|soldiers from the 7th Division of the Nigerian Army on March 25, 2016.|
Nigeria has vowed to rein in the militants who are relentlessly bombing the country's oil infrastructure and have slashed its crude output. But experts say the government of President Muhammadu Buhari lacks the military capacity and institutions to tackle the threat — and military action could make things much worse anyway.
Little is certain about the motives of the Niger Delta Avengers. But the group claims through its website and Twitter feed that it wants a bigger share of the Niger Delta's resource wealth to go to the region's people, and it wants some sort of environmental remediation after decades of rampant oil and gas pollution.
What is certain is that the Avengers are effective. Nigeria's oil production has fallen from 2.2 million barrels per day to roughly 1.6 million after a spate of attacks, which come as the country was already in crisis mode thanks to a rout in global oil prices.
"It's not like an insurgency in the classic sense ... If they find these guys and hunt them down and shoot them, there will be another group the next day."-Gerald McLoughlin, former U.S. foreign service officer
Nigeria has deployed more troops to the delta and begun talks with state and local leaders to address their grievances. This week, Nigerian Oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu called on the Avengers to "sheath their weapons and embrace dialogue with the government."
The Avengers responded in their Twitter feed: "We're not negotiating with any committee. If Fed Govt is discussing with any group they're doing that on their own."
The Nigerian military has slim hopes of finding and defeating the militant group in the delta's swampy network of creeks, say experts. The terrain confounded soldiers during a prior, yearslong campaign against oil militants, who stopped bombing oil installations only after the government began paying them as part of a 2009 amnesty program.
"I think it would be very difficult to tackle this issue using essentially police methods," said John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria. "The delta doesn't lend itself to military or police action, and in fact, it failed the last time there was an insurrection there."