A rebel group in southern Nigeria that has carried out dozens of attacks on the oil industry declared its support on Thursday for the main opposition candidate in this weekend’s election.
The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) called on people in the region to vote for Atiku Abubakar, who is challenging incumbent Muhammadu Buhari for the presidency.
The group said Abubakar’s “political ideology” fitted its campaign for “equitable and fair principles of federalism.”
But it warned that Abubakar had to implement restructuring reforms “within six months to forestall further agitation.”
The group also warned that “strike teams are active and gallantly waiting to receive instructions from the high command to cripple the Nigerian economy again” if Buhari wins.
The Avengers have attacked oil and gas pipelines in a campaign for a more equitable distribution of revenue from Nigeria’s energy treasure.
Despite the billions of dollars in earnings since oil was first discovered in commercial quantities in the late 1950s, the majority of people in the south still live in poverty.
That has fuelled protectionist sentiment from some in the south that the oil “belongs” to the people of the region and should not be shared across the rest of Nigeria.
Restructuring Nigeria’s federal system is a perennial election issue and Abubakar has said he is in favour of devolving more power and resources from the centre.
Under the current system, federal funding is given every month to Nigeria’s 36 states, the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja and 774 local government areas.
The money comes from revenue generated by the states themselves.
But more prosperous states — particularly oil-producing ones — have long complained they are subsidising their less productive counterparts.
Nigeria is Africa’s leading oil producer but the NDA attacks cut output, combining with low crude prices globally to plunge the country into recession.
Oil sales account for some 90 percent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings and 70 percent of government revenue.