Nigerian militants whose attacks on oil infrastructure have sent output plunging to its lowest level in 27 years said for the first time that they are considering peace talks, even as they threatened to rethink their policy of avoiding bloodshed.
The oil minister said Monday that negotiations with the Niger Delta Avengers had already begun.
After rejecting talks with the government last week, the militants said they would need “a genuine attitude and conducive atmosphere” in order to “commit to any proposed dialogue.” At the same time, they threatened to “review our earlier stance of not taking lives” in a statement posted on a group website whose authenticity Bloomberg cannot confirm.
“The fact that you’re ready to dialogue means that there’s some optimism that we can sort out this mess through dialogue, without necessarily deploying troops on the ground,” said Dolapo Oni, a Lagos-based oil analyst at Ecobank Transnational Inc.
The NDA’s warning about possibly taking lives is likely to be “posturing,” as parties entering a negotiation want to look stronger, Oni said. “But when it comes from a group that has fulfilled all their threats, it might be worse than posturing, so you want to take them seriously,” he added.
The militants also renewed a warning to oil companies not to attempt to repair pipelines and facilities damaged by attacks they carried out in the oil-producing Niger River delta region. Companies operating in the region include Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp. and Eni SpA.
The attacks in the delta started in February after President Muhammadu Buhari, elected last year on an anti-graft campaign, ended contracts to protect oil facilities with militant commanders and slashed monthly stipends to fighters that the previous government approved to end a similar uprising in 2009 that had crippled output.
Nigeria’s oil output sank to the lowest in almost three decades as armed groups ruptured pipelines. Total volume of crude shut due to the violence ranges from 700,000 to 800,000 barrels per day, according to the state-owned oil company.
Nigeria’s State Minister for Petroleum Resources Emmanuel Kachikwu said talks with the NDA are currently taking place and have begun “to yield fruits.”
“We’re engaged in negotiations because that’s the solution,” Kachikwu said during a meeting broadcast live on TV. “I have appealed to them for us to find peace this week and be able to enter a truce relationship that stops all the destruction.”