■ NDA widens battlefront
By ENYERIBE EJIOGU, ADEWALE SANYAOLU and EMMANUEL OGOIBGE
THE unrelenting bombing campaign launched by the Niger Delta Avengers on the nation’s oil and gas infrastructure has deepened concerns over the N6.06trillion 2016 budget, which was trailed by controversies before it was eventually passed by the National Assembly, almost five months after it was presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the legislature.
Even after the Appropriation Act was signed into law, strong reservations were expressed that it may not be possible to fully implement it given that much time had elapsed from the time it was presented last December 2015. Now those fears are rapidly becoming real in the face of the extensive destruction of strategic components of the country’s crude oil and gas production and export infrastructure.
As at the last count, over 40 major pipelines have been bombed and destroyed across the Niger Delta by the ferocious militants group, which goes by the name Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), as the group pursues its avowed goal of crippling the country’s oil and gas industry.
Already, the combined effect of the successful attacks so far carried out by the group since February 10, when it bombed the Soku Gas Plant operated by Shell, which supplies gas to the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) plant in Bonny for export, there has been a precipitous drop in crude oil production and export by the major operating partners of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
On June 1, Wednesday, 3.40am, the militants destroyed Chevron’s RMP 23 and RMP 24 at Bibi, which were said to be the company’s highest producing Niger Delta. The attack further reduced Nigeria’s daily production as the destroyed facilities had a productive capacity of 90,000 barrels per day.
Then in the early hours of Friday, June 3, NDA bombed the 48-inch Shell Petroleum Development Company’s (SPDC) export line at the Forcados Terminal in Burutu, Delta State, for the second time, because of what it described as the intransigence of Shell, following the oil company’s resolve to proceed with repair works in the area.
The militants were said to have used sophisticated weapons to blow up the pipeline at another section as repairs on the section destroyed in the previous attack was almost being completed.
While claiming responsibility for the latest attack, the militants said through their Twitter handle, @NDAvengers: “At 3am today @ NDAvengers blew up the SPDC Forcados-48- inch export pipeline. We warned SPDC not to go ahead with repair works but they refused. This is an example to all other multinationals.”
With several vital facilities destroyed and shut down, oil production has been drastically reduced to less than 1.5 million barrels per day, a far cry from the peak figure of 2.2 million barrels per day.
Nigeria’s 2016 budget is based on the assumption that the country would sell 2.2 million barrels per day to generate a substantial part of the estimated revenue of N3.86 trillion.
The Federal Government, as the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma explained while giving the budget breakdown, proposed to embark on massive infrastructural and social intervention projects, all aimed at rebuilding the economy by investing in power, works, housing, agriculture, energy and education.
He said: “The 2016 Budget has an outlay of N6.06 trillion. States and LGs share of distributable pool amount to N3.24 trillion, while Federal Government will receive N2.48 trillion.
Specifically, about N350billion would be invested on infrastructural projects, with N35.6billion set aside for construction of 1,973 blocks of 7,068 Housing Units in the six geopolitical zones and FCT.
The Federal Government also intended to directly impact the lives of more than eight million Nigerians through different social investments that would “provide succour and be a ready-made palliative to ordinary Nigerians,” Senior Special Assistant for Media and Publicity to the Vice President, Mr Laolu Akande, had said during an interaction with the press in Abuja after the budget went through the legislative process.
Elaborating on the new details and a breakdown of the interventions and palliatives, he said a direct payment of N5,000 would be made monthly to one million extremely poor Nigerians for 12 months, for which N68.7billion has been appropriated; direct provision of very soft loans – cash for market women, men and traders, including artisans and agric workers. This would be for a total of 1.76million Nigerians, without the requirement for conventional collateral. Some of the traders will likely get about N60,000. For that purpose, a total sum of N140.3billion was appropriated in the budget; payment of between N23,000 to N30,000 per month to 500,000 unemployed graduates who would be trained, paid and deployed to work as volunteer teachers, public health officers and extension service workers among other responsibilities.
They would also be given electronic devices to empower them technologically, both for their assignments and beyond. Similarly, 100,000 artisans would also be trained and paid, and to fund this intent, Akande said N191.5billion had been set aside in the budget.
The budget also envisaged that at least 5.5 million Nigerian primary school children would be fed for 200 school days under the free Homegrown School Feeding Programme. The first phase of the initiative is envisaged to take off from 18 states, three of which would be chosen from each geopolitical zone. To fund the school feeding programme, a provision of N93.1billion was made in the 2016 budget.
To encourage the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, 100,000 tertiary students in these disciplines plus education would enjoy a grant of N5.8billion to be paid directly to the students.
Altogether, in this year alone, more than eight million Nigerians would benefit from the social investment aspects of the budget.
Besides, continued funding of revived power sector and major road construction projects stalled by the 2015 transition and long delay in passage of the 2016 budget, would sustain existing jobs even as new projects, such as the Abuja-Kano and Lagos-Calabar railway lines, expected to take off under the new budget, would create numerous new job opportunities.
In the face of the present onslaught by NDA against oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta, there is now clearly a big question mark on the realization of the laudable objectives of the 2016 budget, which now seems endangered. Already, the bombing of gas pipelines has practically crippled power generation in the country thereby pushing the economy into a deeper slump as millions of micro-enterprises that depend on public power supply are now practically comatose.
Against this background there is real disquiet in the country as NDA digs in and has shown its determination and capacity to expand the battlefront notwithstanding that the massive deployment of military forces by the Army, Navy and Air Force in and around Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South Local Government Area in the search for Government Ekpemuopolo, aka, Tompolo, who is wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and has been frequently accused of being behind the new wave of militancy in the Niger Delta. But he has consistently and stridently denied the allegations.
To demonstrate the ability of its operatives to strike in the region, NDA chose to strike at the Chevron facility in Egbema creek in Warri North LGA of the state.
In a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, it gloated via Twitter: “With the heavy presence of 100 gunboats, four warships and jet bombers, NDA blew up Chevron Bibi oil well RMP 23 and RMP 24 at 3.44 am this morning (Wednesday). This is to show the whole world that the Nigeria military is good at harassing innocent civilians. RMP 24 and RMP 23 are the Chevron swamp highest producing wells.” Prior to attacking the Chevron facility, the group had vowed to continue its relentless bombing of oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta despite the Federal Government’s deployment of fighter jets and the military in Delta State.
The group, in a statement issued by its spokesman, Brig-Gen Mudoch Agbinibo, on Tuesday, NDA said it remained undeterred by the heavy presence of the military in some parts of Delta State, adding that the troops deployment would not stop them from their planned action that would shock the whole world.
Even more worrisome is that NDA, which has vowed that it would neither retreat nor surrender is already garnering support from another consolidated group of militants under the aegis of Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF), which on Thursday threatened to launch six missiles in the Niger Delta region.
The group said it would commence testing the six missiles for three days on June 7, and warned that no airplanes should fly in and out of the country within the period, claiming that the weapons were capable of hitting any object despite its size. The Sun