Warri, Nigeria (UPI) Mar 15, 2009
Bombings in the oil-rich south were a signal from insurgents who have slashed Nigeria's oil production that a fragile summer cease-fire is over while the country grapples with ethnic massacres and a swelling power struggle by its political barons.
The two car bombings in Warri, one of the main southern cities, were claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main insurgent group that seeks a great share of Nigeria's oil wealth for the impoverished tribes of the delta.
The attacks were the most daring by MEND since it abandoned the cease-fire Jan. 30, and threatened an "all-out onslaught" in which "nothing will be spared" because negotiations with the government had collapsed due to the illness of President Umaru Yar'Adua.
He had declared an amnesty in August in a bid to end the rebellion that had crippled Nigeria's all-important oil industry but was whisked away to hospital in Saudi Arabia Nov. 23 with a heart problem.
Indeed, it was Yar'Adua's three-month absence, without delegating power to anyone, that triggered the power struggle between political kingpins in the predominantly Muslim north and the largely Christian south.
Yar'Adua suddenly returned from Saudi Arabia in late February, but has not been seen or heard from since, exacerbating the political infighting triggered by his absence and the paralysis of government in Africa's most populous nation.
MEND, accused the government of reneging on its promises of jobs, training and stipends for fighters who surrendered their weapons.
And in a statement issued shortly before Monday's bombings, it declared: "The deceit of endless dialogue and conferences will no longer be tolerated.
"The lands of the people of the Niger Delta were stolen by the oil companies and northern Nigeria with the stroke of a pen."
The bombings in Warri marked a new departure for MEND, which has largely focused its attacks on oil facilities and kidnapping expatriate workers.
"They've now moved to another level," one senior Nigerian oil industry official told the Financial Times.
The bombings and MEND warnings that more attacks will be mounted against oil facilities are likely to intensify the political feuding and stretch security forces who are struggling to restore order in central Nigeria where Muslims and Christians are slaughtering each other.
Machete-wielding Muslim herdsmen wiped out three Christian villages near the city of Jos last week. Christian vigilantes took savage reprisals. All told, authorities say some 500 people perished.
The unsettled region in the fault line between north and south has long been a flash point for religious violence. Since 2001, more than 2,000 people have been killed there.
The latest massacre exposed the failure of the government and the military, one of the most powerful in the region, to maintain order and stability in the powder keg region.
Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the Niger Delta who was given presidential powers by parliament during the absence of Yar'Adua, a northern Muslim, dismissed national security adviser Abdullahi Sarki Mukhtar without explanation within 48 hours of the slaughter.
It remains unclear whether this was due to the Jos bloodletting. But Mukhtar, a Muslim, was also a key member of Yar'Adua's inner circle, which officials say is determined to keep Yar'Adua in power despite his illness.
Mukhtar's dismissal, and the appointment of a former general and intelligence chief, Mohammed Aliyu Gusau, one of Jonathan's key allies, has intensified the power struggle for the presidency.
This is likely to dominate events in Nigeria, and possibly even drive them, in the months ahead with presidential and parliamentary elections slated for 2011.
Aliyu's elevation heightened concerns that Nigeria's generals may be seeking to restore military rule, which ended in 1999, as the crisis worsens.
Aliyu is believed to harbor presidential ambitions of his own. He held the post of security adviser under Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler and the previous president. Obasanjo endorsed Yar'Adua as his successor but later broke with him.
Jonathan, a former deputy state governor in the south, lacks a strong political base and wouldn't be able to stand up to the generals if they launch a new bid for power.
According to the Financial Times, Aliyu "has connections to Ibrahim Babangida, another former military ruler described by one former minister as 'the master manipulator.' Despite this line-up of allies, Mr. Jonathan's authority is far from assured."
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