October 28, 2013 • David
A few years ago, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was a primary preoccupation of the Nigerian government.
Operating in Nigeria’s oil-rich southwest, MEND’s attacks against oil installations were more than security concerns – they impacted the government’s ability to derive revenue from its main export: oil. While an amnesty in 2009 helped to weaken MEND, it has not effectively ended the group’s activity.
In the intervening years, however, MEND has been eclipsed in terms of both government attention and atrocities meted out in Nigeria. The group that once held considerable sway is now a far distant second fiddle to Boko Haram, an Islamist militant linked with al-Qaeda outfits.
Unlike MEND, Boko Haram has a clear religious association that is reaffirmed with every attack it carries out against Christians and their places of worship.
This sectarian element runs in tandem with the organization’s geographical area of operation as well. Boko Haram is most active in Nigeria’s Muslim-majority north, where it seeks to implement an Islamic state. This contrasts sharply with the territory where MEND, a secular group focused on sovereignty, operates – the oil-rich delta region of the country’s Christian-majority south.
Using web intelligence, I’m able to map out the precise locations of activity. The visualization below highlights how the causes and geography of the two groups have not given either much reason to actively engage against or cooperate with one another. This reality has worked to the detriment of MEND and to the benefit of Boko Haram.
Despite President Goodluck Jonathan’s imposition of emergency rule in three of the northern states where Boko Haram holds sway (Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe) in May 2013, the al-Qaeda influenced group operates with a degree of impunity that MEND would have killed for. Indeed, they tried to. But they were far from enjoying the relative success of Boko Haram, which has been benefitted from unrest in neighboring countries, like Libya and Mali, as well as from the largesse of other Islamist militant groups, such al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Re-enter MEND. The group called for attacks on Muslim clerics and mosques in April of this year. Codenamed “Operation Barbarossa,” the series of attacks set to begin on May 31 was said to be necessary to “save Christianity in Nigeria from annihilation.” It was a clear attempt by the regroup to recast itself as a sinner-turned-savior in a religiously-tinged conflict against Boko Haram. Heeding calls from public Christian figures (and their own better judgment), the group ultimately called off the operation on May 26. The called-for op was more of a false start than anything else from this non-religiously motivated organization. It came in the wake of the indictment of the group’s former leader, Henry Okay, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in attacks in 2010.
The following timeline visualization contextualizes this waning influence of MEND vis-à-vis Boko Haram over the last three years. While the former has made threats and attempts to resuscitate itself, it has been eclipsed by the necessary attention due to the latter.