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Nigerian Militia Leader in Court

The leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, Moujahid Dokubo-Asari, has appeared in a Nigerian court to face treason charges. The trial process could be delayed as lawyers argue on issues ranging from bail to the competence of the trial judge.

Dokubo-Asari was again in defiant mood as he made his appearance in court in Abuja. Wearing a black T-shirt with the name of his group, the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, printed on it, the militia leader was escorted by armed policemen.

His lawyers objected to the continuation of the trial in view of an application before a higher court seeking bail. His lawyers are also seeking the disqualification of the current judge, as Festus Keyamo, a lawyer to the militia leader explains.

"He does not sit in this jurisdiction ... to come and hear this particular matter," he said. "We are saying it raises the likelihood of bias, that the members of the public looking at this fact will naturally think something special is being planned in respect of this particular accused person. We want him to be treated like any other accused person brought before this court."

The release of Dokubo-Asari has been one of the key demands of militants responsible for recent kidnappings and attacks in the Delta. Ethnic Ijaw groups have stepped up their campaign for a better deal for the impoverished inhabitants of the Niger Delta.

Onengiya Erekosima, spokesman for the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, says the group is committed to autonomy for ethnic Ijaw, or Izon, people.

"We are saying we are not Nigerians and that we are Izon [Ijaws] people and we should be given the right to choose where we belong. That is what we are saying. So whatever they are doing, I do not know where they are getting that from. That is their business," he said.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has threatened to continue attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta. Recent violence has cut Nigeria's daily oil production of 2.5 million barrels by more than 20 percent.

International oil prices have risen in reaction to the crisis in the Delta. National power generation has also suffered significantly, following disruption of gas supplies to three major power stations.

Observers say there very little chance that the violence will abate anytime soon, given the lack of progress in addressing the grievances of the militants.