The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) recently signified its intention to commence bombing of mosques, hajj camps and other Islamic institutions in the country, from May 31.
Spokesman of the group, Jomo Gbomo, warned the nation via an e-mailed statement that the militants will also assassinate clerics that propagate doctrines of hatred and bomb large congregations at Islamic events in a campaign that has been code-named “Operation Barbarossa.”
If MEND makes good these threats, there will be a dangerous expansion of the theatre of terrorism in the country, with dire consequences for national security and unity.
These threats came barely one week after the same group claimed responsibility for the killing of 12 policemen along the creek of Azuazuama in Bayelsa State, and the bombing of an oil facility belonging to the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
The militants, however, said they would not carry out the threatened attacks if the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Catholic Church in Nigeria and Henry Okah, one of its leaders who was recently jailed by a South African court for terrorism, intervene in the resolution of its dispute with the Nigerian authorities.
Surprisingly, MEND said the planned attack against Islamic targets is to save Christianity from extinction in Nigeria, and, it would be stopped if there is an assurance of cessation of hostilities against Christians in their worship places by the Boko Haram leadership.
Although the Joint Task Force (JTF) in charge of security in the Niger Delta has described the latest attacks and threats of MEND as the handiwork of criminals using the name of the militant group to spread panic in the Niger Delta, we admonish the security agencies to take this fresh threat seriously.
It is imperative that they do everything possible to prevent the attacks, as Niger Delta militants have been known to make good their threats in the past. We advise MEND against the plan to bomb mosques and other Islamic targets. Such action is clearly inexpedient to the quest for security in the country.
By such attacks, MEND will simply be playing into the hands of Boko Haram, which may like its campaign of violence to degenerate into a conflict between Christians and Muslims in the country.
This fresh MEND threat is clearly out of place. It has been suggested in some quarters that it is designed to gain the sympathy and support of Christians and to create relevance for Okah in order to aid pressure for his release. We see no sense at all in the threat to attack Islamic targets.
The present insecurity and conflict in the country should not be allowed to become a fight between Christians and Muslims in the country. Such a development is sure to have serious consequences that may degenerate into a religious war.
It will be suicidal to have MEND and Boko Haram going into confrontation. This can only escalate the already worrisome violence and insecurity in the country. Up till now, the Boko Haram campaign has largely been limited to the Northern part of the country. Turning the Niger Delta campaign into a conflict between Southern Christians and Boko Haram in the North will be deleterious to the corporate existence of Nigeria. Even though the incessant attacks on Christians in Northern Nigeria by Boko Haram is reprehensible, it will not do anyone any good to have the conflict become a Northern versus Southern Nigeria war.
Moreover, bombing of mosques is outside the scope of the campaign against despoliation and neglect of the Niger Delta on which MEND built its reputation. Let the Federal Government take serious steps to curb this fresh insurgency in the Niger Delta. The security agencies must be on their toes to contain the threat from MEND. Nigerians cannot continue to live with the endless bloodletting in the country. It is not good for the people and for business.
It is also a dent to the country’s image. If the MEND threat is allowed to degenerate into a conflict between Niger Delta insurgents and Boko Haram elements, nobody can predict where it will all end. Let the government and all well-meaning Nigerians prevail on MEND to drop this plan that can only escalate insecurity in the country.