By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
MEND, dead or alive
WITH the twin detention and ongoing trials of Henry Okah in South Africa and his brother, Charles Okah in Nigeria and the earlier orchestrated delisting from the Movement from the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, of its top leaders like Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, Ateke Tom, “General” Boyloaf, Shoot At Sight and others, the general belief was that the militant group had become a toothless bulldog.
Those who still harboured some doubt, even after the outburst of Boyloaf that the militant group had become lifeless had a change of mind when security agents effectively cloned MEND’s electronic mail address, which is the group’s most powerful communication channel, and dished out counter-messages in the name of its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo.
To say that MEND was taken aback by the successful cloning was an understatement. It was destabilized and humbled, in December, last year.
In reality, MEND lost its voice and could no longer interface the way it used to. It managed to wriggle out of the saga a month later, precisely, January 31, with a new communication channel. But it still did not find its footing until on March 13, nearly two and half months later, when it announced through its new communication channel that would commence simultaneous bomb blasts and attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta and other strategic locations in Abuja and Lagos states of Nigeria.
The Federal Government knows what it means for MEND to wake up from the dead and promptly, security agents were asked to abort the resurrection. The Special Adviser to the President on the Niger-Delta, Mr. Kingsley Kuku was said to have indicated, Wednesday, in Lagos, government’s willingness to dialogue with the group.
As if making a confession or probably displaying an act of diplomacy, Kuku said, “I am not one of those that will rise up to say there is no MEND anywhere. I cannot say that because I know that before amnesty, there had been MEND. After amnesty, Henry Okah, a leader of MEND, was even the first to accept amnesty… So many threats will come, but this particular one, we are not taking it lightly; we are going to look into it. It is about engagement, we are going to engage anybody that is aggrieved, we not going to be tired”.
Without Kuku saying it, the average Nigerian knows what it would mean to the country should the militant group resume hostilities in the Niger-Delta and attack political gatherings in Abuja and Lagos one month to the general elections in April. The impact on the economy at this critical time is better imagined than felt.
That was why the threat by the group that it would restart hostilities in the region on March 13 was not taken lightly. Besides Kuku, some former members of the House of Representatives from the South-South region, led by former Deputy Speaker, promised to reach out to the militant group.
Militants threaten more attacks
But claiming that the government and security agencies were undermining its potency and warning, the group fulfilled its threat on Tuesday by recommencing fresh hostilities in the region with the bombing in the late hours of Tuesday of the Agip Clough Creek Oil Flow Station in Bayelsa State.
The attack on the flow station, however, sent shock waves round the oil industry, as the fear of another round of crisis in the region gripped oil workers. Spokesman for the militant group, Jomo Gbomo, confirmed in an electronic mail, obtained by Saturday Vanguard that similar attacks on pipelines and flow stations would take place in the next few days.
It’s a deception- JTF Commander
However, the Commander of the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta, Major-General Johnson Ochoga told Saturday Vanguard that the claim by the militant group that it carried out the attack on Agip was doubtful, adding, “We are on top of the situation”. Major-General Ochoga stated, “It is a mere claim, information is still sketchy on whether it is MEND or another group. What we are seeing in the media is enough to make any renegade group to claim responsibility. We have nothing to show that MEND is responsible for the Agip attack and by the time we get a clearer picture, we will know what to do”.
But dismissing the military claim, Jomo Gbomo said, “The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) hereby confirms that the attack on the Agip Clough Creek oil Flow station in the late hours of Tuesday the 15th of March 2011 was carried out by our fighters.
“This attack is to mark the start of our promised campaign against the Nigerian oil industry. This attack and similar attacks on pipelines and flows stations which will take place within the next few days is a reminder to the Nigerian government and the general public not to take our threats for granted”.
John Togo cautions MEND
However, another militant group, the Niger-Delta Liberation Force, NDLF, led by “General” John Togo, told, MEND, not to carry out bomb attacks that could lead to the death of Nigerians, saying, such act was not part of the Niger-Delta struggle. The group in a statement, signed by its spokesman, “Captain” Mark Anthony said, “We appeal to MEND to rescind its planned attacks on political gatherings and moderate the attacks to only oil installations, which will one day compel government to change her stiff policies on Niger Delta”.
“NDLF is not yet tired of fighting for the liberation of Niger Delta, but we took a break due to the intervention of prominent Nigerians, especially Mr. Kingsley Kuku, coordinator of the amnesty programme, Pastor Oritsejafor Ayo and Comrade Joseph Evah, who appealed to us on behalf of Mr. President to stop further bombing of oil installations and that Mr. President will address the lingering Niger Delta crisis”, the spokesman stated.
While throwing its weight behind MEND in respect of the liberation struggle in the region, the NDLF in a statement by its spokesman, “Captain” Mark Anthony said it would not support the killing of innocent Nigerians, adding “MEND had issued a threat that it is going to unleash terror in Nigeria over President Goodluck Jonathan defiant approach to the demands of freedom fighters to call a post-amnesty conference to address the fundamental problems of Niger Delta, NDLF want to say that MEND has a point in their threat.
But we want to plead with MEND to moderate its operations to avoid acts of terrorism”.
“MEND must also understand the fact that the principal rule behind Niger Delta struggle is to fight for freedom and justice by destroying the economy through bombing of oil installations and not killing innocent persons through bomb attacks.
Any act of killing innocent Nigerians is not part of the Niger Delta struggle. It is a different agenda and we will condemn it in its entirety”, it added.