Nigeria: MEND resumes rebel activities, but who gains?

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The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) has again declared war on Nigeria’s oil sector. The group claims that the federal government had done nothing, during the three months cease-fire period to resolve the issues in the oil-rich region. But is the resumption of hostilities motivated by greed or grievance? Could Nigeria root out the quagmire without involving the greedy political sponsors of the rebel groups? According to analysts, a win-win situation as announced by Pesident Yar’Adua, would translate into a win situation for the Niger Delta only if the vicious cycle is addressed.

“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta resumes its hostilities against the Nigerian oil industry, the Nigerian armed forces and its collaborators with effect from 00:00 hours Friday, Oct. 16,” the group is reported to have said in an e-mailed statement. Poverty, environmental devastation and the lack of social amenities in the Niger Delta has been the rebel’s grounds for revolt.

A 60-day ceasefire had been declared by the rebels on 15 July to allow for peace talks, during which a presidential amnesty offered education, rehabilitation and money to the militias in exchange for their agreement to stop rebel activities.

As many as 15,000 oil militants active in the delta, including some of Mend commanders, surrendered under the two-month amnesty, which expired on 4 October, a recent statement from the amnesty and disarmament committee indicated. The rebel group reportedly set up a committee — which included Wole Soyinka, a 1986 Nobel laureate in literature, to run negotiations with the government but talks never transpired.

The apparent success of the program prompted Nigerian president Mr. Umaru Yar’Adua to announce, Wednesday October 14, that agitation was over and that development must take place in the region for peace to continue. “The general amnesty I extended to all militants in the Niger Delta has led to the laying down of arms and a return of peace. Our role in ensuring stability of the energy market has led to a win-win situation for all participants in the market,” Yar’Adua said, speaking to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ Secretary General Abdulla Salem el-Badri.

Motives, Resources, Geography

But many observers believe that not all the rebels are looking for a win-win situation. “Greed and Grievance in Civil War,” a research study by Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, indicates that a rebellion may be explained by atypically severe grievances, such as high inequality, a lack of political rights, or ethnic and religious divisions in society. Alternatively, it might be explained by atypical opportunities for building a rebel organization. Opportunity may be determined by access to finance, such as the scope for extortion of natural resources, and for donations from a Diaspora population. Opportunity may also depend upon factors such as geography: mountains and forests may be needed to incubate rebellion. The Niger Delta offers the motive, resources and the geographical features needed to breed such a rebellion.

It therefore comes as no surprise thet the group has once again declared war on Nigeria’s oil industry, saying that the disarmament ceremonies were staged displays, while insisting that the amnesty failed to address key issues of under-development and injustice in the Niger Delta. “In this next phase, we will burn down all attacked installations and no longer limit our attacks to the destruction of pipelines,” the email said.

The rebels claim to be fighting to help local people benefit from the region’s oil wealth, and have funded their activities with oil theft, extortion and kidnapping. Their attacks on oil installations have significantly cut Nigeria’s oil output and affected oil prices; forcing down output from 2.6 million barrels a day to 1.7 million currently, putting Nigeria’s position as Africa’s top oil exporter under Angola. The attacks cost the country $1 billion a month in lost revenues, according to the central bank, and has helped to push up global energy prices.

Grievances or Greed?

According to Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, the economic accounts of civil war explain rebellion in terms of opportunity; that opportunities are more important in explaining conflict than are motives. A particularly powerful risk factor is dependence upon primary commodity exports. A likely explanation is the scope these activities provide for extortion by rebel organizations.

Questions over whether the Niger Delta rebels are really fighting out of grievances over poverty, environmental devastation and the lack of social amenities in the Niger Delta are rife in the Nigerian society. The answer perhaps will be evident in the Nigerian government’s response to this recent declaration of war on the country’s oil sector by Mend. Many believe that this declaration of war could also be a golden opportunity for the government to blame the arrest of development efforts in the region on the resumption of rebel activities. A win-win situation should translate into the government and the rebels, as well as their sponsors, sitting down to draw a blueprint for development in the Niger Delta.

Meanwhile, experts believe that illegal arms proliferation in the country, particularly in the Niger Delta, is being fuelled by political godfathers in Nigeria as well as foreign governments and institutions. Activists have accused these officials and their allies of recruiting and arming young men. Sources close to the former government of President Olusegun Obasanjo said many of the Niger Delta’s militant groups were originally armed by political godfathers, who purchase hot commodities from combatants, operate timber or mining concessions offered by warlords or rebel forces, facilitate shipment of illicit raw materials, etc.

The Niger Delta quagmire, is a vicious cycle that should be dealt with at source as the rebels are only pawns in a complex web of corruption and crime.

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