LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigeria's main militant group threatened Wednesday to destroy the nation's major oil pipelines within 30 days to counter allegations it had struck a $12 million deal with the government to protect them.
The state-run oil company, however, denied the existence of such a deal and said local media had misquoted company officials.
A spokesman for the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta alleged the director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had claimed his state-run organization paid militants millions of dollars to protect pipelines instead of attacking them.
To prove "we are not a part of this deal, the Chanomi Creek pipeline and other major pipelines will be destroyed within the next 30 days," the militant statement said.
The Chanomi Creek pipeline is owned by Nigeria's state oil company and is strategic line that supplies crude from western Delta to two major refineries.
State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos would not comment on a particular oil pipeline threat, but told FOX News, "We condemn any resort to violence in the Niger delta. We support dialogue to deal with legitimate concerns."
Militants say their campaign of oil-infrastructure attacks is aimed at forcing the federal government to send more money to the six states comprising the southern Niger Delta. Such attacks have slashed this west African nation's oil output by almost a quarter in the past two years, helping push world crude prices to historic highs.
"MEND will never sell its birthright for a bowl of porridge when the impoverished masses in the region continue to live in abject poverty," the statement said.
Oil company spokesman Livi Ajonuma said local media had misquoted company officials and "totally misunderstood" details of the payments.
"This money was not paid to militants. Militants are men with guns. How can we give them money?" he told The Associated Press. "Rather, the money was given to a legitimate repair and surveillance company from the local community for their services."
The militant e-mail said profits of the alleged deal were split among military and government officials. The group also said "huge payments" had been made by authorities to criminal gangs in the Niger Delta to protect oil facilities, but those groups were not part of the militant movement.
Ajonuma said he could not comment allegations the money was pocketed by military or state officials.
Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and is routinely ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Before serious attacks targeting oil infrastructure began several years ago, the country has produced about 2.5 million barrels of oil daily.
The Associate Press contributed to this report.