The Nigerian government will talk to leaders in the Delta region to address their grievances while cracking down on militants who have staged a wave of attacks oil pipelines there, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Sunday.
Local officials and Western allies such as Britain had told Buhari that moving in troops to the Delta was not enough to stop attacks, which have cut Nigeria’s oil output to a 20-year low.
“The recent spate of attacks by militants disrupting oil and power installations will not distract us from engaging leaders in the region in addressing Niger Delta problems,” Buhari said in a speech marking his first year in office.
The former military ruler also said the government was committed to a clean up of polluted areas, a major source of dissent in the Delta along with widespread poverty.
“I believe the way forward is to take a sustainable approach to address the issues that affect the Delta communities,” he said without elaborating.
But security operations would still go on, he said.
The army has moved reinforcements to the swamps, with soldiers on Saturday raiding for the second time a community that is home to a former militant leader linked to attacks.
“We shall apprehend the perpetrators and their sponsors and bring them to justice,” Buhari said.
On Thursday, Oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said an amnesty program for former militants, signed in 2009 to end a previous insurgency, needed to improve.
The scheme had funded cash benefits and job training to militants who have laid down their arms but has been cut by the government by two-thirds. Buhari has also upset former militants by ending contracts to protect pipelines, part of a drive to tackle corruption.
Moving in the same direction, a committee set up by Delta state leaders said on Thursday that the federal government and oil firms have neglected the grievances of local communities.
On Saturday, Bayelsa state government in the Delta said militants attacked a crude oil pipeline operated by Italy’s ENI, hours after a group called Niger Delta Avengers militants claimed another strike.
The Avengers have claimed a string on attacks on oil and gas facilities in the last three months as part of what they frame a battle for independence. They have given oil firms until the end of this month to leave the region.