The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is one of the most prominent of a multitude of militant organizations dedicated to crippling oil production in the Niger Delta region. It is made up of members of the Ijaw who charge the government and foreign oil companies with promoting immense economic disparities, corruption, and environmental degradation. MEND’s tactics include kidnapping and ransoming oil workers, staging armed attacks on production sites, pipeline destruction, killing Nigerian police officers, and siphoning oil to sell on the illegal market.
President Goodluck Jonathan, also an Ijaw, has overseen an amnesty program initiated in 2009 by his predecessor, Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, which unlike previous programs not only accepted weapons for cash but also worked to reintegrate militant youth into society. However, the amnesty fails to address the ongoing imbalances in wealth and power that impact Ijaw and other peoples of the Niger Delta. Amnesty also fails to improve environmental and infrastructural conditions. Over 70% of delta residents continue to live without access to water, electricity, medical care and other services.
Most Ijaw are Christian, though many also continue to practice indigenous Ijaw religious practices. The religious dimensions of MEND’s activities have been unclear, though recently a MEND spokesman issued a threat against Islamic targets in the south, citing violent attacks by Boko Haram against Christian targets in northern Nigeria as its impetus. “Operation Barbarossa” was later called off following the protests of religious groups and the imprisonment of suspected MEND leader Henry Okah for his role in twin car bombings in Abuja in 2010.