Nigerian militants detonated two car bombs outside a government building in the southern oil city of Warri yesterday, where talks were being held about implementing an amnesty programme.
The attacks, claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), are a major setback for the country's Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, as his government also tries to calm ethnic tensions in the centre of the country. Mr Jonathan has made reviving an amnesty programme and restoring peace in the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa's biggest oil and gas industry, a top priority since he took over as acting leader in the absence of the nation's sick president.
Mend said the explosions were meant to "announce our continued presence". The group warned that it plans renewed attacks against the oil industry in coming days, threatening companies such as France's Total, which have so far largely avoided significant strikes on their infrastructure. "It is quite a statement," said Antony Goldman, a Nigeria expert and head of London-based PM Consulting. "Apparently with timed devices, they have sabotaged not just some lonely, impossible-to-guard pipeline, but an official government building on a relatively high-profile occasion."
The first vehicle exploded on an expressway several hundred metres from Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan's compound, the second at the gates of the building.
"There was a huge explosion ... Every one of us started running helter-skelter," said one state government official, asking not to be named. Witnesses said about six passers-by were wounded.
Several hundred police officers and soldiers in armoured vehicles cordoned off Government House as cars burned on the expressway outside. Security was also tightened around the nearby offices of the US oil company Chevron.
Officials from states around the Niger Delta were meeting in Warri to discuss implementing the terms of an amnesty programme launched last year, under which thousands of gunmen agreed to lay down their weapons.Reuse content