Move over Boko Haram, Nigeria's MEND rebels set to restart oil war in Niger Delta
Leaders of Nigeria's MEND rebel group – and other militia commanders in the oil-rich Niger Delta – say they're ready to launch fresh attacks after two years of relative quiet following a 2009 amnesty.
Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Earlier this month, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was forced to move a large outdoor celebration marking the 51st anniversary of Nigeria's independence from British colonial rule from Eagle Square, a large public space in the capital city of Abuja, to his presidential residence.Skip to next paragraph
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But Boko Haram was not the only group to threaten an attack.
The Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta (MEND) – a militant group from the oil-rich area of Nigeria's predominately Christian South – issued its own threat. It claimed responsibility for a bomb at a similar celebration last year, which killed 12 people, and said it would strike again.
MEND's threat was its most audacious public announcement in years – a sign of its growing frustration over the Nigerian government's decision to shift its attention to the country's mainly Muslim northern half, where Boko Haram operates.
It's also one of the latest signs that MEND and other militant groups that terrorize the Niger Delta region are set to revamp their campaign of attacks after remaining relatively quiet since amnesty was offered to top militant leaders in 2009.
Before the amnesty, in which some militant leaders agreed to put down their weapons in exchange for an unconditional pardon, MEND had been steadily ramping up the intensity and effectiveness of its attacks on oil facilities, causing global oil prices to spike repeatedly.
The amnesty calmed that, but systemic problems in the Delta – extreme poverty, environmental degradation, claims of exploitation by oil companies, and the ever-present threats of crime and violence – still exist.
MEND, while weakened in the wake of the amnesty, is strengthening again, determined to make Mr. Jonathan pay attention to the Delta's woes.
Access to top leaders
MEND and other militant groups typically speak to the media through spokespeople: Access to leadership is rarely granted.
In recent weeks, I traveled through the slums in and around Port Harcourt to interview high-ranking officials in MEND and the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF), the two largest and most capable militant groups operating in the Delta.
I also met with a general in the Icelanders, a smaller group that ruthlessly controls shantytowns along Port Harcourt's waterfront.
What these interviews reveal is a vibrant and active militant movement, simmering with anger and resentment over the government's failure to keep promises.
These groups are primed to fight Boko Haram, a movement they dismiss as irrelevant to Nigeria's future.
These leaders also say that the war they waged against the Nigerian government, which has been dormant in recent years, is about to begin again.
Amnesty's short-lived effect
The amnesty brought about a decrease in kidnappings and attacks against foreign workers and oil installations. This year, these attacks are again becoming common.