CALABAR, Nigeria, Nov 21 (Reuters) – The Nigerian navy is reinforcing its presence close to the border with Cameroon, the chief of naval staff said on Wednesday after suspected Nigerian militants attacked Cameroonian soldiers last week.
Cameroon said 21 of its soldiers were killed in the Nov. 12 cross-border raid, which militant and oil industry sources in Nigeria have blamed on a faction of the rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Cameroon said it had killed 10 of the attackers but it has not identified them.
The attack took place in Bakassi, a peninsula with offshore oil deposits which Nigeria agreed last year to hand over to Cameroon after decades of argument.
The Nigerian authorities have said they were not involved in the Bakassi raid and relations with Cameroon were “excellent”. MEND said Nigerian soldiers killed the Cameroonians but the Nigerian army dismissed the claim as “ridiculous”.
Chief of Naval Staff Ganiyu Adekeye said the navy was reviewing its operations in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s southern oil heartland, in light of last week’s events.
He was referring to the Bakassi raid and to another attack, earlier the same day, on an ExxonMobil <XOM.N> oil export terminal in Akwa Ibom state, inside Nigeria. The MEND claimed responsibility for that attack and said the aim was to capture weapons from the soldiers guarding the facility.
Adekeye said that militant unrest in the Niger Delta had previously been focused on Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states, further west, hence the navy had been strongest there.
But the navy now needed to boost its presence in Akwa Ibom and Cross River, the eastern Niger Delta states, he said. Cross River borders Cameroon and the Bakassi peninsula.
Adekeye was speaking during a visit to naval officers in Calabar, the Cross River state capital. He acknowledged that they were short of equipment but promised that more was coming.
“I know there are problems with weapons, arms and ammunition … But I can assure you they will start trickling in very soon and will start flooding in before the end of the first quarter of next year,” he said.
The MEND has cited a planned increase in spending on security in the Niger Delta as one of the reasons why it has resumed attacks after months of ceasefire. It said it had interpreted the budget increase as a “declaration of war”.
The rebel group forced the closure of about a fifth of Nigeria’s oil production by blowing up facilities and kidnapping oil workers in early 2006.
It had ceased attacks since President Umaru Yar’Adua took office in May promising negotiations with militants over the Niger Delta crisis, but has now said it was disappointed with the new government’s efforts.
The MEND claims to be fighting for impoverished communities in the Niger Delta to control oil revenues, which it says have been squandered by corrupt governments for decades. (Reporting by Ani Akpan; Editing by Giles Elgood)