The ongoing violence in Nigeria's Niger Delta region has had
a major effect on life in the main commercial city of Port Harcourt. Reporter
Chinedu Offor is there and discussed the situation with English to Africa
Service's Joe De Capua.
can say the city of Port Harcourt is on edge, but it's also a city on lockdown.
I drove into Port Harcourt from the neighboring state of Imo. It's a distance
of about an hour and 30 minutes by road and I counted no less than 20
checkpoints manned by heavily armed police and troops. Within the city of Port
Harcourt itself there are sandbags protecting government installations. There
are troops on pickup trucks with machine guns. There are armored personnel
carriers deployed at strategic parts of the city. People are moving around, but
there's some kind of tense situation. It's a city on edge," he says.
week, a statement from a faction of the militant group MEND, the Movement for
the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, announced it supported a government plan
to create an agency to oversee development in the Delta region. However, other
factions of MEND opposed the plan and violence erupted over the weekend. Offor
explains how the various factions of MEND evolved.
MEND was part of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, led by a militant
leader, Mujahid Asari-Dokubo. But when he was arrested and began consultations
and discussions with the government, other officials of that group decided to
break away and form MEND. Right now, the same process is repeating itself.
There are some elements within MEND that support discussions and consultations
with the government. Those elements support the current vice-president of
Nigeria, Jonathan Goodluck, who is from the Niger Delta. So the group is split
into several factions. There are those who are in the creeks fighting against
the government and against the vice-president, and there are those who support
the vice-president…. Those are the ones who have indicated interest in the
peace process," he says.
says the latest fight has dealt a blow to peace, but he says preparations for
peace talks continue. One big concern is the location of the talks. Original
plans called for holding them in the Niger Delta for symbolic reasons, but insecurity
could prevent that.
adds, "The governor of this state, Rivers State, has also received threats from
MEND that they're going to attack his family. But he said that's not going to
deter any government activity and that he's still going ahead to do what he has
to do. And essentially he's going to take the fight to MEND."
What's more, Offor says there's debate
within the military as to how hard it should strike at MEND. Some say a strong
blow is needed to send a clear message to armed groups in the country. Others
warn is could lead to an escalation of violence, which could in turn result in
huge fires and other major damage to oil facilities.