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Nigeria: Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND); whether it forcibly recruits its members and, if so, how; whether members are only from the Ijaw ethnic group (2006 - May 2009)

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 16 June 2009
Citation / Document Symbol NGA103175.E
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Nigeria: Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND); whether it forcibly recruits its members and, if so, how; whether members are only from the Ijaw ethnic group (2006 - May 2009), 16 June 2009, NGA103175.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b20f032a.html [accessed 19 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is one of the "most visible" armed groups based in Nigeria's Niger Delta region (BBC 18 May 2009; STRATFOR 17 Mar. 2009; Small Arms Survey Dec. 2007, 123). It emerged in late 2005-early 2006, targeting the oil infrastructure in the area, and abducting and holding oil workers for ransom (STRATFOR 17 Mar. 2009; ibid. 19 Mar. 2009; Small Arms Survey Dec. 2007, 123; Lionberger 2007, 75; Jamestown Foundation 26 Apr. 2009). The group claims to be fighting for local control of oil resources in the region (Daily Trust 23 May 2009; BBC 18 May 2009; ibid. 15 May 2009; International Crisis Group 28 Sept. 2006, 5). However, it has also been accused of being engaged in criminal activities, committing acts of extortion and stealing oil for its own benefit (BBC 18 May 2009; ibid. 15 May 2009; STRATFOR 17 Mar. 2009).

Multiple sources consulted by the Research Directorate note MEND's "secretive" nature and the scarce amount of information available on the group's organizational structure, leadership and membership numbers (Daily Trust 23 May 2009; STRATFOR 17 Mar. 2009; Council on Foreign Relations 22 Mar. 2007; Lionberger 2007, 77, 85). Various sources note that multiple groups or regional factions may be operating either independently or autonomously under the MEND name or that MEND itself may be an umbrella coalition of different groups (STRATFOR 19 Mar. 2009; Small Arms Survey Dec. 2007, 81, 124-126; Lionberger 2007, 73; BBC 10 May 2007). Ike Okonta, a Fellow at Oxford University and the author of Behind the Mask: Explaining the Emergence of the MEND Militia in Nigeria's Oil-Bearing Niger Delta, interviewed some of its declared members directly and describes MEND as

not so much an "organisation" but an idea in which many civic, communal, and political groups, each with its own local specificity and grievances, have bought into. (Okonta 2006, Sec. 4)

Recruitment

Information on forcible recruitment of MEND members could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Militias in the Niger Delta reportedly do not have difficulties recruiting members due to socio-economic and political reasons, notably high levels of youth unemployment (Upstream 4 Feb. 2009; UN 1 Feb. 2008; ibid. 24 July 2007; Council on Foreign Relations 22 Mar. 2007; Small Arms Survey Dec. 2007, 83). According to a 2006 unpublished Academic Associates PeaceWorks (AAPW) survey cited by Small Arms Survey, armed groups in the Niger Delta often recruit locally, with most groups consisting of "members from a specific community or, in the case of larger groups, from within the state of origin of the group" (Dec. 2007, 83). Membership in Niger Delta groups such as MEND is reputed to be fluid, with militants involved with several groups simultaneously or concurrently (Daily Trust 23 May 2009; Jamestown Foundation 26 Apr. 2007).

Jomo Gbomo, a spokesperson for at least one MEND faction, indicates that the group's members are "volunteers" (The Guardian 21 Mar. 2006; see also CEHRD 2008, 47). A PhD candidate in Anthropology from Tulane University who conducted field work in the Niger Delta explained to the Research Directorate that while there are "some pressures" to join depending on the leadership of each member faction, she had not heard of forced recruitment by MEND (28 May 2009).

