The Niger Delta people have for too long claimed to be relegated to the background with regards to the affairs of Nigeria.
Fighters with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), pictured in 2008.
The people of this embattled region have for quiet a while claimed to be cheated, debating that their land bleeds the natural resource on which the Nigerian economy thrives, however, they and their children do not get to benefit of the dividends, even at the expense of their well being.
Oil spillage and gas flaring has immensely destroyed the fragile ecosystem of the region and the people have from time to time called on the Nigerian government to come to their aid; all to no avail.
It is on this basis that these region has birthed some of the most notorious and dangerous militant groups that have caused Nigeria to shake to its very foundations.
Investigations have revealed five of the most deadly militant groups that have emerged from the region, threatening to destroy the peace and unity of Nigeria if their requests are not tended to.
We begin our count from number 5 to number 1, below are the most dreaded militant groups to have emerged from the Niger Delta region.
Niger Delta militants
5. Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV)
This armed militia group was led by Ateke Tom. The group is composed primarily by ethnic Ijaws from in and around Port Harcourt and their main goal is controlling the area’s vast oil resources.
Reports suggest that in the late 2003, the NDV precipitated a conflict with their rival Ijaw ethnic militia, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF).
The two groups spent most of 2004 in an escalating conflict which was ended when the Nigerian government and military eventually intervened on the side of the NDV in summer of 2004.
Sources revealed that the government’s support for the NDV went on to stir the Nigerian oil crisis, beginning in October 2004.
4. Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF)
The NDPVF is one of the largest armed groups in the Niger Delta region. This group is composed primarily of members of the region’s largest ethnic group, the Ijaw.
Founded in 2004 with the aim to gain more control over the region’s vast petroleum resources, particularly in Delta state.
Sources reveal that until 2005 the group was spearheaded by their charismatic leader, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari.
The NDPVF’s Ijaw-oriented agenda caused serious chaos with both the Nigerian state and federal governments, as well as with neighboring ethnic groups, chief of which was the Itsekiris.
This rivalry caused a lot of conflicts in the Niger Delta region centered primarily around the cities of Warri and subsequently the ‘oil capital’ of Port Harcourt.
Historians says that up until 2003, the center of regional violence was Warri. However, after the violent convergence of NDPVF with the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) led by Ateke Tom, the conflict became focused on Port Harcourt and outlying towns.
File Photo: The NDPVF’s Ijaw-oriented agenda caused serious chaos with both the Nigerian state and federal governments.
Oil bunkering was the main tool by which the NDPFV attempted to gain control.
There are claims that the severe face-offs between the NDPVF and NDV was brought about by Asari’s political falling out with the NDPVF’s alleged financial supporter Peter Odili, governor of Rivers state, following the April 2003 local and state elections.
Asari publicly criticized the election process as fraudulent, and afterwards, the Odili government reportedly withdrew its financial support from the NDPVF and began to support Tom’s NDV, effectively launching a paramilitary campaign against the NDPVF.
3. Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)
Perhaps the most popular militant group to spring up from the Niger Delta region, MEND which was founded in 2014 is composed primarily of members of the region’s largest ethnic group, the Ijaw.
MEND claims to expose exploitation and oppression of the people of the Niger Delta and devastation of the natural environment by public-private partnerships between the Nigerian government and firms that explore oil in the region.
The Economist has described the organization as one that “portrays itself as political organisation that wants a greater share of Nigeria’s oil revenues to go to the impoverished region that sits atop the oil. In fact, it is more of an umbrella organisation for several armed groups, which it sometimes pays in cash or guns to launch attacks.”
MEND’s stated goals are to localize control of Nigeria’s oil and to secure reparations from the federal government for pollution caused by the oil industry.
In an interview with one of the group’s leaders, who used the alias Major-General Godswill Tamuno, the BBC reported that MEND was fighting for “total control” of the Niger Delta’s oil wealth, saying local people had not gained from the riches under the ground and the region’s creeks and swamps.
In 2006, MEND called President Olusegun Obasanjo to free two jailed Ijaw leaders — Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who is jailed and charged with treason, and Late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a former governor of Bayelsa state convicted of corruption.
In 2007, Obasanjo’s successor, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua authorised the release of Dokubo-Asari and Alamieyeseigha.
2. Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF)
The NDLF was formerly by John Togo who claims that their main goal is to secede from Nigeria and gain independence from Nigeria.
Reports reveal that although Togo is the NDLF’s most notorious member he was killed on July 19, 2011 by a Nigerian air strike near Warri in Delta state.
The group is closely linked to MEND and both groups fought side by side against the Nigerian army. Earlier in 2013, a war erupted within the NDLF after 2 different commanders claimed to be leader. It ended after one was killed in March 2013.
Sources reveal that in 1998 the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) was formed and many militants were brought up in the Ijaw Youth Council.
In 1999 the Odi massacre occurred in Bayelsa state which was the spark that erupted into violence.
File photo of militants in Nigeria. They are accused of committing recent crimes in Lagos
In 2004 the Joint Revolutionary Council was formed and recruited members to rock the Nigerian petroleum industry to its core. In 2005 high-ranking member John Togo formed a splinter group after the Joint Revolutionary Council did not deliver much damage. Togo recruited about 4,000 members and went into the Niger Delta to begin attacks.
With the death of Togo, the NDLF seemed weak and many members joined the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. Although many members left around 2,500 remained in the NDLF. For the next 2 years they attacked oil installations on and off.
1. Niger Delta Avengers (NDA)
This militant group publicly announced their existence in March 2016. The NDA has since its arrival into the scene, carried out a series of attacks on oil producing facilities in the delta, causing the shutdown of oil terminals and a fall in Nigeria’s oil production to its lowest level in twenty years, hence their claim to relevance.
The attacks by NDA has caused Nigeria to fall behind Angola as Africa’s largest oil producer, the reduced oil output has hampered the Nigerian economy and destroyed its budget.
With Nigeria’s revenue seemingly dependent on the oil industry, the NDA has given the nation cause to be on the edge.
The NDA has said that it seeks to create a sovereign state in the Niger Delta and have threatened to disrupt Nigeria’s economy if their aims are not met.
There are speculations that members of the NDA are young, educated, and well traveled.
File photo: Some militants of the Niger Delta Avengers have continued bombing pipeline installations in the region.
The APC-led government has been criticised by the NDA for having never visited the delta and President Buhari’s detention of the Biafran independence activist Nnamdi Kanu.
The renewal of hostilities within the Niger Delta is one development no government wants to face, not when the economy of Nigeria is dying, and surely not at a time when the Boko Haram war has immensely drained the Nigerian army.
With so many promises on his plate, President Muhammadu Buhari would not like to have this war. The ex-general is having the toughest job in all of Africa, at a very old age, when health challenges are feared.
The Nigerian leader has commenced the clean-up of Ogoniland in a bid to make up for years of promises failed. However, there are a lot of making up to do, and this war in the Niger Delta will not let the president operate in peace, with these old and new militant groups in the region threatening and making outrageous demand.
Nigerians watch keen as their leader is weighed in the balance, the people are watching to see if president Buhari will dialogue with the militants or go at them with military might.