9 April 2013

Nigeria: Militants Suspected in Police Killings in Niger Delta

The killing of twelve policemen in Nigeria has raised fears that insecurity in the Niger Delta region could be on the rise.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), has claimed responsbility for Friday's attack, which it mouned shortly after it had threatened to resume its campaign of violence. MEND was an active militant group in the region before a 2009 amnesty.

The Niger Delta, located in southern Nigeria, extends over an area of about 70,000 km². Rampant kidnappings and attacks in this oil rich region make headline news.

The latest attack was carried out last Friday, in Bayelsa state, when armed men attacked and sank a boat with a police crew of 12.

The governor of Bayelsa state, Henry Dickson, confirmed a day later that all 12 policemen had been killed, calling the incident "most tragic, shocking and disheartening".

"The insecurity situation in the Nigeria Delta is alarming inspite of the amount of money that has been pumped into the security budget," said Anyakawee Nfirinowu, deputy director of the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition.

The Niger Delta has been mired in security problems since the early 1990s, mostly revolving around ethnic conflicts and groups such as the Movement for the People of the Niger Delta (MONDP). The MEND rebels are only one part of the overall problem.

Origins of MEND

The MEND rebel group was founded in 2005. It wants a greater share of Nigeria's oil revenues to go to the impoverished region under which the oil is buried.

MEND demands compensation for the pollution caused by oil and gas exploration by international oil companies. For years, this particular group has carried out attacks on oil facilities and kidnapped numerous oil company employees.

"Over the years MEND has changed its tactics," said Elizabeth Donnelly, an expert on Nigeria at the UK-based Chatham House think tank. The group has splintered into many subgroups that have different interests and motives for their attacks." she said.

Key members of MEND signed an amnesty with the Nigerian government in 2009. They were also disarmamed in a bid to bring peace to the Niger Delta.

Former rebel leader convicted in South Africa

Following the March sentencing of their former leader, Henry Okah, in South Africa, some MEND militants in the Niger Delta have vowed to renew their attacks as an act of revenge.

MEND leader Okah was sentenced to 24 years in prison on March 26 for masterminding two car bombings in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in 2010 that killed at least 10 people.

His conviction was followed by a letter from MEND threatening revenge attacks. However, according to Anyakawe Nfirinowu it is still not certain whether the rebel group was responsible for the attack on the 12 policemen. "If MEND really is behind the attack, it is a proof that the amnesty was not successful," he said.

Elizabeth Donolly doesn't believe that MEND was taking revenge for Henry Okah's conviction." MEND was never one specific group you can have different groups claiming to be MEND but not necessarily being part of the original group," she explained.

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