Intelligence Brief: Niger Delta Struggle Increasingly Decentralized
Developments in the Niger Delta during the past few months have confirmed PINR's May assessment that "the high level of violence that hit the country at the start of 2006 will likely continue in the months to come despite a change of government." In the past few months, attacks have taken on a more criminal nature and the political message that characterized most attacks in the delta before and after 2006 has been suppressed.
The latest incidents include an escalation of kidnap-for-ransom operations, with the targets expanding beyond foreign energy workers to include the children of expatriates and the families of prominent Nigerians. Indeed, the illusion of political cohesion that somewhat characterized the Niger Delta "struggle" since 2006 has dissolved into rampant violence and criminality.
With Asari's arrest in September 2005, his Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (N.D.P.V.F.) ceased its violent activities publicly and it appears that members of the group joined or formed other smaller militant and criminal factions. This marked yet another decentralization of what was already a decentralized conflict.
It was not long after this development that what became the delta's most active militant group declared its first operation. In late 2005, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D.) conducted its first attack. Throughout 2006, M.E.N.D. paralyzed Nigeria's energy industry through kidnappings and other violent activities. During its operations, M.E.N.D. claimed that it did not accept ransom payments, and would usually release hostages after enough political mileage was reached in the form of publicizing its demands. Nevertheless, industry insiders claim that M.E.N.D. still received some form of a ransom payment, although nothing like the figures now being demanded by kidnapping groups in the delta.
Since its first operation, evidence has come to light that M.E.N.D. is not a cohesive political and military group, but is instead an umbrella organization for various youth gangs and militant groups in the Niger Delta region. This appears likely considering that M.E.N.D. claimed credit for a large number of operations across a wide swathe of territory in the delta. Due to the lack of cohesion in its operations, M.E.N.D. probably furthered the decentralization of the Niger Delta struggle. Additionally, M.E.N.D. conducted an unprecedented number of kidnapping operations, making it understandable why some elements within the group are no longer interested in political goals and are instead solely interested in making money through extortion.
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