Members of the main militant group in Nigeria’s Niger Delta met Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua on Friday after accepting an amnesty offer but warned failure to develop the oil-producing region would lead to a resumption of violence.
Thirty-two members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) led by group leader in Bayelsa state — Ebikabowei Victor Ben, known locally as “Boyloaf” — met Yar’Adua at the presidential villa in the capital Abuja.
“We on our part in the spirit of fair bargain hereby declare and agree to lay down our arms for this administration to immediately commence the other part of the bargain,” Ben said.
He cautioned that previous Nigerian administrations had failed to live up to their promises in the delta, home to Africa’s largest oil and gas industry and the mainstay of the economy in the continent’s most populous nation.
“Our people have had promises in the past that got us nowhere, we want to believe that this administration is sincere ... The main issues are not about making nice promises but keeping them. We want to see genuine change and development,” he said.
Yar’Adua offered an unconditional pardon in June to all militant fighters who take part in the amnesty, in a bid to stem unrest which has prevented Nigeria from pumping much above two-thirds of its oil capacity in recent years.
Attacks on pipelines and industry facilities along with the kidnapping of oil workers has cost the world’s eighth-biggest oil exporter billions of dollars a year in lost revenues and added to volatility in energy prices around the globe.
“On the issues that gave rise to the militancy and the agitations, we will collectively look at them and solve them ... development will be rapid in the region, but it will not be overnight,” Yar’Adua said, shaking the men’s hands.
Skeptics question whether the amnesty scheme will buy anything more than a short-term lull in the violence, saying the government has done little to create employment or training opportunities for those who do hand over their guns.
MEND said a replacement to take over Boyloaf’s command had already been put in place, somewhat undermining the point of his departure, and other key commanders in the creeks of the delta have shown no such willingness to take part.
No mention has been made of other hardliners like Ateke Tom, Farah Dagogo or Government Tompolo — against whom the military launched its biggest campaign for years just months ago — joining the amnesty program.
A previous attempt at disarmament under Yar’Adua’s predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2004 broke down as factions argued over the money paid for their weapons.
Thousands of guns were handed over but the subsequent five years were among the most violent in the history of the Niger Delta.
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