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.
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Militancy bred in the slums
After Ateke Tom, the notorious leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante, accepted amnesty, the group split into smaller factions, according to sources close to the militancy.Skip to next paragraph
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One such group is the Icelanders, which controls slums along Port Harcourt's waterfront as well as on the island of Okrika in the Delta.
I met with an Icelanders general named JB in one of the shanties he controls. JB seems to lack the sophistication of the MEND generals or Dumo, but his passion is unmatched.
He throws his hands about as he rants about government inaction. His eyes are wild with rage as he compares the Niger Delta community to the Israelites, each deserving of a Promised Land.
His soldiers stand outside and watch me closely through an empty window frame.
"The Okrika man is silent. He is watching what the government will do," JB says. "If need be, we will come out again in our full force in arms."
JB is joined by his second in command, Lucky Lagogo, and a bodyguard named George. When I bring up Jonathan's amnesty offer, all three men become agitated.
"The amnesty paid a few people; a few people took that money. I want Goodluck [Jonathan] to pay everyone in the Niger Delta!" George shouts.
"The government [doesn't] honor gentlemen. They honor those who are radical. By paying the ones who are radical, you pay the gentle ones to become radical," says JB. "Let [amnesty payments] go around to all youths in Niger Delta. When it goes down to the youth, there will be peace."
JB leans over and puts his finger in my chest.
"You are a live witness," he says. "You came to this community today. You can see people struggling. They are supposed to be empowered by the government."
All of the militants I spoke with are dismissive of Boko Haram and the threat the Islamist group poses to the country.
The MEND generals say they sympathize with the group's grievances, but that they do not approve of their tactics, particularly the random killing of Christians and the burning of churches.
'The answer is Western education'
When I ask TK what would happen if Boko Haram entered the Delta, he waves the question away.
"Boko Haram should not come here," he says without elaborating.
Dumo is more animated in his criticism of the group. He says its members are looking for a payout similar to the one the Delta rebels were offered during amnesty.
"The answer is Western education," he says, referring to Boko Haram's name, which translates to "Western education is a sin." "To hell with Boko Haram."
JB, for his part, offers the Icelanders' services to fight Boko Haram. He says the Niger Delta brings oil wealth to the country while the north produces nothing.
"The problem of Boko Haram is not a problem," JB says. "We'll tell the nation to observe and declare a 48-hour war between Boko Haram and the Niger Delta youth."
"Let them see what happens. If it comes to that, we will be very much grateful," he adds. "We must shame them to the general public. Boko Haram has nothing to be proud of."
--- David Francis reported from Nigeria on an International Reporting Project fellowship.
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