Niger Delta militants say they are not behind Nigeria's independence day bombing that killed 12 people. President Goodluck Jonathan says the attack was carried out by a small group of terrorists from outside Nigeria.
A statement attributed to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for last Friday's bombings, saying Nigeria has nothing to celebrate after 50 years of failure, including the neglect of the people and environment of the oil-rich Delta.
But the leader of the group known as MEND, Tompolo, says Niger Delta militants had nothing to do with the attack and remain committed to an amnesty program introduced last year by the late president Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.
"We are not part of the incident on the First of October," said Tompolo. "I want everybody in this country to go after anybody who is part of this havoc. MEND is not involved. I am the owner of MEND. I recruited everybody. And by the grace of God, we are here to support the late president. And that is the same support we are now transferring to you as our brother. We are going to work with you to save this country for everybody."
President Goodluck Jonathan is from the Niger Delta and says he is certain the group was not involved.
"When this thing happened, the name of MEND was mentioned. I am from there, and I know the actors in MEND and the leaders of MEND and you are all here. I am happy that you are here to tell Nigerians and to tell the rest of society that it is not MEND who did it," said Jonathan.
President Jonathan says the attack was carried out by a small terrorist group from outside Nigeria that is using the problems of the Delta to camouflage their criminality. He says those terrorists are being sponsored by what he calls "unpatriotic elements within the country."
State security services say their primary suspect is former MEND leader Henry Okah, who is under arrest in South Africa. But the investigation has taken on a political element with the questioning of former military leader Ibrahim Babangida's presidential campaign director.
The retired general is running against President Jonathan in next year's election. State-run television says Babangida campaign director Raymond Dokpesi was questioned about text messages found on the phone of one of the suspects, which referred to a monetary payment.
President Jonathan is the first Nigerian leader who is from the Niger Delta, so his ability to control the violence there is a big issue in this campaign. The meeting with MEND leaders was meant to further reassure Nigerians the bombing is unrelated to Delta problems.
MEND commander Asari Dokubo says such violence should not be associated with the people of the Niger Delta.
Dokubo says those who have given their lives in the struggle for the rights of the Niger Delta, including the executed author Ken Saro-Wiwa, would be turning in their graves at the attempt of those responsible for the bombing to claim to represent the interests of the Delta.
"We call on you, government, to investigate properly and give them the appropriate punishment," said Dokubo. "Let there be no leniency in punishing those who are responsible for taking the lives of these innocent people. It is condemnable. I am a Muslim. We have the rule of engagement in our struggle that we do not kill innocent people."
Thousands of MEND fighters took part in last year's amnesty that promised monthly stipends and job training along with greater development in the Delta. There have been problems delivering on those promises, and President Jonathan says he understands those frustrations.
"We will not disappoint you," added Dokubo. "We will even work harder to see that the amnesty succeeds. We will work with you and the leaders of the Niger Delta and the men and women from the Niger Delta to see that we bring development to that area."
Nine suspects are under arrest in Nigeria. State security services say they will not disclose their identities because the investigation continues.