The bombings were cowardly, callous and inexcusable – but they weren’t unpredicted. An earlier e-mail purporting to be from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) warned that they would target the ceremonies on the basis that- in light of the poverty, environmental degradation and human rights abuses in the Delta region –there is nothing to celebrate.
They have a point. For decades successive Nigerian governments, both military and civilian, have allowed foreign and domestic oil companies to utterly devastate the Delta: gas flares light up the sky of villages day and night, permanently damaging the health of those living there, combined oil spills the size of the BP slick in the Gulf of Mexico take place every year, ruining the lives of framers and fishermen, and deforestation causes huge floods whilst wrecking fragile ecosystems.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Shell’s own private army ran amok, killing those brave enough to stand up to the destruction; and in 1995 the company joined forces with the state’s military junta to have the Delta’s most prominent activist, Ken Saro Wiwa, hanged along with eight of his colleagues [for an comprehensive account of the background and events I’d highly recommend reading Where Vultures Feast.] Despite worldwide condemnation, and the junta’s subsequent collapse, Shell is still there along with other companies such as Total and Chevron that similarly continue to discard environmental and humanitarian concerns in their pursuit of profit. And all still operate with relative impunity; whilst the government turns a blind eye in return for lucrative payments, none of which ever reach those living in the area.
The eventual emergence of a terrorist organisation in 2006 was therefore, of little surprise to anyone familiar with the region. Disillusioned with the failure of successive protest movements against consistent oppression, the loose grouping of militants that makes up MEND has bombed pipelines, kidnapped workers and brought an unprecedented amount of disruption to the oil industry. Saturday was however, their first venture into the Nigerian capital and potentially represents the start of a deadly new phrase in the campaign.
Abhorrent as these actions are, MEND’s motives must be understood and the Nigerian government must finally address them. To do so would not be giving into terrorism – it would be righting a decades-old wrong…and it is the only way to prevent attacks like those in Abuja from happening again, and again, and again.