Johannesburg - Control of oil led to instability and agitation among the people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria.
After the discovery of oil in the region in 1956, conflicts erupted among the people of the Delta for an equal share of the resource, which constitutes 95 percent of Nigeria’s revenue.
Rebel movements formed by ethnic groups believed they were being exploited by foreign companies and government entities that had control of the oil. Even after amnesty was granted to rebels by former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 1999, rebel movements still operated.
On Tuesday, Selekaye Victor Ben testified at the trial of Nigerian terrorism accused Henry Okah at the Johannesburg High Court about the creation of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) - the umbrella rebel group.
Okah is alleged to have organised and orchestrated two car bombings in the Nigerian capital Abuja on the country’s 50th Independence Day celebrations two years ago. The bombs went off near where the official Independence Day ceremonies were taking place in Eagle Square.
Eight people – Romanus Alumona, John Chidera Arua, Verty Bala, Joshua Umaru, Onyema Ambrose Ozioko, Onah Alfred, Haruna Tijani Aladegoke and Omotsho Suleiman - died as a result of the bombings. A total of 53 were injured.
Okah is also alleged to have organised similar bombings in the major oil city of Warri in March 2010, leaving one person dead.
Okah has denied being the leader of Mend and being involved in the bombings. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism and conspiracy to engage in terrorist activities.
Ben testified that after rebel leader Asari Dokubo’s arrest in 2005 for his role in the armed agitation in the Delta, other rebel group leaders met in Warri to form the unified movement of militants and called it Mend.
“Mend was created to pursue the Niger Delta cause… to fight for resource-control and to fight for the release of Asari Dokubo.”
Ben’s role was that of an intermediary between Mend and the media. “Mend was underground… we engaged in guerrilla warfare such as attacking military formations and oil installations and would facilitate the abduction of expats,” he continued.
But Ben never used his real name when communicating with the media - he used an alias and an e-mail address.
The court adjourned to get an interpreter for Ben after Judge Neels Claasen raised a concern that he had trouble understanding Ben although he gave his evidence in English.
Before Ben’s testimony, Okah’s defence team cross-examined the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe. He told the court that after amnesty was granted in 2009 to Okah and other militants, two factions formed in Mend.
One is currently under the leadership of Tom Polo and is working with the government to facilitate peace in the Delta.
“There’s a group still creating problems in the Delta - the group is linked to the accused,” Orubebe said.
Okah’s lawyer, Lucky Maunatlala, put it to Orubebe that there was a group within Mend working with the government to “bring him down”.
To which Orubebe answered: “Nobody wants to bring him down, but there are two factions in Mend. One is led by Polo, and there’s a small group still in arms fighting for things we don’t know, and it is linked to the accused.”
The trial continues.