First, sympathies go out to the nation and to the families of all those who lost their lives and were injured in this terrible bomb blast.
Current reports are that elements of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, better known as MEND (a loose umbrella organization of militants and militant groups) perpetrated this act to underscore their issues in the oil-rich Niger Delta Region.
Peaceful political and civil society groups have highlighted over many years three points: 1) the need to end corruption driven by oil wealth, 2) the need to increase development in all sectors (education, health, agriculture) in the Niger Delta and 3) the right of the Niger Deltans to have more say and influence in how resources and profits from the oil wealth are used to help improve the lives of those living in the region.
These are very legitimate issues, which need to be addressed.
There are five key Nigerian states that make up the main oil states in the Niger Delta Region (Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akom Ibom, Cross River), and acts of sabotage, kidnapping, and disruption of oil infrastructure had been the tactic of choice of not only MEND but other militant groups in the Region. This is the second time in nearly eight months that elements of MEND have used the car bombing tactic.
I was in Nigeria the first time MEND used this tactic earlier in 2010 in Warri, a city in Nigeria’s Delta State in the Niger Delta Region. Another militant group attacked a facility in the commercial capital, Lagos, during the same period. In addition, over the last two years, elements of MEND have threatened similar attacks in Abuja in letters sent to the press, but this is the first time that they have followed through on those threats. This is a very worrying sign as the country grapples with getting its election process right so key social sector issues can be better addressed everywhere in Nigeria and particularly in the Niger Delta.
There is a lot to be done to move Nigeria further forward than it is now. Changes are needed in the areas of education, health, agriculture, fighting corruption, and better utilization of oil wealth to benefit the Nigerian people. But changes need to be made peacefully. All of these sectors need more assistance and more improvement so Nigeria can not only become the Giant that we all want it to be, but to ensure that the next generation of Nigerians have a better life.
MEND is not known to have been a totally cohesive group in the past, with a singular leader, but more of a loose affiliation of different militant interests. Given the detailed planning and coordination that were required to launch today’s attacks, it is unclear whether the affiliation has or is morphing into something different from the past, loose associations of various militant interests.
Indeed, militant-related violence had diminished somewhat since the amnesty for militants in 2009. We thought that progress had been made, despite problems with implementing the amnesty rehabilitation program and creating training opportunities for militants.
Today’s car bomb attacks in the capital present a new and worrying trend for Nigeria. Those who perpetrated the attacks must be brought to justice.
No one doubts the legitimate issues in the region, but we all must assist those political and civil society groups in the Niger Delta Region which are trying to make changes and improve the development and use of resources – but changes must be driven by using peaceful means.
About the author: Dr. Robin Renee Sanders is a featured blogger on Africa.com, and served as U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria from 2007-2010. Her views from Sept 26, 2010 onward are personal and do not represent the positions of U.S. Government or Africare.