Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Dokubo's release may be a first step to ending strife


Nigeria on Thursday released a prominent separatist leader held on treason charges since 2005, amid speculation that it could be a first step toward ending a spate of kidnappings that have curtailed oil production.

Mujahid Asari Dokubo's detention had sparked the kidnappings in the oil-rich Niger Delta but the release came only two days after different rebel groups released five Britons, three Americans, two Indians, a Filipino and a South African who had been held hostage.

Analysts said the release of Dokubo could be a first step toward ending strife in the Delta that has cut oil production by a quarter.

Dokubo said that he will continue to support self-determination for the people of the Niger-Delta and a greater share of the huge revenues from local oil production.

"I will continue on these issues of self-determination, sovereign national conference and the rights of our people to take that which belongs to them," he told reporters shortly after he was released from his detention center.

Dokubo, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), gave a public undertaking not to take part in criminality or measures which would be "counterproductive to the environment."

Dokubo was released by the police to his lawyer at 6:05pm. He was expected to leave yesterday for the Niger Delta.

Judge Peter Olayiiwola of the Abuja high court ordered Dokubo's release on "medical grounds," less than a week after Nigeria's Supreme Court refused bail, saying he was a threat to national security.

The judge said the case against the leader of the NDPVF, would be "adjourned until the accused is fully fit to stand trial".

Dokubo's lawyer, said his client had a history of hypertension and a diabetic condition.

"This is a sign that the government is at least trying to meet the militias halfway," said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, an analyst with Eurasia group in New York.

"My read is that this is the first step in a deal paving the way for a broad solution which is still very far away," said another Lagos-based analyst.

Observers said Dobuko's release was likely to calm the crisis in the Delta for a limited period.

Until President Olusegun Obasanjo stepped down at the end of May, the Dokubo case seemed to pit the separatist leader against Obasanjo in person, with Dokubo screaming insults at the then president when he made court appearances.

The new president, Umaru Yar'Adua, has vowed to make the Delta a priority and at least two armed groups have called a ceasefire to test the new president's efforts.

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