Ijaw Members

A majority of MEND members are reported to be from the Ijaw ethnic group (Okonta 2006; Council on Foreign Relations 22 Mar. 2007; Small Arms Survey Dec. 2007, 124; Lionberger 2007, 73-74), which is the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta (Daily Trust 23 May 2009; Small Arms Survey Dec. 2007, 123). The Jamestown Foundation, a research institution based in Washington, DC, indicates that MEND, which draws members from communities across the Niger Delta, differs from other cults and ethnic militias "placing its struggle in a social rather than ethnic context" (26 Apr. 2007). According to Small Arms Survey, despite MEND's strong Ijaw ethnic militia membership, it "has been diluted by the inclusion of non-Ijaw groups under the MEND name" (Dec. 2007, 123). However, media sources and the Nigerian Military's Joint Task Force (JTF) often identify MEND and its supporters as an "Ijaw group" (Daily Trust 23 May 2009; The Guardian 21 Mar. 2006; Vanguard 21 Feb. 2009).

In May 2009, the Joint Task Force was accused by MEND and the Ijaw National Congress of indiscriminately targeting Ijaw communities and civilians causing large-scale casualties during operations against Niger Delta militants and their training camps (BBC 18 May 2009; Afrique en ligne 21 May 2009; Xinhua 24 May 2009). The JTF denied the allegations, but MEND threatened to retaliate and declared "all-out war" (BBC 18 May 2009; Afrique en ligne 21 May 2009; Xinhua 24 May 2009; ibid. 15 May 2009).

According to the PhD student in Anthropology who conducted field work in the Niger Delta among the Ijaw, while the majority of MEND are Ijaw, MEND also has members from Ogoni, Urhobo, and Itsekiri groups (28 May 2009).

In an interview with the leader of the Ijaw Youth Council published in the Nigeria-based newspaper Vanguard, the interviewer stated that MEND claimed "that it is not an Ijaw group, [but] that it is a pan-Niger-Delta group with volunteers from Ijaw, Urhoho, Itsekiri, Ikwerre and other ethnic groups in the region" (Vanguard 21 Feb. 2009). While discussing MEND in an interview posted on the United Ijaw States website, Kingsley Kuku, a prominent Ijaw politician, also corroborated the presence of Itsekiri and Urhoho members, while adding that he believed that youths from the Isoko ethnic group were also members (United Ijaw States 21 Apr. 2009).

In the same interview, Kuku also stated that "even Yoruba youths" are affiliated with MEND (United Ijaw States 21 Apr. 2009). In Nigeria, the Yoruba are primarily located in the country's southwest, rather in than the southern Niger Delta region (Encyclopædia Britannica Online 2009; US Apr. 2009). The PhD student also noted that she had been told of members from other non-Delta Nigerian ethnicities in the organization, but she could not confirm this information (28 May 2009).

While sources report that there is broad support for MEND from the Ijaw community and other groups throughout the Niger Delta (Small Arms Survey Dec. 2007, 124; Okonta Dec. 2006; BBC 10 May 2007), some Ijaw groups and leaders have publicly dissociated themselves from the organization because of its use of violence (Daily Trust 23 May 2009; International Crisis Group 30 Apr. 2009, 3-4; Vanguard 21 Feb. 2009).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Afrique en Ligne. 21 May 2009. "Nigerian Militants Vow Reprisals as Niger Delta Fighting Continues." [Accessed 29 May 2009]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 18 May 2009. "Nigeria Fighting 'Killed 1000'." [Accessed 26 May 2009]
_____. 15 May 2009. "'Hostage' Killed in Nigeria Delta." [Accessed 26 May 2009]
_____. 10 May 2007. Senan Murray. "The Shadowy Militants in Nigeria's Delta." [Accessed 22 May 2009]

Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD). 2008. Patrick Naagbanton, et al. "Scorecard for 2008: A CEHRD Report on the State of Human Rights Abuse and Violence in the Niger Region of Nigeria." [Accessed 26 May 2009]

Council on Foreign Relations. 22 March 2007. Stephanie Hanson. "MEND: The Niger Delta's Umbrella Militant Group." [Accessed 22 May 2009]

