LAGOS — Nigeria’s main armed group warned Niger Delta oil workers on Saturday to quit within 72 hours to avoid an “imminent attack,” a threat dismissed by the military as an “empty boast by a toothless gang.”
“This is a final warning from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to local and foreign workers in the oil services and exploration companies to vacate the region within the next 72 hours due to an imminent attack,” MEND said in an email statement.
The militants dubbed the attack “Hurricane Piper Alpha” which they warned “will not discriminate on tribe, nationality or race when it sweeps across the region.
“The warning also applies to greedy individuals from oil communities tempted to carry out repair contracts on pipelines already destroyed,” MEND added.
Several of the group’s warnings in the past have failed to materialise however, and it was unclear if MEND would make good on its threat this time.
Colonel Rabe Abubakar, a spokesman for the special military unit deployed to the volatile region, dismissed the statement.
“It is nonsense and (an) empty boast by a toothless gang. We are fully prepared for them,” said Abubakar, spokesman for the Joint Task Force (JTF).
“MEND is only seeking relevance. It cannot do anything. We will checkmate them if they try anything unlawful,” he added.
“People should disregard the threat in its totality and go about their lawful duties peacefully,” he said.
Abubakar also urged the oil-rich communities to help the security agencies in their current operation by supplying information on the activities and wheareabouts of the militants.
The JTF said Friday it had found and destroyed MEND’s two training camps and restated its determination to “search for criminals and uproot” them in the restive region.
In a statement Saturday, the JTF said it had located and destroyed an illegal local refinery in the Oginibo community of southern Delta State.
The JTF “is poised to sustain its war on not only illegal refineries but also on all criminals associated with crude oil theft.”
The security body said it was “fully equipped to deal with all manners of criminalities.”
The MEND says it is fighting for impoverished local communities in the region. But it has been accused of being behind a spate of kidnappings of oil workers, the theft of crude oil, extortion and the vandalism of oil installations and facilties.
It has several times acknowledged holding local and foreign oil workers as well as vandalising the oil facilities.
The armed group on Friday rejected a fresh amnesty offer made the previous day by Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua.
“In a nutshell, we are rejecting this offer because as we said earlier, he (Yar’Adua) has to experiment with (Henry) Okah for the rest (of us) to believe,” MEND said in a statement to AFP.
Okah, a leader of the MEND arrested and detained since last September, is facing treason charges. MEND has called for his release.
The Niger Delta unrest has reduced Nigeria’s daily output to 1.76 million barrels compared with 2.6 million barrels in January 2006.
Nigeria, a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), derives more than 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from oil.