Friday, February 9, 2007

MEND - They Need No Introduction

Thanks to everyone who commented on yesterday's post. As Nam and Jeremy identified, The Afro Beat needs to decide on the direction in which its headed. There clearly is a great desire for debate and increased understanding of Nigeria's issues amongst our members, and hopefully with a little more time this will evolve into a clear set of action plans through which to make a difference.

Nkemka has been demanding discussion on the Niger Delta, and in light of the interviews with MEND broadcast on CNN this evening, we've had no choice but to give in. We couldn't get hold of the CNN video footage on MEND aired yesterday. But below is the transcript.


----------

Koinange: "Big Guns, Big Oil, Collide in Nigeria"

WARRI, Nigeria
-- Splashing across the murky waters of southern Nigeria in a speedboat, I suddenly found myself in one of the scariest positions of my journalistic career: masked militants firing machine guns at me and my crew.

We hit the deck, shouting, "We are press! We are press!" Eventually, the bullets stopped flying and the gunmen approached our boat, demanding to know who we were.

As I stared down the barrels of some very big guns, being held by angry young men, I began to have doubts about our trip here. (Watch menacing rebels try to intimidate CNN crew )

The waters are so dangerous in these parts that the Nigerian navy doesn't even dare patrol the region. In a word, it's a no-go zone for outsiders.

"How many times do you people come here with your cameras and nothing is done? We don't want you guys to come here again," one of the gunmen shouted.

But we weren't about to leave so easily.

I had been given permission to come to the region from the militants themselves to find out what is happening in the Niger Delta, where the well-armed militants have been fighting Nigeria's beleaguered armed forces over oil. (Read more about the militants' battle)

These guys in their intimidating black outfits and matching black ski masks looked like any army's worst nightmare. And that's exactly what they've become: Nigeria's worst nightmare.

They call themselves the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND. They insist what they're trying to do is mend what they say is the unequal distribution from the profits Nigeria gets from its oil bonanza. (Gallery: See what the militants look like up close)

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer. In 2005, it was the world's sixth largest exporter of oil, but the conflict there has cut distribution by an estimated 500,000 barrels per day, the U.S. Department of Energy said in November.

Very little of the profits makes it back to Nigeria, and even less makes it down to the mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta.

As a result, MEND in recent months has escalated its struggle, kidnapping expatriate oil workers at an alarming rate (more than 30 in the last month alone), indiscriminately killing Nigerian military forces, and carrying out attacks on oil installations in the region that cut the flow of oil dramatically.

Hostages paraded before my eyes.

Now, as guns pointed at me, I explained we had been given permission for them to take us to their leader. They laughed me off, saying their leader doesn't talk to anyone, especially journalists.

But they agreed to take us to one of their hideouts and show us something no Western journalist had seen: dozens of MEND militants in black dancing and chanting themselves into a trance. Some pointed their guns menacingly at us; others simply tried to intimidate us.

It was MEND military might for the whole world to see. And they told me this is just a fraction of their forces. They claimed to have more than 200,000 troops spread across an area the size of Texas. (Interactive: See where the Niger Delta is located)

As the militants danced, they displayed their latest hostages: 24 Filipino sailors captured on January 20 as their cargo ship tried to take turn into the port of Warri. (Watch the rebels show off their hostages )

It is the largest number of foreign hostages ever captured here at a single time. The Filipinos seemed dazed and confused, their nerves wearing thin as they struggled to come to terms with a fight they said they have no clue about.

The militants fired into the air. The hostages flinched. I thought there was going to be an execution in front of us -- and I'm sure the hostages thought the same thing.

'Our fight is against everybody'

After about an hour, the militants agreed to take me to their leader. They said that due to his superstitions, we could only interview him out in the middle of the creeks and they took us back out into the water.

A short while later, he appeared, accompanied by a small army of heavily armed bodyguards.

He described himself as "Major General Tamuno," the field commander of MEND. He spoke softly through the slits of his black ski mask.

"MEND is a struggle for the liberation of the Niger Delta, the most devastated and the most threatened region in the world," he said.

"Our fight is against everybody -- every institution that don't want the people of the Niger Delta to have their fair share."

I learned this militant leader has a degree in political science from a local university, but he couldn't find work after college. Many of his men are the same -- educated and frustrated.

He told me foreigners working in Nigeria's oil sector should get out now.

"We will take lives, we will destroy lives, we will crumble the economy," he said bluntly.

And with that, the interview was suddenly over.

We were escorted back out into open waters by a convoy of speedboats. As we were about to leave, one of the masked gunmen reissued his group's threats.

"If they don't listen, well, maybe Nigeria will go into pieces. We don't know how many pieces it will go into, but the federal government will not be in peace unless they listen to us," he said.

And just like that, they were off -- speedboats spluttering in the water, gunfire echoing into the crisp afternoon air and, before we'd even put down our gear, the militants were gone.

----------

As a way to get the ball rolling, we're also introducing the American perspective. From CNN.com comes the reaction of one Average American Joe to the Koinange expose' aired yesterday:

"[Yet] another example of how force seems to be used in order to get their word across. I mean really there is no excuse for their behavior...it is terrorism and they should be dealt [with] as such...negotiating with them would be like saying your opinion and ways matter to us, and we might as well pat Al Qaeda on the back too!"

