A detained Nigerian militant leader, whose release is a key demand of groups responsible for most of the recent violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta, has appeared in court to face treason charges. Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja the Nigerian government is under strong pressure to release Dokubo-Asari to ease tensions in the region.
Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, wearing a white T-shirt was in a characteristically defiant mood as he arrived for his trial. Despite spirited efforts by guards to stop him from speaking to reporters, the leader of the Niger Delta People Volunteer Force could not be restrained as he launched a verbal attack on the Nigerian leader, President Olusegun Obasanjo.
It was a very chaotic scene as Dokubo-Asari dismissed Mr. Obasanjo as a dictator and urged Nigerians to join in ending his rule.
"Obasanjo will surely fail," he said. "This dictatorship will fail. The people must rise up... The people must rise up against the dictatorship. We must have victory against this dictatorship. Somebody will put me underground for six months, in solitary confinement for six months and continue the oppression against my people, taking our resources."
Nigerian officials say the West African country lost more than $4 billion in oil revenues due to disruptions in crude-oil exports from the Niger Delta in 2006.
The release of Dokubo-Asari is one of the demands of rebels waging war on the oil industry and responsible for the unprecedented number of abduction of expatriate oil workers.
The Nigerian authorities have accused Dokubo-Asari of waging a separatist war against Nigeria, with his demand for autonomy and greater local control over the region's oil wealth.
The Abuja court will rule next month on the prosecutors request to bar the militant leader from his own trial, due to what they described as bad behavior in court.
Nine Chinese oil workers kidnapped by militants on January 25 were released on Sunday. Another group of 24 Filipinos are being held by Nigerian militants.