The Nigerian government is expected to announce details of an amnesty
program for militants in the Niger Delta, later Thursday. The plan is
considered critical in bringing stability to the heartland of Africa's
biggest oil and gas industry.
President Umaru Yar'Adua has
enthusiastically welcomed reports that a prominent militant leader in
the troubled Niger Delta is ready to accept his amnesty offer,
describing it as a very positive development.
commander in the main oil city, Port Harcourt - Ateke Tom - is said to
be in agreement with government on the amnesty program. Defense
Minister Shetimma Mustapha says the government is delighted with Ateke
"I think the more of them that come out the
better for us, because the task of the JTF [Joint Military Task Force]
will be simpler. The good intentions of the government will now come
forward. The president, himself, has said it himself that he was
elated with joy when he heard the story of Ateke Tom," said Mustapha.
militant commanders have expressed enthusiasm for the government's
offer, but say they doubt its sincerity, because of a stepped up
military offensive against militants in the region. Niger Delta
researcher and writer Edward Oforome says the current offensive has
undermined the peace process.
"Amnesty is a good initiative, if
there is honesty in it," he said. "My reason for saying so is because
we read in [news]papers that they [government] will grant amnesty, but
the following day you hear them fighting. One would think if amnesty
is intended to be given and that they are even working towards it, that
that will be enough to bring about the laying down of arms."
of militants have met with top government officials on the details of
the amnesty program. Interior Minister Godwin Abbe - a retired army
general, who heads the panel that drew up the amnesty program - says
the initiative will see the rebels return to mainstream society.
are convinced that the recommendations in the report will provide a
comprehensive framework for dealing with the matters of disarmament,
demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-militants," he
said. "The framework recommends the full participation of all tiers of
government, security agencies, civil society groups and all other
stakeholders in achieving the goal of general amnesty for the ex
militants and the establishment of lasting peace in the Niger Delta."
Yar'Adua came to power in 2007, promising efforts to bring peace to the
Niger Delta, where five decades of oil exploitation has yielded almost
no benefits for poor communities. Critics say the president's response
to the region's troubles has been incoherent.
says he expects the crisis in the oil region to be resolved by December
and has appealed to militants to accept his amnesty offer.
hereby reiterate our commitment to granting amnesty to all militants
who are ready to lay down their arms and return to being law-abiding
citizens of our fatherland. I urge all militants in the region to take
advantage of this offer and lay down their arms, and cease all acts of
disobedience to law and order," he said.
Attacks on oil
facilities and workers have cut oil production in Nigeria, one of the
world's largest crude oil exporters, by more than 20 percent since the
early 2006. And, although several Niger Delta residents have expressed
support for the amnesty plan, most of them say the government must
address the multiple needs of the area to achieve lasting peace. Paul
Ogbeche lives in the oil city, Warri.
"The amnesty granted to
the militants by the federal government is the right decision at the
right time. But the federal government should look beyond the amnesty
and look at the major problems the Niger Delta indigenous [people] are
facing and ensure to the effect that it brings succor to the plight of
the people," said Paul Ogbeche, who lives in the oil city, Warri.
biggest armed group has rejected the amnesty as "unrealistic". The
Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta says it will only
consider a "well-defined" amnesty program negotiated by both sides and