----------

Let's get to talking people! There are no "silent partners" in the 'Revolutionary' business :-)

21 comments:

Misan said...

If you take a look at the transcript of the CNN segment, Anderson Cooper interviews Sebastian Junger from Vanity Fair who points out that the oil companies pay about $1 BILLION to the Nigerian government EVERY WEEK. (in his words: the oil companies, the international companies are -- in a way they are discharging their duties. They're paying the Nigerian government up to a billion dollars a week in oil revenue, 60, 70, 80 percent of their profits.")

Where's the money going? I'm not sure MEND's stance on kidnapping oil workers will get the REGION the $$ they need. They need to look within...at their politicians at the state and local level (who now have more power to run their territories autonomously and unaccountably). Rivers state receives almost N10 BILLION a month in oil revs...if only HALF reached the people, we wouldn't be in this mess...just HALF! Is there really a way to address the corruption going on within these state and local govt levels? Or should MEND turn their guns around and start kidnapping governors' aides, and maybe Baba will start taking them seriously?

Just an aside...
Official data published at the time of the elections in 2003 suggested that OBJ won 94% of the votes in Delta state...doesn't strike me as a state that's madly upset with the hand OBJ's rule has dealt them...but that aside).

Bitchy said...

Misan, I've heard of conspiracy theories that suggest that the Niger-Delta state governments aren't getting off their arses to deal with MEND because they are in cahoots with them. Some have suggested that the two alms are united in their mission to exploit the presence of the oil companies in their region, and to obtain as much $$$ as possible from them!

Could that explain why the situation has been allowed to escalate in this way?

I suppose that could also possibly explain why the billions of $$ of revenue being acquired by MEND is not in fact making its way to the people they are supposedly fighting for. Instead they are enriching themselves (and allegedly, their fat governors too) very nicely through their violence!

Olamide said...

Bitchy ... the conspiracy theory does seem to make sense. Alex Last from the BBC often comments about how politicians in the local regions use these groups for their personal gain. No doubt they started off with noble cause but I believe it is highly probable that they've shifted course and are now focused primarily on enriching themselves. Is it not sad what the article says about their leader?; finished from school but could not find work? I do agree with Misan though that the numbers show that this region should be the most developed region in the country seeing as how they receive the largest share of the oil revenue. So it is the state and local governments that have failed to translate that revenue into social development.
Analyzing costs and benefits, would it not profit the oil companies (in the long run) to play government and build up some of those regions. Whether or not it's their responsibility is debatable but I just think that if they build a few schools and roads (maybe even hospitals), that organizations like MEND have no backing again. Although with the kind of crazy instability that these people seem to have, they might be futile investments. In the words of Archie McNally, the famous sleuth of Lawrence Sanders, 'One never knows, do one?'

Misan said...

along the lines of responsibility on the part of oil companies...this is from my sister (who unfortunately can't join The Afro Beat coz she can't access it at work and has no internet at home....she's in a developing country...Italy!) in response to the National Geographic article on the Curse of the Black Gold:

This is disheartening.

Things are not what they were growing up, and the situation only gets worse. You would think that since my lifetime only spans 25 years, things should not have become so hopeless, in such a short timespan.

The Nigerian government is to blame and of course Shell, Agip, Total,
Chevron and Mobil, but also oil consumers need to be aware of the
drastic consequences associated with their consumption.

Please forward this article to your peers. This way people can take a
stance, and hopefully set the tide of change on the continent.

The fact that shell has the audacity to say they will not meet the environmental targets in Nigeria by the agreed deadline of 2008 is
appalling.

They should be fined exorbitant amounts, so that the opportunity cost of enforcing the law is greater than polluting the land. They have been polluting the land without cleaning it up since 1956. 50 years of pollution, and they do not feel it is time to at least try to change this. But they will invest to build infrastructure to benefit from LNG.

Clearly they have misguided priorities and if the Nigerian govt, is too dumb and greedy to do anything about it, Shell should be held accountable to international business standards, practices and laws, or at least the laws of their country, since they would clearly not get away with such in the EU.

To begin to change this, we must increase awareness of the problems and the plights of the continuously marginalized indigents of the Niger
Delta.

Thank you

l said...

Shell is not the devil in this situation. I don't think the executives at shell engage in schandenfreude at the expense of the NIger-Delta citizens. With regards to the role oil companies play in this situation, most obesevers are missing a key point which is almost always reflected in their comments. Shell is a BUSINESS, their exploration and production activities are carried out to make a profit. Now when half of these profits are paid to the government, how sensible is it for them to spend another chunk of money on another entity's responsibility. That entity being the government that just took half of your profits.

With regards to the enviromental issues, let us not kid ourselves. i dont think there is a soul here that believes oil and gas exploration is a clean and enviromentally friendly operation.
The two main environmental complaints lodged against Shell are gas flaring that causes acid rain and oil spills from pipelines.