Daily Trust [Nigeria]. 23 May 2009. Muhammad Bello. "Nigeria: 12 Missing Soldiers – Tension Mounts as JTF, Militants Square Off." (AllAfrica) [Accessed 27 May 2009]

Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2009. "Yoruba." [Accessed 11 June 2009]

The Guardian [Nigeria]. 21 March 2006. Onajomo Orere. "Hostage-takers Deny Interest in Nigeria's Break up." [Accessed 25 May 2009]

International Crisis Group. 30 April 2009. "Nigeria: Seizing the Moment in the Niger Delta." (Africa Briefing No. 60). [Accessed 25 May 2009]
_____. 28 September 2006. "Fuelling the Niger Delta Crisis." (Africa Report No.118). [Accessed 22 May 2009]

Jamestown Foundation. 26 April 2007. James Briggs. "Guide to the Armed Groups Operating in the Niger Delta – Part 2." Terrorism Monitor, Vol. 5, Issue 8. [Accessed 22 May 2009]

Lionberger, Brian. 2007. "Emerging Requirements for U.S. Counterinsurgency: An Examination of the Insurgency in the Niger River Delta Region." Thesis presented for the fufillment of a Master of Military Art and Study, Fort Levenworth, Kansas. (Defense Technical Information Center) [Accessed 21 May 2009]

Okonta, Ike. 2006. Behind the Mask: Explaining the Emergence of the MEND Militia in Nigeria's Oil-Bearing Niger Delta. (Institute of International Studies, University of California at Berkeley website, Working Paper No.11) [Accessed 22 May 2009]

PhD Candidate in Anthropology. Tulane University. New Orleans, Louisiana. 28 May 2009. Correspondence.

Small Arms Survey. December 2007. Jennifer M. Hazen and Jonas Horner. Small Arms, Armed Violence, and Insecurity in Nigeria: The Niger Delta Perspective. [Accessed 22 May 2009]

STRATFOR. 15 May 2009. "Nigeria: Another MEND War in the Delta." [Accessed 27 May 2009]
_____. 19 March 2009. "Nigeria's MEND: A Different Militia Movement." [Accessed 22 May 2009]
_____. 17 March 2009. "Nigeria's MEND: Connecting the Dots." [Accessed 22 May 2009]

United Ijaw States. 21 April 2009. "The Kaima Declaration." [Accessed 25 May 2009]

United Nations (UN). 1 February 2008. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). "Nigeria: No Shortage Of Niger Delta Youth Ready To Join Militias." [Accessed 27 May 2009]
_____. 24 July 2007. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). "Nigeria: Guns, Gangs, Drugs Feed Growing Delta Violence." [Accessed 27 May 2009]

United States (US). April 2009. Department of State. "Background Note: Nigeria." [Accessed 11 June 2009]

Upstream Online [Oslo, Norway]. 4 February 2009. "Delta Militia Take 3 More Hostages." [Accessed 27 May 2009]

Vanguard [Lagos, Nigeria]. 21 February 2009. Emma Amaize. "Nigeria: Niger-Delta Struggle- 'Ijaw is Losing Sympathy' – Dr. Chris Ekiyor, IYC President." (AllAfrica) ) [Accessed 22 May 2009]

Xinhua News Agency. 24 May 2009. "Peace still Elusive in Niger Delta as Militant Leader Declared Wanted." [Accessed 26 May 2009]
_____. 15 May 2009. "MEND Declares 'All-Out War' in Niger Delta." [Accessed 28 May 2009]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral Sources: Attempts to reach a professor at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria were unsucessful.

Publications: Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta, "Youth Militias, Self Determination and Resource Control Struggles in the Niger-Delta Region of Nigeria."

Internet sources, including: Amnesty International (AI), Defence Headquarters (Nigerian military); Human Rights Watch (HRW), Jane's Information Group, Mail and Guardian Online (South Africa), My-Nigeria.com, Nigeria Direct (Nigerian Government website), Pambazuka News, UNHCR Refworld, Time Magazine.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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