YENAGOA, MARCH 6, 2017 – Nigerian troops have destroyed 80 oil refineries in the restive Niger Delta region in the last 10 days, a military spokesman said on Monday, weeks after the vice president said work needs to be offered to people who make a living from the practice.
The government has been holding talks with militants to end attacks on oil production facilities which cut the OPEC member’s output by 700,000 barrels a day for several months last year.
But a military crackdown on thousands of illegal refineries in the southern swamps, which process crude oil stolen from oil majors and state oil firm NNPC, has raised tensions in the last few months.
Illicit refineries process stolen crude in makeshift pipes and metal tanks hidden in oil-soaked clearings deep in the southern swampland’s thick bush land.
“Troops of joint operation Delta Safe have intensified raids operation against crude oil theft with destruction of 80 illegal refineries across Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States,” said military spokesman Abubakar Abdullahi.
“Our troops would not relent until our mandate is achieved.”
The comments contrast those made in February by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who said Nigeria must engage with illegal refiners by establishing modular refineries so that they can participate in legal refining.
Militants behind last year’s attacks called for more of Nigeria’s energy wealth to go to the Delta, which remains impoverished with widespread unemployment despite being the country’s oil hub. Crude sales make up two-thirds of government revenue.
Osinbajo, acting president while head of state Muhammadu Buhari is on indefinite sick leave in Britain, on Monday visited Edo state in the Delta. It is the latest in a series of trips to the region where he is holding talks with community groups.
Last year’s attacks, combined with subdued oil prices, were a major factor in Africa’s largest economy shrinking 1.5 percent in 2016 – its first full-year contraction in 25 years. There have been no attacks so far in 2017.