MEND: Agitation carried too far

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Gbenga Adeniji

Life is precious. This probably explains why out-pouring of emotions usually manifests whenever a life is lost in whatever manner. Some would even describe anyone who took the life of another in touching adjectives like callous, wicked, inhumane, evil and devilish among others.

In fact, the court will not hesitate to rule that, ”He must die by the sword, he who kills by the sword,” once convincing evidences have proven his culpability beyond ‘‘reasonable doubts.‘‘

Understandably, it is on the foregoing premise that many Nigerians condemned the bombings in Abuja on Friday which claimed 14 lives and left about 66 persons injured.

The condemnation, which was then in trickle, took on a barrage form particularly when the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for the needless act.

The MEND, which is a militant group in the region, seems to have targeted the country‘s golden jubilee independence celebration to further underscore its messages and agitation. It is an organisation in the Niger Delta region which claims to be crusading better deal for its people whose farmlands and waters have been degraded by pollution emanating from the activities of oil firms operating in the region.

As an oil-rich region, many have repeatedly argued that it amounts to sheer injustice to take so much from the communities and leave them with nothing.

Hence, the agitation by MEND looks genuine to all, especially as the situation continues unabated. The international community also believes in fair treatment for the people. And it has never hidden its stance on this.

Some past activists in the Niger Delta among whom was the poet cum environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, indisputably pursued their people‘s agenda in a non-violent manner. In 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni people were executed by the regime of the despotic late Sanni Abacha through trumped up charges widely believed to be a grand plan to silence dissidents from the region.

But MEND is generally known to have embraced violent means as a way of negotiating better welfare for the people it claims to represent. In the past, the organisation has been linked with unrests in the area, including abduction of expatriate oil workers and bombing of oil facilities.

It has, however, never denied any of these. Indeed, no sooner was any act perpetrated in the region, or elsewhere, than it publicly admitted responsibility.

In line with this tradition, it accepted responsibility for the Abuja bombings.

It was perhaps telling the Presidency not to look any further when the latter was alleging members of a ‘‘small terrorist group‘‘ outside the country as masterminds of the attack.

In the wake of the outcry over the condemnable act, MEND has stated that it forewarned the State Security Service which treated its warning with levity. It also said that it gave another warning on the day of the attack.

The group‘s spokesman, Mr. Jomo Gbomo, in an exclusive e-mail interview with THE PUNCH, said the group warned through its contacts in the SSS that it planned to carry out a symbolic attack during the ceremony. He stressed that as the attack was not meant to kill, there would be no projectiles inside the car.

Gbomo also said it asked the SSS to keep the public away from cars after they heard the first explosion which would not be as powerful as the remaining one.

Apart from the fact that the Nigerian intelligence agencies were aware of the attack as claimed by MEND, there were intelligence reports from the US and UK as well. As a result, both countries ensured that their officials were not present at the ceremony.

Considering the ‘forewarning’ which MEND hangs on before carrying out the attack, it is easy to quickly dismiss the SSS as inefficient and non-proactive, especially as the Western world also hinted on it.

The fact remains that there is no tenable reason for MEND or any other militant group for that matter to be a killjoy on such a day. Even though many Nigerians argued that the celebration was unnecessary, because of the nation’s unimpressive 50 years of post-independence experience. It is not in doubt that every country will have a story to tell in such years of its sovereignty.

What is, however, crucial is the subject matter under guiding the story.

Pitiably, the group appeared to have told the story in a way that leaves the country more dejected, weak and sullied. The story, as narrated by MEND, was totally uninteresting.

It doesn‘t look as if the group is aware that the families of the victims of the car-bombing it claimed it masterminded in March this year near the Government House, Warri, Delta State, are still in grief. MEND planned to disrupt a Niger Delta stakeholders meeting but ended up killing about four persons outside the conference venue.

It was said that one of the hapless victims was a tomato trader who was roasted inside a Mercedes Benz V-Boot at the NPA Expressway.

The attack it visited on the Atlas Cove Jetty, Lagos, in 2009, is still fresh in the memories of Nigerians. The latest bomb blasts by the group are tantamount to what a Yoruba adage calls, ‘‘Climbing the tree beyond its branches.‘‘

By the action, MEND has, no doubt, eroded public sympathy; cheapen its objectives, inadvertently labelled itself as a terrorist group and further portrayed Nigeria as a puppet for mockery on the international stage.

Indeed, red is the road to freedom as a celebrated writer espoused in one of his plays, but the kernel of such liberation struggle becomes a sham when ‘ innocent‘ individuals are made to atone for sins they did not commit.

Gradually, the implication of the action is unfolding with the ongoing prosecution of the group‘s leader, Mr. Henry Okah in a court in Johannesburg, South Africa, over his alleged complicity in the act and for ”contravening the Protection Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and other Related Activities Act.”

In the said e-mail interviews, Gbomo further said the group regretted the death of the civilians in the Friday bombings, adding, ”However, the struggle continues. It may reduce our sympathy base but the success of our campaign is not directly related to the number of passive sympathisers although it is nice to know (that) many people sympathise with one‘s cause.‘‘

MEND may, however, need to know that the tables may turn. This is because its success in the past was largely hinged on public perception of its activities as a ‘militant‘ group and not the ‘terrorist‘ apparel with which it is curiously garbing itself.

The attack has also cast doubt on the success of the one-year amnesty deal which encouraged militants in the region to lay down their arms. It was introduced by the late President Umaru Yar‘Adua‘s administration last year to find lasting peace to the troubled region.

In one of his responses to the question asked in the interviews, Jomo described the amnesty as a scam, saying that the group would not be part of it for majority of the individuals in the ‘so-called‘ rehabilitation camps were hired miscreants.

It is pertinent to note that MEND‘s unending attack and the Federal Government‘s sudden tough posture will not signal a new direction for the country in its present worried state. MEND must learn to sheathe its sword and the government resolute in examining the nation‘s physiology to determine how best to address its ambivalent qualities.


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