and gunboats in an effort to flush armed gangs out of the creeks.
As a result, most of the recent violence in the Niger Delta -- home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry -- has been focused in Rivers, while the two other main oil industry states, Bayelsa and Delta, have remained relatively calm.
The Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which launched a six-day campaign of attacks on oil installations in Rivers last month, said it would be following the corruption case very closely.
“If we are not satisfied with the measure of justice meted out, we will make Rivers state ungovernable by creating a state of anarchy,” the group said in an e-mailed statement.
MEND accused the government and the military of trying to provoke it into calling off a unilateral ceasefire which it declared after last month’s attacks following a plea by elders.
The six day “oil war” forced Royal Dutch Shell, the company hardest hit, to warn it may not be able to meet all of its contractual obligations on oil exports from Nigeria.
The military welcomed the ceasefire but said it would continue its campaign to hunt down armed gangs nestled in deep in the mangrove creeks and there have been several gunbattles and arrests since then.
Militant groups in the delta say they are fighting for a fairer distribution of wealth in the region, where impoverished villagers have seen their land polluted by five decades of oil extraction without seeing the benefits of the revenue generated.
But the leaders of the mafia-like criminal syndicates in the Niger Delta have grown rich from a lucrative trade in stolen oil -- known locally as bunkering -- as well as from frequent kidnappings for ransom of prominent locals and expatriates.
The violence has become little more than a turf war between rival gangs fighting for control of bunkering, a trade worth millions of dollars a day which rights groups say involves the collusion of government officials, members of the security forces and international shipping agents. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ ) (Editing by Matthew Tostevin)
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