The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) announced New Year’s Day that it had passed a vote of no confidence in President Buhari. Prior to the 2015 election, MEND had endorsed President Muhammadu Buhari, rather than Goodluck Jonathan.
MEND is a shadowy organization that spearheaded the attacks on Nigeria’s oil production from 2005 to 2009. Its principal demand has always been that a greater proportion of Nigeria’s oil wealth should go to the area that produces it, the Niger Delta. MEND violence declined after President Umaru Yar’Adua put into effect an amnesty, the essence of which was payoffs to the insurgent leaders, training programs for insurgent fighters, and militant arms surrender. In effect, the amnesty did amount to a resource transfer to the delta. President Buhari’s administration has said that the program will end in 2017.
That MEND should turn against Buhari is no surprise. His goals are antithetical to those of the militant group. Buhari is devoted to the principle of Nigerian unity; MEND wants greater regional autonomy, if not independence. (MEND statements are inconsistent with respect to autonomy or independence.) Buhari seeks the reform of the petrochemical industry; MEND seeks to control it. The amnesty has been a gravy train for MEND; Buhari wants to end it.
If a break was more or less inevitable, the timing of the MEND announcement appears to reflect the group’s irritation with the pattern of Buhari’s consultation with delta militants. MEND has demanded that the government release the Okah brothers, MEND leaders accused of terrorism. MEND is also dissatisfied with the Buhari administration’s participation in a November 1 consultation organized by the Pan Niger Delta Forum. All in all, in its January 1 statement, the media reports, MEND accused Buhari of “grand deception.”
In recent times, the war against oil production in the delta has been led by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), and has resulted in cuts in production and in government revenue dependent on oil. It remains to be seen if MEND will also revert to violence. It is also unclear what, if any, relationship there is between MEND and NDA. In general, however, delta militants have been highly fragmented and characterized by shifting tactical alliances. In any event, further delta unrest is bad news for the Buhari government which already faces myriad other challenges.