The Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta, a militant group that operates in the Nigerian oil-rich region, appears to have turned hostile against the government of President Muhammadu Buhari whom the group endorsed in the 2015 presidential election.
In a statement through its shadowy spokesperson who signs off releases, Jomo Gbomo, MEND on Sunday passed a vote of no confidence on Mr. Buhari, accusing his government of insincerity and “grand deception” with regards to pledged commitment to the politics and economy of the Niger Delta.
The volatile region has remained largely impoverished, despite decades of oil production that has provided much of the cash Nigeria uses. Trillions of naira in federal allocations to the region have not changed much.
“Without prejudice to the pre-2015 presidential election endorsement freely and voluntarily given to President Muhammadu Buhari on January 6, 2015, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) hereby categorically and unequivocally pass a vote of no confidence on the government of President Buhari,” said Mr. Gbomo.
Before the commencement of an amnesty programme by the federal government under late Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010, MEND had spent years in violent protest of the environmental degradation and socio-economic underdevelopment of the region. It demanded greater share of the proceeds of the oil wealth to improve the region and lives of its people.
Then, the group received global attention, having waged a devastating war on Nigeria’s oil industry, which cut oil production. MEND was also notorious for abducting expatriates for ransom.
Since it became estranged with former President Goodluck Jonathan, an indigene of the Niger Delta, following the arrest of the Okah brothers for alleged terrorism, the group supported Mr. Buhari and demanded dialogue between the government and its representatives as well as other agitators.
But it appears the group now distrusts the president.
“Prior to and after his reluctant meeting with the traditional rulers, opinion leaders and stakeholders of the Niger Delta region, under the auspices of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) on November 1, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari has been carrying on arrogantly and making controversial, prejudicial, conflicting and contradictory statements about the politics and economy of the oil-rich region.
“Prior to the inauguration of PANDEF, the several sessions of dialogue held between representatives of MEND, on the one hand; and those of the federal government, on the other hand; where concessions were secured for the release of the Okah Brothers and several other political detainees and prisoners of conscience was a grand deception on the part of the federal government,” the group said.
The group accused Mr. Buhari of “cunning, crafty and unstatesmanlike rhetoric” about the Niger Delta region, and asked him to stop; otherwise, the ‘fragile’ peace of the region would be in jeopardy.”
The statement came days after the president urged the military to end the “political madness” in the Niger Delta, South East and North East.
MEND added that the Buhari government wanted to “truncate the on-going peace process in Nigeria, sabotage the legal options open to Henry Okah and simultaneously influence the on-going trial of Charles Okah and others, at the federal high court in Abuja, in favour of the federal government.”
Furthermore, the group demanded, “all Niger Delta Militant commanders and/or individuals who were tracked and arrested while observing a ceasefire ahead of talks with the FG should be treated well.
“They should be allowed access to their lawyers, the International Red Cross and a delegation from PANDEF so as to ascertain their well-being and ensure they have not been tortured or killed, extra judicially.”
Mr. Buhari, in 2016, launched a programme to clean up Ogoniland devastated by years of oil spillage blamed on multinational Shell.
A MEND hostility with the government may worsen Nigeria’s economy which largely depends on oil if the group returns to violent methods as it did pre-amnesty programme.
The country’s production is already adversely affected by the activities of Niger Delta Avengers and other groups that commenced attacks on oil and gas installations a few months after Mr. Jonathan left power in 2015.