Organization such as Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) is known for hostage taking, kidnapping for ransom, pipeline vandalization, oil-theft, arson and ambush. As of date, more than five hundred oil workers, politicians, actors, children, and other important personalities have either been kidnapped or taken hostage.
At first, the group argued that kidnapping and hostage taking were introduced to force crude oil experts involved in exploration in the Niger-Delta areas to pressure Nigerian government to take positive steps towards ameliorating the environmental, social and political problems deteriorating the Niger Delta area. Recently, the trends and patterns of hostage taking and kidnapping differ markedly from using it as proxies to get government attentions, as the groups now focus more on the ransom paid to ensure release of the oil industry workers.
Today, MEND targets are the foreign nationals irrespective of whether they work in the oil industry or anywhere near the oil-producing areas or not. The primary intention is that when such people are kidnapped; their relatives and embassies would pay whatever amount to ensure that they are release.
Since late 2005, the resistance against the state and multinational oil corporations operating in the Niger Delta region has taken a more violent and sophisticated turn with the emergence of MEND. Attacks on oil facilities and the abduction of expatriate and local oil workers (and family members in some cases) by insurgents has been on the increase.
The activities of this and other various groups operating in the Niger Delta region have led to the shutting-in of about a quarter of the nation’s daily oil production. The crisis is however the direct culmination of largely unaddressed hardship suffered in the regions such as land dispossession and pollution, marginalization and political repression.
For example, the UNDP report on Human Development in the Niger Delta puts the poverty rate in the whole of the South-South region of Nigeria (including the Niger Delta) at 74.8% and further asserts that the people of the region are been deprived the benefits of the oil industry such as employment, because they lack skills or capital resources or both” required for participation in the industry.
MEND is the most recent resistance group in the Niger Delta region. The group seeks to win the right of local oil producing communities to participate in Nigeria’s oil industry. This is with a view to securing benefits – royalties, employment, infrastructure, and compensation for the degraded environment caused by oil activities – from the federal government and oil companies.
In November and December of 2005, two explosives were detonated in the creeks of Rivers State, destroying two Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) pipelines located in Okirika and Andoni axis with no person or group(s) claiming responsibility.
Also, on January 11, 2006 an SPDC oil-field located about 20km offshore was attacked, damaged and four expatriates were kidnapped by militants after a violent gun duel with the military guarding the oil-field. The dust had barely settled when on Sunday January 15, 2006, MEND militants “attacked and destroyed one flow station and two military house-boats belonging to SPDC in Benisede, Bayelsa State”.
Furthermore, in January 2007, four foreign oil workers were abducted at a Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) location in Bayelsa State. In the early hours of Saturday February 18 of 2007, Ijaw youth launched series of coordinated and devastating commando-like attacks on specifically selected and strategically located oil facilities and installations in western Niger Delta.
In March of the same year also, the same Ijaw youths took hostage of about another nine expatriate oil workers, while by April; thirteen expatriates were kidnapped in Port Harcourt alone. In summary, more than five thousand foreigners, most of whom are from America, Britain, Thailand, Egypt, and the Philippines have been kidnapped and taken hostage by MEND group.
These actions of the youths brought about a new dimension in what is going on in the Niger-Delta region, as the youths were ready to make the whole world know that the Nigerian Government has no control over what is happening within its borders, most especially in the oil rich Niger Delta.
Before 2008, no group or organization ever dared the Nigerian Army. For example, in December 1999 when 12 policemen were brutally murdered by suspected Ijaw youths at Odi in Bayelsa State, the Nigerian Military sacked the entire town of Odi. Similar terror actions have occurred in Jesse, Jos, and one other place in northern Nigeria.
Now, the youths are confronting the Federal Government and striking where it matters most: oil, the economic strength center of Nigeria. As leader of MEND and most wanted militant in the Niger Delta, Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo said that these coordinated attacks against the oil companies in the region are because they are ready to “take their future in their own hands”, actions, which have since forced Nigerian government to set in motion processes of negotiation that ultimately brought about the on-going Amnesty Programme.
Since the beginning of 2008, kidnapping and hostage taking have gotten to new heights. Many Nigerian politicians, university lectures, kings and their chiefs, musicians and movie industry workers have been kidnapped from one point to the other. Anybody can be kidnapped.
More often than not, kidnappers and hostage-takers hardly kill victims, although a number of deaths have been recorded. Whenever a person is kidnapped, the family, company or embassy of the country of the victim is notified and a price is to be paid for his or her release. Prices are placed on the kidnapped based on the worth of the victim.
