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Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is one of the most visible armed groups based in Nigeria's Niger Delta region. It is a loose coalition of armed groups partly responsible for disrupting oil-production and kidnappings in the Niger Delta over the last several years. It emerged in late 2005-early 2006, targeting the oil infrastructure in the area, and abducting and holding oil workers for ransom. The group claimed to be fighting for local control of oil resources in the region. However, it was also accused of being engaged in criminal activities, committing acts of extortion and stealing oil for its own benefit.

Multiple sources note MEND's "secretive" nature and the scarce amount of information available on the group's organizational structure, leadership and membership numbers. Various sources note that multiple groups or regional factions may be operating either independently or autonomously under the MEND name or that MEND itself may be an umbrella coalition of different groups. Ike Okonta, a Fellow at Oxford University and the author of Behind the Mask: Explaining the Emergence of the MEND Militia in Nigeria's Oil-Bearing Niger Delta, interviewed some of its declared members directly and describes MEND as not so much an "organisation" but an idea in which many civic, communal, and political groups, each with its own local specificity and grievances, have bought into.

Militias in the Niger Delta reportedly do not have difficulties recruiting members due to socio-economic and political reasons, notably high levels of youth unemploymen.

The majority of MEND members are reported to be from the Ijaw ethnic group, which is the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta. While sources report that there is broad support for MEND from the Ijaw community and other groups throughout the Niger Delta, some Ijaw groups and leaders publicly dissociated themselves from the organization because of its use of violenc. Some Ijaw leaders claim that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta does not speak for the Ijaw people, who are represented instead by the Ijaw Youth and the Ijaw National Councils.

The Jamestown Foundation, a research institution based in Washington, DC, indicated that MEND, which draws members from communities across the Niger Delta, differs from other cults and ethnic militias "placing its struggle in a social rather than ethnic context" (26 Apr. 2007). According to Small Arms Survey, despite MENDís strong Ijaw ethnic militia membership, it "has been diluted by the inclusion of non-Ijaw groups under the MEND name" (Dec. 2007). However, media sources and the Nigerian Military's Joint Task Force (JTF) often identify MEND and its supporters as an "Ijaw group". While the majority of MEND are Ijaw, MEND also has members from Ogoni, Urhobo, and Itsekiri groups.

In an interview with the leader of the Ijaw Youth Council published in the Nigeria -based newspaper Vanguard, the interviewer stated that MEND claimed "that it is not an Ijaw group, [but] that it is a pan-Niger-Delta group with volunteers from Ijaw, Urhoho, Itsekiri, Ikwerre and other ethnic groups in the region" (Vanguard 21 Feb. 2009). While discussing MEND in an interview posted on the United Ijaw States website, Kingsley Kuku, a prominent Ijaw politician, also corroborated the presence of Itsekiri and Urhoho members, while adding that he believed that youths from the Isoko ethnic group were also members. In the same interview, Kuku also stated that "even Yoruba youths" are affiliated with MEND (United Ijaw States 21 Apr. 2009). In Nigeria, the Yoruba are primarily located in the country's southwest, rather in than the southern Niger Delta region.

In 2009 there were allegations that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) sponsored cultist activites on university campuses and supplied student cults with weapons. Some sources reported that student cults and Niger Delta insurgent groups like MEND were closely intertwined. The Jamestown Foundation, a research institution based in Washington, DC, reported that Niger Delta militant groups recruit some of their fighters from existing cult organizations. Additionally, student cults have reportedly extended their reach off campuses and are hiring out their "services" to insurgent groups (Jamestown Foundation. 6 July 2007. Bestman Wellington. "Nigeria's Cults and Their Role in the Niger Delta Insurgency." Terrorism Monitor. Vol 5. Issue 13).

MEND has engaged in the kidnapping of oil workers. MEND has taken Nigerian as well as foreign oil workers hostage. MEND has also conducted attacks against the oil industry infrastructure in Nigeria, but reportedly it has issued warnings to foreign and Nigerian oil workers to evacuate before at least some of its attacks.

Some sources report that the practice by militant groups of "oil bunkering" - stealing oil and selling it on the black-market - required professional assistance, at least initially. A sociologist in Port Harcourt was quoted by the Virginia Quarterly Review as saying that "no illegal bunkering would take place without [assistance]". Sources report that former oil workers have provided MEND with willing assistance . According to the Council on Foreign Relations, militants have now developed sufficient expertise that they no longer have to rely on outsiders for assistance with oil bunkering.

Elements of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta" (MEND), declared a cease-fire effective 15 July 2009. MEND's statement did not represent acceptance of the GON's amnesty offer of June 25, but is allegedly designed to give MEND time to "consult" with relevant stakeholders and put together a team that will convey MEND's "demands" to the GON.

It was, however, unclear who MEND represented since prominent figures in the Niger Delta vehemently denied association with MEND and expressed concerns that any negotiations conducted by MEND with the GON would only serve to secure the personal and political future of those at the negotiating table while neglecting the real needs of the people of the Niger Delta.

The ceasefire agreed to by elements of MEND was allegedly a response to the release on 13 July 2009 under the terms of the GON's 25 June 2009 amnesty offer to Niger Delta militants of Henry Okah, a man linked to a faction of MEND, and variously described as a leader or a chief arms supplier, who was on trial for treason and gun running.

Allegedly speaking for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), self-identified spokesperson "Jomo Gbomo" announced 30 January 2010 the end of MEND's October 25, 2009, cease-fire. Although the exact identity of Jomo Gbomo remained a mystery, little doubt remains that he was closely associated with or may be Henry Okah himself. The extent to which Okah can command and control the key militant leaders such as "Tompolo," "Boyloaf" or "Ateke Tom" remained dubious.

Jomo Gbomo justified the action by the GON's alleged failure to adequately address the grievances of Niger Delta inhabitants. He described the post-amnesty program as "bribing a few thugs" and "giving alms to the youth." He denounced as "preposterous" the GON's definition of "oil producing communities" which, he claimed, would treat communities in northern states through which the pipelines to the Kaduna Refinery pass as "oil producing communities."

MEND faded away after the government instituted an amnesty program in 2009 that gave ex-militants monthly stipends and enrolled some in training programs.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:54:14 ZULU