The resumption of attacks by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta in the oil producing region is no doubt an additional security concern for the Federal Government that is currently battling to calm the Boko Haram sect, which has executed several bomb attacks leading to the loss of hundreds of lives and destruction of property.
The February 4 attack on Agip trunk line in Bayelsa State, which MEND claimed responsibility for and said it was to serve as a reminder of its presence in the creeks and to mark its resumption of hostilities in the region, came to many as a surprise.
MEND had announced this new phase of its ‘struggle for justice,’ adding that it would pay considerable attention to dealing with security forces and traitorous indigenes of the Niger Delta.
Although recent events such as the Shell Bonga oil spill and the fire incident on Chevron’s near offshore facility, have led to further destruction of the Niger Delta environment and could have triggered the new phase of violent agitation, analysts believe that the impunity of Boko Haram and the seeming inability of government to handle the challenge have emboldened the MEND and other militant groups in the country.
It would be recalled that the violent activities of MEND were once so high that they resulted in an over 70 per cent drop in Nigeria’s oil production and loss of several lives including women and children, in a literally full-fledged war between the militants and the military.
However, after the 50th independence anniversary day bombing in Abuja, and with the amnesty programme, during which over 15, 000 militants surrendered their weapons, MEND became silent and remained so for the past one year, until recently when it began to issue threats of retaliation against Boko Haram.
The President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, Ledum Mitee, told our correspondent that the renewed violent agitation in the Niger Delta was an extreme expression of the feelings of the people of the region and a result of the system operated by the government which celebrated violent militants.
“What you see is a product of a system that gives visibility and even celebrates people who take up arms and engage in violence. When you run such a system and reward people who become violent without dealing with the issues, the system would definitely breed more violence.
“The classic Niger Delta struggle is non-violent and is focused on the issues of the environment, issues of development, issues of resources not reaching the grass roots; the place where this oil is taken, issues of neglect by government. The problem has been like that over the years because of the attitude of government, and even the press, has been highlighting violence and rewarding those who choose to express themselves violently. So you will have more who want to benefit from the struggle by being violent,” he said.
Mitee pointed to the report of the United Nations Environmental Programme, which showed the extent of damage of the environment of Ogoniland, which is a part of the Niger Delta. He said the Federal Government had ignored the report so far because the people of the area had not been agitating violently.
“Six months ago, UNEP came out with a report highlighting the level of environmental degradation of Ogoniland, till now government has not done anything about it, because the people have not carried arms,” he said.
Some leaders in the Niger Delta, who have condemned MEND’s resumption of violence are of the opinion that if the group goes ahead to reduce oil production to zero and chase multinational oil firms away, as it has pledged, the action would be a disservice to the Niger Delta, because the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, who is the first Nigerian president who hails from the region, would most likely be destabilised.
However, Mitee argued that “Jonathan is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not of the Niger Delta. So the struggle of the Niger Delta, of which the violence is an extreme expression of it, is not against anybody. Some people who think that once oil flows, there is peace; not caring about how it affects the people in the area would have to think again.”
In the South-East, the threats of militancy have been mainly directed at the Boko Haram sect, and with threats to carry out revenge attacks on members of the Islamic sect.
One of such groups, Ogbunigwe Ndigbo, earlier this year, vowed to employ ‘extreme violence’ to protect Igbo people.
The leader of the group, Gen. Red Devil Nwokolo, said, “Ogbunigwe Ndigbo, has sworn to the protection of Ndigbo and to avenge any drop of blood of our brothers shed anywhere in Nigeria. We will use extreme violence to protect ourselves where necessary. We have watched the killing of our people all over the North by Boko Haram terrorist group and we are declaring war on this group and any other group that sheds the blood of our people.”
Similarly, the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, Ralph Uwazuruike, warned that if security agencies were not able to bring the perpetrators of the violent attacks in the North to book, the group would have no other option but to avenge the deaths of Igbo in those attacks.
Despite these threats, former Governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a prominent leader in the South-East, told SUNDAY PUNCH that at present, there was no group in the region that was taking up arms.
He said, “There has been a lot of posturing and acting, but no actual militancy in the South-East. As I’m speaking to you, I don’t know of any violent militant group in the South-East. MASSOB is not violent presently but that does not mean it cannot be. It’s members can change. Generally, I believe that when some people continue to act with impunity, it is likely to trigger some other people to try to do the same thing.”
Similarly in the South-West, concerns have been raised over groups threatening to resort to violence, especially in response to the recurring killings of innocent citizens in the North.
Although the threats have mostly come at press conferences and through press statements, the protest march against Boko Haram by about a thousand members of the Oodua Peoples’ Congress on the streets of Lagos, brandishing dangerous weapons, was the most practical of them all.
OPC, which was formed after former Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida annulled 1993 presidential election, and played a significant role in the crisis that ensued then, had been relatively quiet before the protest march.
The founder of OPC, Fredrick Faseun, who led the protest said, “We are against all those things that are distasteful to Nigeria, including insecurity, unemployment and terrorism.”
The protesters warned Boko Haram not to dare detonate a bomb in the South-West, or kill anybody from the region, as such action would trigger violent responses from the group.