MEND is not the only armed militia to
come out of the 20 million people living in the Niger River Delta. But it is
the most militant, determined and effective. After only a year, MEND has cut
nearly a third of the countrys oil production. That's a big deal, and the
rest of Nigeria is paying attention.
Nigeria, with a population of 135 million, has
about 250 tribes speaking over 400 different languages. In the Delta, there are
40 tribes, speaking over 200 languages and dialects. Armed militias are an
ancient tribal tradition, and the tribes have aligned themselves with their own
politicians and political parties. The Niger River Delta is special, though,
because it contains 7.5 percent of Nigerias land area, fifteen percent of the
population, and over 40 percent of the GDP (because that's where most of the oil
is). The oil industry in the Delta is now half a century old, and the people in
the Delta believe they have been screwed. Most of the money from the oil
(nearly half a trillion dollars worth) has left the Delta, and what little oil
money that remained, has been stolen by local politicians. The standard of
living in the Delta has actually fallen since the oil was discovered. This was
followed, in 1960, by the departure of the British colonial government.
Nigerians in general, and the Delta peoples in particular, now realize that the
problem is local. It's Nigerians that have stolen or misused the oil wealth.
Organizations like MEND want to make things better, although MEND is run by the
same kind of thieves and crooks that run the government. Given a choice, MEND
appears as the lesser of two evils. Not much of a choice, but people are angry,
and out of patience. It's an ugly situation, and not likely to turn out well.
This is especially true because there are now splinter groups in MEND, largely
the result of arguments over how ransom money should be split up. While
attacking oil facilities gets the most attention from the government, MEND gets
most of its revenue from ransoms, followed closely by selling stolen oil and
various criminal scams.
May 12, 2007: The government keeps sending
security personnel and bribes to the Delta, but this has not stopped MEND from
shutting down oil facilities. Now MEND is calling for all the oil wealth to
stay in the Delta. The rest of the country would not tolerate this, and would
be willing to attack the general population in the Delta to prevent this from
happening. This could get very ugly.
May 10, 2007: In the northern state of Kano,
Islamic militants have destroyed four movie theaters. Islamic militants accused
the theater owners of supporting homosexuality and prostitution.
May 9, 2007: Local rebel group MEND has
openly called for its followers to create mayhem in the Delta. There has been
at least one attack on oil facilities a day over the past ten days. There were
three explosions that cut oil pipelines. An oil company barge off the coast was
attacked by speedboats full of armed men, and four Americans kidnapped. There
were soldiers guarding the barge, but they were driven back by gunfire, and
several of them wounded. So far this year, over a hundred foreigners have been
kidnapped in the Delta. In the last eight years, over 250 foreigners have been
kidnapped in the Delta.
Eleven kidnapping victims (three South Koreans and
eight Filipinos) were released, after the payment of ransoms. The amount was
not announced, in an attempt to not encourage kidnappers. But word on the
street is that you get at least $100,000 if you can grab a foreigner. There are
lawyers, businessmen and politicians who are making big commissions by
brokering these deals.
May 8, 2007: MEND, and other rebel groups in the
Delta, have now shut down 850,000 barrels a day of oil production in the Delta.
That's $19 billion dollars a years worth of oil sales, and 30 percent Nigerias
total oil output. It's a big deal. While many other armed groups have been
bought off by the government, MEND is out of control and determined to get
May 7, 2007: A Belorussian
woman was kidnapped, and $1.2 million ransom is demanded. The woman, married to
a Nigerian, works for an oil service company. Belarus doesn't even have an
embassy in Nigeria, and Russia is handling the negotiations. The kidnappers may
get $100,000 or more for the victim, which is a lot of money (more than a
hundred times the average annual wage in Nigeria). In the last week, at
least 28 foreigners were kidnapped in the Delta.