Militant group Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has announced a ceasefire. The group put out a statement to this effect on August 20, one day after a meeting of local leaders organised by Ijaw leader Chief Edwin Clark and Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta state.
Attacks on oil infrastructure over the last year have been accompanied by considerably less information about the structure/motivations of the protagonists than has been the case in previous periods of heightened security risk in the Niger Delta. Prominent theories attribute NDA militant activity 1) politicians who face (or risk facing) corruption charges under the Buhari administration 2) former officials in the 2010-2015 Goodluck Jonathan administration. Recent events described below shed light on the underlying dynamics and constellations of influence. The Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA)
- Last month a source emailed local reporters a statement using a pseudonym and claiming to speak for the RNDA, a group that had just broken from the NDA. The purported splinter group denounced the NDA and named former president Jonathan and Edwin Clark as the NDA's backers. Reporters did not verify the source, and the NDA refuted the statement saying its house is intact.
- NB the source alleged that Jonathan helped form the NDA last year as a standby militia to cause violence if he loses the year's election, but had a change of heart and decided to hand over position peacefully.
Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)
- Former militant group MEND rejected Jonathan and backed Muhammadu Buhari for president in the 2015 elections. This year MEND and NDA have opposed each other and MEND appears to have taken sides with the Buhari administration.
- MEND said of RNDA's claim, "We [want] to point out the fact that the RNDA has merely vindicated MEND's belief and conviction that the former President [Jonathan] and his cronies, who lost the 2015 presidential election, were using the illegal and treasonable NDA platform to de-stabilise President Buhari's government."
Edwin, Ifeanyi and the Conference
Prominent Niger Delta statesman Edwin Clark and Delta state Governor Ifeanyi Okowa organised a conference for local leaders on August 19 to discuss militancy in the region and the state of the country generally. The conference resolved that the government should pull out troops from the region and also take steps to restructure the country to foster peace.
A day after this, NDA published a statement on its website about the conference. The group endorsed the conference and accepted the resolutions made by the forum. The group said, "We are going to support any [conference led by Edwin Clark] to engage with the federal government of Nigeria [in resolving] conflicts in the Niger Delta.
"We [will continue to observe our unannounced ceasefire] in the Niger Delta, but we will [resume attacks] if the Nigerian government [targets] innocent citizens, suspected NDA members [and] invades Ijaw communities."
By contrast, MEND put out its own statement to condemn Clark's conference and urge the government to keep troops in the region per usual. It said, "None of the persons who attended the stakeholders' meeting convened by Chief Clark and Governor Okowa have the capacity to persuade the people of the Niger Delta region to support the current efforts of the Buhari Administration to bring peace and development to the region.
"Consequently, MEND re-iterates its full support for the ongoing military presence in the Niger Delta region; even as we prepare to tour the region to drum support for the current administration in an exercise code-named 'Operation Moses."
Clark apparently wields traction in the conflict areas. Other militant groups called Reformed Egbesu Fraternities have announced a ceasefire since his conference. However, his initiative may struggle to get the support of the Buhari government given his strong ties with the former president Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Okowa is from the opposition People's Democratic Party.
It is clear that this year's militancy in the region includes party political elements, and that the NDA and MEND are on opposite sides. Moreover, despite the NDA ceasefire, for now the security risk assessment for the oil sector is unchanged given continued threat from other active groups such as Niger Delta Greenland and Justice Mandate.
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