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Nigerian Militants Threaten More Violence over Amnesty Delays

Villager shows effects of an oil spill right behind his home in Nigeria's Niger Delta region. (file photo)
Villager shows effects of an oil spill right behind his home in Nigeria's Niger Delta region. (file photo)

Militants in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta say they may resume their fight against the federal government because of delays in delivering the benefits of last year's amnesty program.

Thousands of delta gunmen turned in their weapons last year, returning some calm to the troubled region after years of fighting about what militants say is the federal government's neglect of people living in the area that generates the bulk of Nigeria's oil wealth.

There are also complaints about the response of oil companies and federal authorities to environmental damage caused by the drilling.

Militant leader Tom Ateke says that truce is now at risk because of the government's failure to deliver on promises of jobs for former fighters. "What we need immediately right now, we want them to give us jobs, that is the leaders, because the boys are disturbing. So we want them to give us jobs, we have already discussed that with them, though we mentioned one or two thing...but I don't want to mention them here," he said.

The Niger Delta amnesty program lost momentum in the political instability surrounding the prolonged illness of then-president Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. Following his death last month, Nigeria's new president, Goodluck Jonathan, is promising to revive the amnesty program to prevent a return to violence in the delta.

Militants say oil companies are failing to clean up spills that hurt local fishermen. Oil companies say many of those spills are the result of sabotage to oil pipelines.

Fisherman Innocent Tomwee says there are no fish left for the people of Bodo village because of a spill on the lower part of the Bony River. "We cannot go fishing any more, even if we go to the river we catch no fish," he said.

Some environmentalists say 50 years of oil spills have destroyed the livelihoods of more than 20 million people in the Delta. "We are totally frustrated," he Tomwee says, "and we are angry."

Unlike the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, where the U.S. government is demanding compensation from British Petroleum, local leaders in the delta say oil companies there are far less accountable. Chief Albert Horsefall is the chairman of the Rivers State Social Rehabilitation Committee. "The government of this country do(es) not wish to get involved directly or politically in what the commercial companies do," he stated. "You can understand partly why. We live virtually by the revenue that is generated from oil and the tendency has always been to accommodate them."

Militant leader Ateke says that needs to change. "Nigeria and U.S, there is a big difference. In Nigeria if such a thing happens, they will just keep silent and if you talk, they will look for a way to put you into problems," Ateke said.

Sabotage and kidnapping in the delta cut deeply into Nigerian oil exports, which are the main source of government revenue. President Jonathan says he understands the severity of the problem and is asking militant leaders to give him more time to deliver on the promises of jobs for those who joined last year's amnesty.