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Nigerian Military Beefs Up Security in Delta Region

Nigerian military activity in the troubled oil-producing Niger Delta has intensified following allegations by the army claiming a plot to attack a Chevron oil facility and pipelines in the Niger Delta.

In a statement, the military said troops have been placed on maximum alert to repel attacks on Chevron's Abiteye flow station and pipelines in Delta state. It blamed oil thieves, who are angered by the military's seizure of 24 barges carrying stolen crude last month, for the plot.

Royal Dutch Shell, which has been the prime target of a three-year campaign of attacks on the country's oil industry, says it is unable to fulfill delivery commitments due to explosions last week on a key pipelines feeding the Escravos export terminal.

Former oil minister, Tam David-West, says the the entire Nigerian oil industry is suffering as a result of entrenched corruption and deep-seated individual interests.

"What went wrong is simple; bad leadership, corruption, love of self more than love of Nigeria," he said. "The fundamental problem is greed and fraud. The petroleum industry is where one contract can make you a multi-millionaire. Just one contract. So people that love money and not love for service ruined this industry."

A military task force was deployed five years ago in the Niger Delta to protect oil facilities and their workers from armed militants who claim to be fighting for a greater share of Nigeria's oil wealth for the local people.

The government has announced several crackdowns on the violence, and pledged to address the region's long-standing grievances. But the people of the delta say they have seen many promises of development go unfulfilled and the military response appears not to be working.

Hundreds of both local and foreign oil workers have been kidnapped in the area while a string of attacks have targeted oil installations. Since early 2006, Nigeria's oil production has been crippled by attacks.

Officials say that millions of dollars are lost daily in crude oil stolen in the Niger Delta, home to Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry. Troops have destroyed hundreds of illegal local oil refineries operated by militants in the region.