Alkasim Abdulkadir: MEND Terrorist Organization Or Violent Agitators?

Citizen Mayowa Adeniran, 28, woke up in a joyous mood on the first of October in 2010. His mirth had a tinge of patriotism to it, it was another independence day, Nigeria’s 51st. He left home and alongside his friends went to Eagle Square to celebrate the Independence Day. However, a bomb blast on Shehu Shagari way near the Eagle Square forever changed the course of his life. Though he survived as the bomb exploded he felt a sharp pain in his left ear amidst the chaos before passing out, he will leave the rest of his life damaged ear drums. On 2nd of October, 2010, a day after the incident President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan made a statement, which I personally believe has come to be the biggest faux pa of his administration. In his address at a colloquium in Abuja during a sitting of the ECOWAS parliament he declared that MEND was not a terrorist group. “What happened yesterday was a terrorist act and MEND was just used as a straw; MEND is not a terrorist group,” the President said.

He didn’t stop there he added that the people of the Niger Delta were aware of the efforts of the present administration to address the deprivation of the past and will not do anything to jeopardize the opportunity. But the quote that set the narrative of MEND not being a terrorist organization was the one he said “It is erroneous to think that my people who have been agitating for good living will deliberately blow up the opportunity they have now”.  Two reasons made it the height of unexpected faux pa. The first where he said my people –detaching, in a sensitive diverse ethno-geographical polity like Nigeria, a leader handed a democratic mandate doesn’t use such words. Second was the fact that the Niger Delta militancy was propelled by several years of neglect does not change the fact that it was a violent agitation largely driven by financial inclusion. As such survivors like Adeniran and the families of those who died rightly in the October 1st bombing believe and rightly –so that they were victims of terrorism in Nigeria.

But what really does President Jonathan means when he says MEND were only agitators as stated in his last Presidential Media Chat? Yes, indeed they agitated for economic inclusion which should be a given right, the also agitated for the due diligence and observance of all environmental laws –which is also another germane agitation. Campaigning for human rights is one of the most important agitations any individual or group can advocate for. However, it must be stated that in asking for all this and more, the leaders and members of MEND used violence. Their attacks killed people, destroyed the environment and also caused Nigeria immeasurable economic losses. The latter cost at least eight hundred thousand barrels per day, or over 25 percent of the country’s oil output, according to Nigerian officials. A February 2006 attack on two Royal Dutch Shell oilfields accounted for some 477,000 barrels per day of the reduced output.

The President hides under the cover of selective perception that there is no agreed definition on the concept of terrorism or an international consensus on the definition of terrorism. Because MEND was not canonized or proscribed by the international community was due to tacit approval and the turning of a blind eye by the leaders of the Niger Delta

Their attacks on economic installations and kidnapping of law abiding foreign nationals wouldn’t have been possible without the approval of other unseen state actors.

It is important to trace the trajectory of the role of Niger Delta militants as non-state actors. Under the NDPVF Mujahideen Asari Dokubo began an anti-government rhetoric and succeeded in framing the conflict in terms of pan-Ijaw nationalism and a movement for self-determination. The latter shares a semblance to other non-state actors like the Basque Separatists and the IRA.

Against Asari Dokubo the state government initiated an escalated campaign against him by bringing in police, army, and naval forces that began occupation of the Port Harcourt in June 2004. All settling for one umbrella to perpetuate their campaign, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) led by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) led by Ateke Tom conflict became focused on Port Harcourt and outlying towns. The smaller grouping and camps formed alliances with either Asari and his NDPDF or Ateke Tom’s NDV who provided military support and instruction. When a constituted army fights non-state actors, they are doing so as part of a counter-terrorism doctrine.

By the time the amnesty into force on June 26, 2009, they surrendered rocket-propelled grenades, guns, explosives, ammunition and even gunboats, 3,642 members were part of this surrender.

Finally, Henry Okar the alleged mastermind of the October 1 bombing is currently serving a 23 years jail term, sentenced by a South African court. While his accomplice Edmund Ebiware has also been sent to life imprisonment by a Nigerian court over the same incident, as such they are paying for their actions that have characterized the October 1 bomb blast, as such Mr. President, this foregoing makes MEND, simply and squarely a terrorist organization.

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