A militant group in Nigeria’s oil-producing hub, the Niger Delta, has called for a Brexit-style referendum on the region’s status within Nigeria.
The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), which has launched a series of attacks on oil pipelines in southern Nigeria since February, said via its Twitter account on Saturday: “President [Muhammadu] Buhari, borrow a leaf from PM David Cameron, call for a referendum and let Nigerians decide like they did to vote you into power.”
The militant group is campaigning for a greater share of Nigeria’s oil wealth among communities living in the Niger Delta and has also demanded greater self-determination for the region, threatening to secede from Nigeria as South Sudan split from Sudan in 2011. The NDA has received the support of pro-Biafra groups, including the Indigenous People of Biafra, led by detained activist Nnamdi Kanu. Pro-Biafra groups want a region of southeastern Nigeria formerly known as Biafra to be declared independent from the country. Kanu, a British-Nigerian dual national, was arrested in October 2015 and is awaiting trial on charges of treasonable felony, which he denies.
The NDA also said that Buhari should visit communities in the Niger Delta where major oil terminals are located to “see for yourself what the host communities are going through in [sic] the hands of Nigeria’s government and the multinationals [oil companies].”
Buhari was due to visit Ogoniland, a region in the Niger Delta, early in June to launch an oil-spill clean-up operation but pulled out at the last minute, with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo going instead. Prior to the planned visit, an anonymous man claiming to be an NDA member told Radio Biafra—an underground media outlet—that Buhari’s life would be in danger if he traveled to the Niger Delta, IBTimes UK reported.
Nigeria’s economy is heavily dependent on the oil and gas industry, which is largely based in the Niger Delta. Petroleum products account for more than 90 percent of the total value of Nigerian exports and crude oil sales constitute about 70 percent of Nigeria’s national income. The oil-rich region, which includes swamplands and creeks, has been blighted by oil spills in recent years and endured a period of militancy under a previous armed group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), during the mid-2000s. An amnesty program was agreed with the militants in 2009 and MEND leaders have publicly encouraged the NDA to negotiate with the Nigerian government.
Largely due to the NDA’s militant activities, Nigeria’s oil output has been cut by around 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), dropping from 2.2 million bpd at the start of 2016 to 1.6 million bpd. Nigeria’s national budget for 2016, approved by Buhari in May after months of wrangling, is based on an estimated production of 2.2 million bpd