Gas flaring - no one wants to flare gas, its like burning money. Methan e is a by product ( that cannot be avoided!) of exploration operations . It also very a useful duel that only recently became valuable gain because of the re-emergence of the LNG industry. Hence, for the past few years the Nigerian government and big oil have invested and will continue to invest billions of dollars in LNG facilities in Nigeria with the aim of ending all gas flaring by 2008. check out nlng.com

Secondly, a good chunk of the pipeline leaks that degrade the environment around these areas are caused by vandalism. The same citizens that complain are engaging in bunkering activities that not only pose a danger to their lives but to their environment. technically they are screwing themselves over and they want someone else to pay for it.

Bearing all this in mind I encourage people to think twice when assigning blame for the problems in the Niger-delta. Every location with oil and gas reserves and multi-national companies exploiting those reserves always have complaints, from Sakhalin in Russia to fields in Saudi Arabia. Everyone complains, but everyone also uses the energy. I don;t anyone driving a Prius.

In the case of the niger-delta, the militants (the phony and legitimates ones alike) have every right to be angry and they should complain if they are not receiving the benefits owed them. But they should complain to the right people , the people who actually owe them, - their state and local governments. I can't get over the part of the Vanity fair article that stated that MEND is advocating for the release of the former Bayelsa State governor. I mean talk about ruining your credibility. MEND is misguided and they are misguiding people who want to be sympathetic to their cause.

Misan said...

@ L,

I agree with your point, the oil companies are paying their royalties as far as their concerned, if the ND people are not getting their share, then that's not their problem. Hence, why MEND is probably trying to MAKE it their problem. Like you said, at this point, MEND seems a bit all over the place, no clear enumerated goals (when they get the money, how do they plan on sharing it among the various ethnic groups and regions). THen like you said, when they start demanding the release of corrupt individuals like Alamieyeseigha, one has to really wonder, what they're up to. who's who in this game? MEND is pointing fingers at the governors and local politicians for creating their own mini-group of kidnappers (the ones who allegedly kidnapped the 24 Filipino workers), saying that it's a PDP plot. What to believe?

Meanwhile, our presido's other pressing state matters continue to have priority over this mess!!

Please if anyone knows where I can find a list of MEND's demands for my perusal, i'd appreciate it. So far, the only articulation i've found is thus: MEND's demands included the release of two Ijaw leaders who were being held in prison, $1.5 billion in restitution for damage to the delicate delta environment, a 50 percent claim on all oil pumped out of the creeks, and development aid to the desperately poor villages of the delta. (Sebastian Junger's "Blood Oil" article)

Dammie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dammie said...

Oh, I couldn't agree more with thet Average Joe on CNN. That's exactly how I feel. I don't know how MEND thinks violence will get them where they are going, and these Americans they are blaming are not helping will be glad to take them all out.

It's definately got them heard now, I never knew about them until this madness, but I think they should use the media to try and propose what they want peaceful. It should get them on the right path.

As for Shell, I don't know why they are even coming up for blame. It's soley the governments problem.

Anyways Misan, here's a list of their demands of such..you'll have to read through or scroll down

---> http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/mend_03-10-06.html

Misan said...

Thanks Dammie! this is the kind of stuff I've seen, reports from various news authorities. I don't think they have clear aims of what they plan to do once they've gotten these pp released, once they've got this $$, and have "more control" of their resources. they talk about compensation for ijaws, but don't mention other groups. well, let's see what our presido comes up with in terms of proposed solutions.

Ifeoma said...

Haven't read all that's been said in terms of comments, but I did read the first two paragraphs of Misan's first comment...The problem MEND has is with both oil companies, AND the government...Oil companies in Nigeria are expected to aid growth and development of the villages where their refineries are located..Some oil companies are playing this role. Others like Chevron, Shell and Mobil ARE doing so, but are giving the money to the wrong hands (are mistake they obviously need to correct very soon!)..For instance, an Addax oil worker was recently (more like a month ago)kidnapped, and found dead two days later. The message Addax got was an apology explaining that they thought he was a Mobil worker! See my point? These MEND people know what they want..They're just going about it the wrong way...Tokini was right as well in that there are some government officials supporting the activities of MEND...I can put my 5 cents on this and say that 99% of them are for political reasons. They sponsor these men to go and cause havoc, and then stage some sort of peace mission as they withdraw these same men. At the moment in Nigeria, the problems in Niger Delta happen to be on the same page as bombings in Iraq - THE BACK PAGE (after the sports section)!!!...THAT'S how much attention this issue is getting...The people want attention but they're not getting it...The government want money, and are now using the attention-seeking MEND men to get it...! It's sad!

Misan said...

"back page after the sports section"... that shouldn't be the case. The Niger Delta pp tried to call attention to their plight the civilized way, with words and calling for dialogue, but no one would hear/listen. so they've graduated to this mode...be it right or wrong, people are being killed unecessarily and a life is never justifiable in a situation such as this that can be solved if some pp put their mind to it.

Bitchy said...

Welcome Ifyomami!! :-D And thanks for the info about the Addax guy. I didn't know MEND had such calculated hostage-selection criteria. It looks as though they have more of an organised mission than people are giving them credit for, not that "credit" is due to their activites of course xx

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