Three soldiers have been killed by suspected gunmen disguised as priests in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region. The soldiers were shot dead and had their weapons stolen at a jetty in Nembe town, an oil-producing community in Bayelsa state.
The BBC is reporting that at least three gunboats may have been seized from the army in the latest attacks. Security officials say the dead soldiers were part of “Operation Crocodile Tears,” which was formed to protect oil installations in the Niger Delta.
The attackers, who struck at about 10:00 am Monday, are said to have come in an SUV and suddenly opened fire on the soldiers, catching them unaware. The Vanguard reports that the gunmen fled the scene of the shooting after splitting into two groups; one group fled in the SUV while the other disappeared into the creeks with the stolen gunboats.
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Monday’s shooting took place at the same location where five soldiers and a policeman were gunned down and their weapons seized about a year ago. As at the time of this report, no group has claimed responsibility for those attacks, and the motives of the gunmen remain unclear.
Nigeria’s Niger Delta region has witnessed an upsurge of violent attacks from several newly formed, armed militant groups that have been targeting major oil installations or security personnel since the 2015 elections brought President Muhammadu Buhari into power. The attacks have all but crippled Nigeria’s oil production and cut the country’s expected revenue earnings from the sale of crude oil. Combined with the recent slump in oil prices, the loss of revenue has sent the Nigerian economy into a crisis that the nation’s finance minister has labelled a technical recession.
The militants say they are agitating for greater autonomy for the region and an increased share of the dividends from the oil revenue extracted from their region, which continues to remain one of the least developed within Nigeria. The militants have also criticised the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to end the “amnesty payments” to ex- militants.