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Nigeria's Niger Delta Militants Issue New Threat

In Nigeria, the militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it intends to spread its agitation from the oil-rich region to other parts of Nigeria. In an email sent to journalists late Thursday, the group said it will attack major bridges and other non-oil sector-related infrastructure throughout Nigeria.

Doctor Chris Ikeyor is a dental surgeon and president of the Ijaw Youth Council, the umbrella organization that addresses the socio-political and radical questions of the Ijaw people of the Niger Delta region. He told VOA that the problem of the Niger Delta is a Nigeria problem.

“The other regions of the country probably may not understand the pains that the people of the Niger Delta are going through. So I think that a fraction of MEND strongly feels that there is a need to drive this struggle beyond this point. But under my leadership, I have insisted that we must stay action for now and negotiate our destiny one more time. For that reason, we have set up a network to reach out to the appropriate quarters and to ensure that nobody goes out of the way to do something different from the collective,” he said.

At the same time, Ikeyor brushed off criticism of MEND’s plan to expand its agitation by attacking major bridges and other non-oil related infrastructure outside the Niger Delta.

“The problem of the Niger Delta people is a collective one; it’s a Nigerian problem. The Niger Delta is part of Nigeria, and if there is a problem in the region and the other parts of the country seem to be comfortable with what’s happening in the other region, it seems there is a dichotomy, a dichotomy of class, region, of tribe, of people. It’s not out of place to drag everybody into that mess. But incidentally in the MEND leadership we are talking about peace and dialogue, and we will not allow that to happen. We are trying to talk our colleagues and members of the movement to stay down their action,” he said.

In its email, MEND said it was determined to make the Nigerian military busy enough to justify the military’s huge budget for security in the Niger Delta.

Ikeyor said he agreed with MEND that the wealth of the region should be used to develop the region and not to oppress its people.

“Everybody in the Niger Delta is concerned because first and foremost all the agitation in the Niger Delta is about insecurity. It is a question of underdevelopment, poverty, neglect of a people. I think that acquiring more military armament will not solve this problem. Violence begets more violence. I think government should focus on capacity building, infrastructure development in the region to create an enabling environment for investment. And once that is done, the crisis will die away. You need no military might to intimidate anybody because it won’t solve the problem,” he said.

Twenty-one Cameroonian soldiers were killed earlier this week in the disputed Bakassi Peninsula. The Nigerian military said its soldiers were not involved in the killings. However, it said some militants from the Niger Delta might have been responsible.

Ikeyor said while the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon by the Nigerian government did not go well with some Nigerians, Niger Delta militants played no role in the killings of the Cameroonian soldiers.

“First and foremost the genuine agitation for the struggle for the survival of the people in this region would have no business fighting any group in Cameroon because we are not at war with anybody. The issues that are vexing for our people concern our government and the multi-national national affairs, not Cameroonians. However, it’s concerning to know that the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon is a ceding that didn’t go well with all Nigerians,” Ikeyor said.