Nigeria's main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), is threatening to resume attacks on oil facilities in two weeks unless there is more progress in tackling the region’s problems. A spokesman for the group blames what he calls government inaction.
The government says it has already set up a negotiating team led by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and needs more time for the process to achieve results. But MEND says the government is deliberately slowing the process in anticipation of next year’s elections.
There is an uneasy calm in the area following the latest threat by MEND, says Obum Cletus, a community leader in the Niger Delta.
“We have gotten ourselves into a position where the entire Niger Delta and the entire eastern region [are] becoming very tensed up.”
He recalled that just two weeks ago security agents were sent to a camp housing militants in Cross Rivers state to deal with a revolt against conditions there. “It’s a very terrible security situation in the southeast now.”
President Goodluck Jonathan is from the area, but militants say that will not stop them from fighting government forces. Cletus says that would force the Nigerian leader to defend the oath he swore when he took office.
“The point about the president coming from the Niger Delta is [not relevant]. These issues are a precipitation of a lot of activities that have come over the years. You only have an unhappy coincidence that he is president of Nigeria. He is completing the tenure of a northern president and therefore, whatever is happening now is not as a result of his coming from the Niger Delta.”
President Jonathan will have to navigate tricky political terrain to calm the situation, according to Cletus.
“[Mr. Jonathan’s presidency] is becoming a booby trap. He is now in a dilemma.”
The government says the committee is intended to promote discussions with MEND and reach an acceptable solution, but Cletus says officials will have to match their rhetoric with action.
“When the committee was set up, well-meaning Niger Delta leaders said that it was a charade because they did not see how that committee and others [were] going to address the problem without addressing the issue.”