Nigerian Militants Dismiss Renewed Peace Drive
Nigeria's main militant group on Thursday dismissed government pledges to revive an post-amnesty programme in the Niger Delta, saying it failed to address their demands for greater control of the region's oil resources.
President Goodluck Jonathan's administration is set to relaunch the stalled programme for thousands of former gunmen who surrendered their arms last year in return for the promise of stipends, education and job opportunities.
Jonathan, the OPEC member's first head of state from the Niger Delta, has made development of the oil-producing but impoverished region one of his top priorities since being sworn in two weeks ago.
"The re-launch of the post-amnesty is of little significance to MEND because we are not a part of it," a spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said.
"MEND expects Jonathan to stop beating about the bush and address the root issues such as the re-establishment of true federalism and resource control," the group said in an emailed response to questions from Reuters.
The amnesty is seen as the greatest legacy of late president Umaru Yar'Adua, who died two weeks ago after a long illness.
MEND has been weakened by the departure of key leaders to the amnesty programme and has not launched a major attack against Africa's biggest oil and gas industry for nearly a year.
But security sources say the group still has the manpower, weaponry and local support to disrupt much of the Niger Delta's onshore oil operations.
The government has said it will relaunch a rehabilitation programme for more than 20,000 ex-rebels, with the first batch of 2,000 due to take part in the first week of June.
Former rebel leaders, including ex-MEND commanders Ateke Tom, Farah Dagogo and Government Ekpemupolo, have given their full support to Jonathan.
"We will mobilize our people to fully participate in the rehabilitation programme," said Chris Ekiyor, president of the Ijaw Youth Council speaking on behalf of the ex-rebel leaders.
"Now the president can go to sleep assured that we are in support of the programme," he said late on Wednesday, after a meeting between the government and ex-rebels.
MEND was responsible for many of the biggest attacks on oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta in recent years but has also made threats it had failed to carry out. The group said its former senior commanders were no longer relevant.
"The ex-militant leaders you mention are simply now history and cannot influence much of what will be happening soon in the region," the MEND spokesman said, without elaborating.