If an important personality with influence in government or oil magnate or better still children of any of these is kidnapped, the price is usually high. The former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles C. Soludo’s father was kidnapped and released after a whopping 200 million naira was paid to the kidnappers. Actors Peter Edochie and Nkem Owoh, two of Nigeria’s famous movie stars, were only released after 20 million and 1.4 million naira were paid respectively.
According to the spokesperson of MEND Jomo Gbomo, MEND’s aim and objective, “is to totally destroy Nigeria’s capacity to export oil”. These various attacks and shut-in of 400,000 bpd led to increase in the price of oil on the international market. Commenting on the strategy Boyloaf, then MEND Commander, explained that it was based on targeting oil facilities rather than the military. In his words:
I believe the economy is the power. Like you may have known, I don’t believe in fighting human beings, I believe in crumbling the economy. On my way crumbling (sic) the economy, if any military man comes across me and tries to stop me, I mean those people will kiss their graves. My bullet, nozzle is always targeted at the flow stations, pipelines etc, I don’t believe in fighting human beings.
Having known that the disruption of the flow of oil from the Niger Delta to the global market would have a most potent, disastrous and devastating effect on the federal government, oil companies and international community, the MEND militants withdrew from the cities of the Niger Delta and went into the maze of creeks. The numerous attacks on the oil industry infrastructures, particularly oil production and oil export had the effect of cutting oil production and pushing up the price of oil in the tight and nervous global market.
MEND as a group/movement has no clear leadership structure. The anonymous or veiled spokesperson Jomo Gbomo is the only known face of MEND. Jomo Gbomo who is known only through press statements released to the media. The movement is a loose coalition of shadowy groups (cells) and a variety of leaders scattered across the states of the Niger Delta, who sometimes are unaware of events undertaken by other groups until such events are publicized.
The decision to have a multiple command structure, a diverse and amorphous leadership is to make the movement difficult to contain, but effective in guerrilla warfare extending over the whole region. This strategy is aimed at avoiding the fate in earlier movements in the region with a visible leadership such as MOSOP, NDPVF, and EBA etc, whose leadership/top hierarchy was easily targeted for elimination, or compromised by the oil companies and the government.
This “invisible” nature of MEND constitute to an important factor making the organization difficult for the government, oil companies and even the military to target and effectively neutralize its activities in the crisis of the Niger Delta.
This use of local force to block the global oil trade has been significant in two ways: on the one hand, it has brought about more global attention being focused on the situation in the oil producing communities in the region, particularly the plight and demands of the people, while on the other, it has increased the energy security stakes of the world’s established and emerging powers in the region.
MEND has tapped fully into acts likely to draw global attention to the Niger Delta: the kidnapping of foreign nationals as hostages and the shut-ins resulting from the destruction of oil facility that contribute to the higher price of crude oil. These violent or terror acts have been connected to a sophisticated strategy for engaging global media through the use of IT, and drawing the attention of intervention agencies to the crisis and plight of the people in the region.
The Joint Task Force (JTF) has always maintained that MEND and other militia groups in the region are criminals and miscreants who have been involved in illegal oil theft and other criminal activities over the years and must be removed for the free flow of oil. This view resonates in a leaked military report by the then commander of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta (2006-2008), former Brig. Gen. L.P. Ngubane, “Brief for Chief of Defence Staff on Strategies to Stem out Militant Activities within the Joint Task Force Operation Restore Hope Area of Responsibility”.
It was reported that the militants intercepted this report and subsequently released it to the media. In the report organizations such as MEND, MOSOP, INC, IYC, NDPVF and FNDIC are tagged as militant groups that must be destroyed. The document highlights militant leaders in the region and estimates their capabilities, weaponry and manpower.
Marked for total destruction are Ijaw communities such as Oporoza, Kurutie, Kunukunuma, Okerenkoko and other villages in Gbaramatu clan, Delta State, which promotes militia activity. The report also identifies Ijaw communities in Bayelsa and Rivers States that should also be targeted by the military campaign against Niger Delta insurgents.
The emergence of MEND has redefined the socio-economic space and political ecology of the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole. By resorting to armed struggle, the organization has tapped into the local-global dimension of the quest for resource control in the Niger Delta.
International Crisis Group (ICG) postulated that the root causes of the Delta insurgency are “well known” and include violence, under-development, environmental damage, lack of credible state and local government institutions and endemic corruption. ICG reports that MEND demands resource control, compensation for decades of environmental damage and the release of two imprisoned ethnic Ijaw leaders.
Read also: Impacts of Terrorism in Nigeria (part 2)