ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s government will prosecute those who attack the country’s oil pipelines, the Nigerian information minister said on Sunday, amid fears of a revived militant movement in the Niger Delta.
Attacks on facilities have risen in recent weeks in the Delta, whose oil provides around 70 percent of national income, since President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to shake up an amnesty scheme introduced in 2009 for ex-rebels who stopped blowing up pipelines.
A statement issued by the office of Information Minister Lai Mohammed said the government “will deal ruthlessly withthose engaged in pipeline vandalism and the sabotage of powerinfrastructure”.
“Government is now fully ready to prosecute them according to the laws of the country that deal with economic saboteurs and vandalism,” Mohammed told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“None of them will go free when arrested. Government will make sure that they are prosecuted and pay for the crime they committed against the nation,” he said.
Authorities have sent troops to protect oil facilities amid fears that recent attacks may herald a return to the violence that crippled the oil industry in Africa’s biggest economy less than a decade ago.
Last month, unidentified militants hit a Shell underwater pipeline, interrupting oil flows and forcing the company to shut down its 250,000 barrel-a-day Forcados export terminal for weeks.
It came a month after an arrest warrant was issued for former militant leader Government Ekpemupolo, better known as Tompolo. Like other ex-rebels, he had halted attacks in exchange for cash and contracts as part of the amnesty program.
The threat of a return to widespread Delta militancy comes as Nigeria grapples with an economic crisis caused by the collapse of oil revenues, on which it relies for around 90 percent of foreign earnings, as global crude prices fall.
Buhari is set to travel to Equatorial Guinea on Monday for talks with the country’s president about combating crude oil theft, attacks on oil rigs, piracy and arms smuggling in the Gulf of Guinea.
“The conclusion and signing of an agreement by Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea for the establishment of a combined maritime policing and security patrol committee on Tuesday is expected to be the major outcome,” said Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina.
The president will be joined by security officials, including the defense minister and the national security adviser.
Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram, editing by Larry King