London fraud police have arrested a Nigerian state governor and ethnic champion, officials said Friday, triggering a threat by militants to attack British citizens and oil facilities in the restive Niger Delta.
Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of the oil-rich southern Nigerian state of Bayelsa was arrested on Thursday in London and later released on bail pending further enquiries, investigators said.
"The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has been informed of the arrest and questioning by the Metropolitan Police, London," said EFCC spokesman Osita Nwajah.
"The arrest was in connection with an investigation of allegations of money laundering," he added in a statement.
When asked about Alamieyeseigha, a London police spokeswoman said: "A 53-year-old man was arrested at Heathrow on Sept. 15 by officers from the Metropolitan Police SCD6 [specialist and economic crime] in connection with an ongoing investigation.
"He was taken to a London police station and released on bail to return on Nov. 15 pending further enquiries," she added, without detailing his bail conditions.
According to Nigerian newspaper reports, detectives found US$1.8 million in cash in the governor's London home.
News of the arrest sparked anger and fears of further police action in Bayelsa, a region of coastal swamps in the Niger Delta largely inhabited by members of the Ijaw ethnic group, some of whom see Alamieyeseigha as a national leader.
The largest Ijaw militant group issued a threat to attack British citizens and oil firms. The threat was issued before it was known he had been released on bail.
"We advise the British authorities and their collaborators in the federal government of Nigeria to immediately release our number one citizen, otherwise we cannot continue to guarantee the safety of their investments and citizens in our territories," said a statement from the Ijaw Youth Council.
The Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell operates a large network of oil wells and pipelines in Bayelsa and employs hundreds of expatriate workers in the region.
Although a member of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's ruling People's Democratic Party, Alamieyeseigha identifies strongly with Ijaw demands for greater control of their region's oil revenues and is seen as an opponent of the federal government.
He is also the key backer of the IYC, a militant youth group demanding self-determination.
"The federal government in collusion with British authorities are set to deliberately provoke the people of the Niger Delta to violence so that they can invoke a state of emergency," alleged the statement, which was signed by IYC president Oyeinfie Jonjon.
"We reject all such pretences and we will resist all such evil plans of the politicians to take over the only Ijaw state in Nigeria. The British and Nigerian authorities should henceforth cease all acts of exploitation, intimidation and oppression against our people," it warned.
Ijaw militants regularly hijack or blockade oil facilities around the Niger Delta to further their demands for greater autonomy and local investment, and foreign oil workers and sailors have often been kidnapped both for criminal and political ends.
Bayelsa is one of eight states in Nigeria's Niger Delta which enjoy massive revenues thanks to the oil industry, the biggest in Africa.