Thursday, February 23, 2006


Nigeria's shadowy oil rebels.

Delta residents want to share in the region's oil wealth. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which has threatened "total war" in Nigeria's main oil-producing region and is behind the recent kidnapping of oil workers is a shadowy group, about which little is known. The BBC's Abdullahi Kaura Abubakar managed to meet one of the group's leaders, who used the alias Major-General Godswill Tamuno. But he refused to be interviewed on tape or for his location to be disclosed.

Our correspondent says the "general" was not visibly armed and you could easily walk past him in the streets without noticing him. Mend's leaders like to be faceless, our reporter says, and they usually send statements to the media via e-mail. Yet their threats and attacks on oil installations in the region have caused a 15% cut in Nigeria's oil output and a surge in world oil prices. Mr Tamuno told our reporter that Mend was fighting for "total control" of the Niger Delta's oil wealth, saying local people had not gained from the riches under the ground and the region's creeks and swamps. He said the Delta had been exploited for the benefit of other parts of Nigeria and foreign companies and ordered all oil companies and Nigerians whose roots lie elsewhere to leave the region.

Nigeria's oil hope and despair

This argument has been made by several other militant groups who have staged attacks in the Niger Delta in recent years. Nigeria is one of the world's biggest oil exporters and yet most Delta residents live in poverty. There are few major roads in the area and even fewer decent hospitals. The group enjoys considerable local support and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly who is a member, our reporter says. But unlike at least one other group, Mend has not specifically called for the Niger Delta to secede from Nigeria.

This was one of the demands of Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the leader of another militant group which said it was standing up for the rights of the Niger Delta's biggest community, the Ijaws. Last year, his threats of open warfare against foreign oil companies caused similar turbulence on the world markets.

In pictures: Fighting for oil

He was invited to the capital, Abuja for a meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo. He operated quite openly and after talking about independence once too often, he was arrested and is in custody, awaiting charges of treason. Another Mend demand has been for the release of Mr Asari but they insist they are a separate organisation. However, Mr Asari's Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force has gone quiet recently and it is quite likely that at least some of his supporters are behind the new group. While Mend and the other militant groups claim to be standing up for Delta residents, some locals say they are just oil thieves. The region is home to a huge industry of stealing oil and selling it on the black market. This trade is believed to fund the purchase of weapons.


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