Thousands of rebels in Nigeria's volatile Niger Delta are surrendering their weapons and accepting a government amnesty, which expires Sunday. From the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Gilbert da Costa reports all key militant commanders have now embraced the amnesty.
Key rebel leaders in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta have succumbed to government pressure to disarm along with thousands of their fighters under a government amnesty.
Tom Polo is one of three top leaders of the Niger Delta rebel groups based in the western oil city of Warri. He is expected to lead thousands of his fighters to drop their arms at a ceremony in Warri on Sunday, the last day of an amnesty extended to rebels who have wrought havoc on Nigeria's oil industry in recent years.
Militant commanders Ateke Tom and Farah Dagogo led gunmen from the creeks of the delta to the main oil city of Port Harcourt where they handed over their weapons on Saturday.
With their disarmament, the government's pledge to resolve years of violence that has stopped the flow of one million barrels of oil per day appears to be on course. President Umaru Yar'Adua, whose 60-day amnesty offer commenced on August sixth, says the government is keen to build upon the success so far achieved.
"We proclaimed a general amnesty and granted unconditional pardon to all those who had taken up arms. Some remarkable progress has been made, and it is our hope that all militants will avail themselves of this amnesty which expires on Sunday, 4th October, 2009. And then we shall enter into the post-amnesty period, a period which will be more challenging than the pre-amnesty period."
Several militants had refused to disarm until their main demands were discussed, but the government said it was unwilling to negotiate until weapons were surrendered. Niger Delta's religious and community leaders had mounted pressure on the militants to embrace the peace process. Hyacinth Egbegbo is the catholic bishop of Bomadi, in the Niger Delta.
"Any armed struggle is not going to be in favor of any Nigerian. So let us sit down on a round table and see that we resolve these problems amicably."
Since 2006, militant activities have crippled operations of oil companies in southern Nigeria, resulting in a steep decline in production. Nigeria, one of Africa's two biggest oil producers, derives more than 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from oil.