Nigerian security forces have killed and injured an unknown number of people in an offensive in the oil-producing south where militant attacks have halved petroleum production, residents and the military said Monday.
In a separate attack, members of the Indigenous People of Biafra group said police Monday fatally killed at least 15 people in an attack on a peaceful rally in Onitsha city to commemorate heroes of the 1967-1970 civil war to create a separate state of Biafra in southeast Nigeria.
Police denied that, with Deputy Superintendent Alphonsus Okechukwu saying nobody was killed because security agents never used live ammunition to disperse the crowd.
In the southern Niger Delta, soldiers encountered three speedboats believed to be carrying militants on a mission to attack an oil installation on Sunday and “opened fire on them, killing most of them and injuring others,” said a statement from army spokesman Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman.
Earlier Sunday, militants in two other speedboats opened fire on soldiers from an artillery regiment who responded with “overwhelming superior firepower” that injured an unknown number, he said.
In another attack, on Saturday night, soldiers fired on a speedboat trying to reach Oporoza to evacuate civilians wounded in the military’s siege of that town, according to the Ijaw Youth Council, a community group.
The military’s offensive comes after the Niger Delta Avengers, a new group, mounted three attacks in three days last week and warned of “something big” to come.
Community chieftain Elekute Macaulay said troops arrived at Oporoza before dawn Saturday and were reinforced early Monday to widen a siege of the area reachable only by water or air. He said half the 40,000 inhabitants have fled to the bush and creeks, and the others are afraid to come out of their homes.
The Ijaw council said it “strongly condemns this … brutalization of innocent residents.”
Soldiers are demanding that villagers hand over fighters of the Avengers, and its alleged leader Government “Tompolo” Ekpemupolo, said Chief Macaulay. Tompolo has denied involvement with the Avengers but the attacks began shortly after an arrest warrant was issued for his alleged theft and subversion of money from government contracts to guard oil installations.
Oil militants are angry that the government is winding down a 2009 amnesty program that paid 30,000 militants to guard the installations they once attacked. They are demanding a bigger share of Nigeria’s oil wealth for residents of the Niger Delta, where hundreds of thousands of livelihoods have been destroyed by decades of oil pollution.