MEND Strikes Back
The latest news from Nigeria's oil transit hub of Port Harcourt, a hotbed of unrest in the Niger Delta region, is that a vehicle that had just previously been carrying Sotoye Etomi, a major official with Nigeria Ports Authority, was attacked by members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) on January 14. According to AFP:
Sotoye Etomi's convoy was attacked with dynamite after it dropped him off. The attack left the driver of the pilot vehicle and two police escorts dead.
What's truly notable about this incident is the identity of the targeted individual. On January 13, Etomi, in his official capacity, declared that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta was not responsible for the explosion on board an oil tanker in Port Harcourt on January 11. This incident was explored in detail in a previous RapidRecon. Etomi instead blamed the explosion on electrical problems.
MEND obviously did not take too kindly to Etomi's assertion and claimed responsibility for the convoy attack in its usual manner, an e-mail sent to journalists. In its communique, MEND spells out the motivation for the attack: to demonstrate to the Nigerian government, to the Nigerian security services, and to the ethnic Ijaw people that it claims to represent that the organization is free to act in the Niger Delta with impunity. AFP's report has more:
The MEND email said that Monday night's attack on Etomi's convoy "was meant to show that nothing happens by accident in the Niger Delta, including the bomb explosion on the oil tanker vessel".
"The government wants to deceive the world that it can guarantee security and peace in the region. Foreign investors should take a prudent cue from A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, ... which has stopped its vessels from calling at Nigerian ports until normalcy returns," MEND continued.
[...]The group warned it intends to step up its campaign of violence, saying attacks would "soon become a daily occurrence".
MEND's message in this attack was obvious and successfully conveyed, despite the failure to kill Sotoye Etomi after his attempt to denigrate the group's capabilities. The attack is also striking in that the group recently pledged to enact a ceasefire if its leader, Henry Okah, was released by Angola, where he is being held on suspected arms trafficking. Whether this overture was merely for PR purposes or a sincere gesture, MEND's attacks continue and its overall strategic aim is clear: to inflict an insufferable amount of economic damage to the Nigerian government by making the Niger Delta, with its huge petroleum reserves and presence of foreign oil companies, an unstable and dangerous place in which to do business.