Understanding the Niger Delta activists: Henry Okah/Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo

Written by Bayonle Charles Ayanleke: This is Henry Okah,seen here in this undated photo with an unidentified woman.





Henry Okah is a Nigerian guerrilla leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).MEND has claimed responsibility for attacks on oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, often through the use of sabotage, guerilla warfare or kidnapping of foreign oil workers. The rebels’ goal is to destabilize the foreign oil interest in the Niger Delta, who they claim have been exploiting the local populace.


MEND announced its creation in early 2006 with several attacks on Nigeria’s oil infrastructure that have cut daily production by about one quarter,as well as a sophisticated media campaign involving e-mailing press releases to coincide with the attacks.It created headlines in Nigeria when it announced it would participate in peace talks if they were mediated by former United States President Jimmy Carter or actor George Clooney.It also claimed the organization was considering a cease-fire after receiving an “appeal” by U.S. President Barack Obama, who denied making it in the first place.


Okah was arrested in Angola and deported to Nigeria in February 2008, and charged with 62 counts of treason, terrorism, illegal possession of firearms and arms trafficking, facing the death penalty.He claimed to be “championing the disenfranchised residents of the Delta region, who see little benefit from the oil being pumped out from under them.”Okah’s lawyer, Femi Falana, claimed that the Nigerian government offered to buy him off by granting ownership of several oil blocks, though he refused.The trial, which began in April 2008, was held in private, because the late President Umaru Yar’Adua said it would “jeopardize national security”.


Lawyers for Okah said a closed trial was an infringement of his rights and asked a superior court to overturn the decision.In response, on May 26, 2008, MEND attacked a Royal Dutch Shell pipeline in the Delta region, and claimed to have killed 11 Nigerian troops.While the Nigerian government denied the deaths, the price of oil rose $1 on world markets within hours of the attack.An e-mail from MEND warned the attacks were retaliation for Henry Okah’s unnecessary arrest.


On July 2009, Okah’s lawyer announced that he accepted an amnesty, which had been offered by the Nigerian government to any rebel willing to lay down their arms, in a bid to end attacks on the oil industry.Senior MEND official “General” Boyloaf claimed that if Okah was set free the organization would indeed lay down its arms, and Jomo Gbomo, a spokesman of the organization, supported Okah’s decision since his health was failing.


However, other MEND leaders said that they would reject the amnesty.On July 13, 2009, Judge Mohammed Liman announced that Okah should be released, telling him in person “Having reviewed what the attorney general said, you have become a free man at this moment.”


Okah was again arrested in Johannesburg on Saturday, October 2nd,2010 following a deadly, dual-car bombing that killed 12 people on the occasion of Nigeria’s independence on October 1st,2010. He has not yet been formally charged by police for the attack and claims that he knows nothing of any of these bombings.


One of Okah’s long time rivals,Alhaji Mujahid Asari Dokubo has released a strongly worded repudiation of Okah on his Facebook profile posted October6,2010.See here:


Seen below with unidentified fighters,Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo (born 1964), formerly Melford Dokubo Goodhead Jr. and typically referred to simply as Asari, is a major political figure of the Ijaw ethnic group in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. He was president of the Ijaw Youth Council for a time beginning in 2001 and later founded the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force which would become one of the most prominent armed groups operating in the Niger Delta region. He is a devout Muslim with populist views and an anti-government stance that have made him a folk hero amongst certain members of the local population.





Asari was born in 1964 into a middle class Christian family headed by a court judge and a housewife, who also had four other children. He received both primary and secondary education in Port Harcourt and was accepted into law school at the University of Calabar but dropped out after only three years in 1990, citing problems with university authorities as his reason for doing so. He made other attempts to complete his education but his activism caused him to quit on his degree at Rivers State University of Science and Technology for reasons similar to those at Calabar.


After dropping out of school, Asari converted to Islam and changed his name to Mujahid Dokubo-Asari to reflect this. He spent much of the 1990s attempting to become involved in regional politics, running for two offices in Rivers State in 1992 and 1998 but failing to win on either.In 1998, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) was formed and Asari, as a founding member, was appointed to the vice-presidency of the organization.


The organization issued the Kaiama Declaration in November, expressing long-held Ijaw concerns about the loss of control of their homeland and their own lives to the Nigerian state and oil companies operating in the region. The declaration and a letter addressed to oil companies called on them to suspend operations and withdraw from Ijaw territory. The IYC pledged “to struggle peacefully for freedom, self-determination and ecological justice,” and prepared a campaign of celebration, prayer, and direct action – ‘Operation Climate Change’ beginning December 28.


The Nigerian government responded with an immediate crackdown on the group.Asari became the IYC’s president in 2001 and led the group to pursue an agenda of “Resource Control and Self Determination By Every Means Necessary”.


By 2004, Asari had retreated into the bush to create the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), which would emerge as a major catalyst for unrest in the Delta region. The NDPVF, a militant group, was funded in large part by local and regional politicians who sought great profits from the region’s oil revenue. The NDPVF quickly escalted an armed conflict with a rival group, known as the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), who were also seeking to control the Delta’s oil resources.


Combat was concentrated primarily in Warri and subsequently, Nigeria’s oil capital Port Harcourt, as well as areas to the city’s southwest. Both groups engaged in oil ‘bunkering’ and other illegal forms of local resource extraction.A change in political ideals by the NDPVF caused the group’s former sponsors to withdraw their financial support, and begin funnelling funds to the rival NDV. Asari’s NDPVF then made a declaration of “all-out war” against the Nigerian state.


The threats to attack oil wells and pipelines by the NDPVF caused companies operating in the area to withdraw most of their personnel from the Delta, resulting in a massive drop in oil production of 30,000 barrels per day and pushing up the price of petroleum worldwide significantly. Due to the crisis this precipitated, Nigerian President at the time,Olusegun Obasanjo called Asari and the leader of the NDV, Ateke Tom to Abuja for peace talks which were in large part a failure.


After his refusal to endorse the legitimacy of the Olusegun Obasanjo government and due to his public support for self determination of his native Ijaw people and independence for the Niger Delta, Asari was arrested and charged with treason by the Nigerian federal government.


On 14 June 2007, Asari was released on bail as part of new President Umaru Yar’Adua’s pledge to try and bring peace to the Niger Delta region.


After the emergence of a South South indigene as President,all groups in the Niger Delta,political and militant,have been caught in a catch22 situation over how best to proceed with their agitation.It is on record that the Otueke country home of the President was bombed by militants while he was still a newly minted Vice President to the late Umaru Yaradua.


Many citizens are watching with close interest how Jonathan handles his kinsmen in a treacherous political climate not made any easier to negotiate by impending Presidential party primaries and general elections.


PS:Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo Asari is my Facebook friend and has been tagged in this note along with several other public figures.He is welcome to debunk or refute any claims made in this note.All information used above were garnered from public records.