In Nigeria, top leaders in the Niger Delta are welcoming new peace initiatives by the government to end years of fighting. President Umaru Yar'Adua has met with dozens of militant leaders as part of a plan for permanent peace.
?I would like to join very many Nigerians that have commended the federal government on the amnesty initiative,? says Chief James Ibori, a senior member of the ruling People?s Democratic Party (PDP) and a former governor of Delta State. He says the government is finally taking the necessary steps.
?That is to say that all is not well yet, but the fact that some of the leaders of these militant youths have come out and have willingly surrendered their arms and, from what we saw throughout the process, they have quite a lot of very serious arms in their possession. As far as I am concerned,? says Chief Ibori, ?that is some reason to celebrate.?
The government should quickly take advantage of the end of hostilities, he adds, to begin the process of reconciliation and massive reconstruction of the area after years of what he calls neglect by the government and environmental damage by oil firms.
?Now the next stage should be how to engage the leaders and the youths of the region on the actual fundamentals of the Niger Delta question: such issues as the participation of the leaders, participation of the indigenes of the area, the participation of the host communities in the region in the oil exploration activities itself.?
Chief Ibori says claims by critics that political leaders in the area have stolen funds meant for the development of infrastructures are a political ploy to alienate the people from their representatives.
?That charge has been on for some time. The propaganda at some stage in 2003 and 2004 was fierce against the governors of the region because of the position that we took. I have also read comments where most people have called on the militant?s insurgents to kidnap?or deal with the political leaders, but they haven?t done anything,? he says.
?You need to ask yourself why they have not done anything, because they understand why we went through or are going through [all this] because they know and understand our position.?<!-- IMAGE -->