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Global Insight Perspective
The Movement for the Emancipation the Niger Delta (MEND) has announced its intention to carry out a new set of attacks on oil company facilities and resume abducting foreign oil workers.
MEND's attacks will harm Nigeria's oil industry as President Umaru Yar'Adua seeks a new strategy to end the Delta crisis. Meanwhile, the group's spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, has denied that he was arrested in Angola, stating that it was in fact another leading militant figure, Henry Okah, instead.
Nigeria's oil sector is being overhauled by the government but the issue of security is still paramount, and due to its recent inactivity any new attacks from MEND will be watched closely to see whether it is still a major force in the Delta struggle. It appears that the cults linked to local politicians are responsible for the current violence that is plaguing Port Harcourt.
New Attacks Promised
Renewed attacks on oil facilities and the abduction of foreign workers are likely to occur once more in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, according to Nigeria's most notorious militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). After a prolonged silence, MEND has announced in an email communication with the international media that "With effect from 12 midnight today, Sunday 23, 2007, we will commence attacks on installations and abduction of expatriates. There will be no forewarning of these attacks".
This email was sent by MEND's spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, who has been behind all previous communications. However, it seems that a leading militant responsible for the continuing crisis in the Niger Delta has been arrested in Angola, and numerous media reports are suggesting the man detained is Gbomo, prompting the MEND spokesman to send another communication stating that he has not been arrested. For a couple of weeks Global Insight has known that Henry Okah, a gun-runner and major militant, had been detained in Angola while supposedly trying to buy a boat, though this has only just been reported in the press. Many journalists have held for some months that Henry Okah is the same person as Jomo Gbomo, but we remain assured that they are two different individuals. Gbomo's insistence that Okah, who he refers to as a "silent player in the Niger Delta struggle" was the one that was arrested in Angola on 3 September would certainly suggest this; besides, it is unlikely that an individual held under lock and key by Angolan authorities would be able to email international media.
MEND has been quiet in recent months and played little part in disrupting the presidential elections earlier this year in Nigeria. The militant group has seen local criminals move into the lucrative business of kidnapping expatriate workers, which has added to the deteriorating security situation in the region. However, it appears that MEND now feels that it must resume its earlier actions of pipeline sabotage and abduction of expatriate workers, warning that: "The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta wishes to serve as a warning to those behind this plot; that a repeat of the Ken Saro Wiwa type set-up will fail this time around. For the sake of the on-going peace process the Nigerian security agencies, the multinational oil and construction companies, and their local and foreign collaborators should not take actions that will jeopardise the peace process and take us back to an era everyone is moving away from".
Outlook and Implications
Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua has been trying to implement a new policy in the Niger Delta, while at the same time overhauling the entire energy sector, which includes a massive unbundling and restructuring of the national oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). However, violence still mars the Delta and Port Harcourt, the region's major commercial hub, which has witnessed gun battles between the government's Joint Task Force and militants and young Delta indigenes. The violence in the Delta is now focused on rival "cults" who are sponsored by leading local politicians, which emerged into the national consciousness during the 2003 presidential elections, despite having had low-key operations for years before. It is alleged that current Rivers State governor Celestine Omehia and his predecessor Peter Odili have links to and finance such cults.
It is unclear how the arrest of Henry Okah will affect the security situation in the Niger Delta, but it is believed that Okah is the real power behind MEND and that Jomo Gbomo is its spokesman rather than leader. In recent weeks known militant figures such as Ateke Tom and George Soboma appear to have been sidelined and had their influence dramatically reduced. Meanwhile Alhaji Mujaheed Asari-Dokubo, the leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, has become marginalised since his release from gaol and is likely to become less important in the Delta as he seems to have the ear of the federal government—his release was ordered by President Yar'Adua.The new administration seems to be making huge strides in reforming the kleptocratic oil sector in Nigeria, and with President Yar'Adua out of the country as he is set to appear at the United Nations in New York this week it will be a major setback if further attacks are carried out by MEND. Yar'Adua has been careful in his approach to the Delta since he became president, often sending his deputy, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, to meet with local leaders. The crisis in the Delta is set to get worse if MEND does carry out its threats. Shell is still shutting in 477,000 b/d, which has been offline since February 2006.