“To the International Oil Companies and Indigenous Oil Companies, it’s going to be bloody. Your facilities and personnel will bear the brunt of our fury.” – The Niger Delta Avengers

Nigeria’s oil output has plummeted in recent months, falling to about 1.5 million barrels per day. What’s the cause of this decline? It’s the Avengers who are responsible—their name borrowed from the Marvel comic series. With daring and complex sabotage operations at dozens of installations, the Avengers are well on their way to achieving their brazen goal: “Nigeria oil production will be zero.”

The Niger Delta Avengers are different from other terrorist groups in more than just their superhero name. They describe themselves as “young, educated [in Europe] [and] well travelled.” They are not seeking to establish a religious caliphate. Nor are they mere criminals, extorting protection money. Instead, the Avengers claim to be “worthy outlaws,” seeking a distribution of oil rights to local Delta residents.

Interestingly, the Avengers demand what we in America take for granted—the private ownership of mineral rights. Before an oil company can drill on a Texas ranch, it must first negotiate with the landowner. The landowner then receives a percentage of the well’s production. In contrast, other nation’s governments own all of the minerals. Officials can spend, waste, and embezzle as they please.

This status quo is under increasing pressure around the world. Landowners are less willing to let the minerals beneath their lands be taken without compensation. Mexico recently passed legislation granting its landowners a royalty (up to 3%). Boris Johnson, London’s former mayor has called on Parliament to “Give the British people their mineral rights,” explaining that “No landowner, large or small, has any automatic commercial interest in the discovery of shale gas beneath their property. No wonder the shires are in revolt against fracking.”

The Avengers have “cleverly” taken up this cause and branded themselves as superheroes, coalescing support from diverse constituencies—educated professionals, President Buhari’s political opponents (he received only 13% of the Niger Delta vote), Niger Delta warlords, and former rebels from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. This is similar to what happened in the Avengers comic series. Infighting gave way to unification against “the foes no single superhero can withstand.”

Nigeria recently invited the Avengers to join senior officials at the negotiating table, stating that “This government is a listening government.” Perhaps the government’s delegation should watch a few Avengers movies first. Merely listening is not going to be enough for them. As Tony Stark said in the Avengers, “If we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damn sure we’ll avenge it!”

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About the Gaille Energy Blog. The Gaille Energy Blog discusses issues in the field of energy law, with weekly posts at http://www.gaillelaw.com. Scott Gaille is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, an Adjunct Professor in Management at Rice University’s Graduate School of Business, and the author of two books on energy law (Shale Energy Development and International Energy Development).