A faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has reportedly attacked either a Royal Dutch Shell or Chevron pipeline in the delta region. The Niger Delta Joint Task Force (JTF), the security force tasked with dealing with the region, has yet to confirm the attack. MEND claims that the government is using the poor health of President Yar'Adua, who is receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, to delay reconciliation talks (some officials have called for Yar'Adua's resignation due to his illness). An indefinite ceasefire has been in place since late October. If this attack actually happened, it is the first attack on an oil installation since the ceasefire was put in place.
The ceasefire came after significant conflict during the summer. The JTF launched a major operation against delta militants in May and, in return, MEND, which serves as sort of an umbrella organization for several anti-government groups, launched a relentless campaign against foreign oil company facilities in the region, with attacks occurring on a daily basis.
The Delta Conflict has been a huge drain on Nigeria, which is heavily dependent upon oil for government revenue. It is estimated that the country only produces at about 2/3 of its capacity due to these kinds of attacks and illegal oil bunkering or theft (ingenious bunkerers actually tap directly into pipelines and steal oil). Foreign oil workers have also frequently been kidnapped.
The people of the Niger Delta, such as the Ijaw, have quite legitimate grievances. They are the most resource-rich area of the country, but are plagued by poverty and underdevelopment, despite promises from Nigeria of reinvestment and development. Part of the problem is that Nigeria is that the entire oil sector is terribly corrupt. In fact, it is believed that much of the militancy and theft in the delta is actually connected to local politicians.
The campaign against foreign oil companies actually began as a non-violent movement led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was later tortured and murdered (Shell has been implicated in the murder, and recently settled with Saro-Wiwa's family to the tune of over $15 million). However, the movement became more and more militant as government promises never came to fruition.
This attack could mean that this dark period for Nigeria will continue indefinitely. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.