The Nigerian government has ordered the immediate withdrawal of troops from communities in the Niger Delta region, amid allegations of a heavy-handed military response to renewed attacks on oil and gas installations in the area.
A new group called the Niger Delta Avengers has declared war on the installations, vowing to ground Nigeria’s oil production.
The group, which says it wants a sovereign state of the Niger Delta, has attacked several facilities in recent weeks, cutting oil and gas production and forcing oil companies to shut some export terminals.
Residents of the area have however complained of harassment and indiscriminate arrests by soldiers hunting the militants.
The government said it was withdrawing troops immediately. Soldiers will continue to patrol the waterways.
The decision was taken at a meeting between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, governors from states in the Niger Delta region, some ministers and service chiefs.
The minister of state for petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, had on Monday announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had directed a two-week cessation of military offensive in the Niger Delta region, to enable the government dialogue with the militants.
Speaking to journalists after Tuesday’s meeting, Delta state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, said, “We have also agreed that there is a need to distill military operations directly in communities, but the military need to actually remain on our waterways to ensure that we adequately man the waterways itself while we engage the communities and that engagement process is starting any moment from now”.
Mr. Okowa said during the meeting they received briefings on the current state of things and agreed that a synergy, especially in a form of intelligence sharing, between the Federal Government and the States would help in tackling the problem.
“We have taken a lot of decisions which will help us mitigate what is going on currently in the states particularly Bayelsa and Delta.
“One of such is that there is a need for us to share intelligence which is very important and for us to be proactive, working together with the various stakeholders in the states to achieve a better result going forward,” he said.
He said the decision of withdrawing the troops took was to begin immediately.
Others at the meeting include the governors of Edo, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Ondo and Rivers State. The deputy governor of Cross River State also attended the meeting.
All service chiefs, ministers of Niger Delta, Petroleum (state) and Defence were also in attendance.
The Edo state governor, Mr. Oshiomhole, told journalists that Nigeria was not at war as the government was ready to address the conflict.
“If we have conflicts, we will talk through those conflicts. There are laws that have to be enforced. I think that in all of these the whole idea is to find peace that is functional, that creates an environment for very decent Nigerians to live their lives,” he said.