Nigerian delta volatile as rebel truce expires

Tentative moves by Nigeria’s new government to subdue attacks on the oil industry have drawn mixed reactions from rebel factions in the Niger Delta and sporadic violence is hampering the fledgling peace process.

A one-month truce declared by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), responsible for most of the attacks that have shut down a quarter of Nigeria’s oil output capacity, expires on Tuesday.

“We will arrive at a final decision soon after the expiration of our truce,” Mend said in an emailed response to a question on whether the truce would be renewed.

“[President Umaru] Yar’Adua has so far demonstrated a willingness to address the Niger Delta issue. What is in question now is how far he is willing to go. Anything short of justice for our people will be unacceptable,” it said.

Yar’Adua came to power on May 29, promising urgent efforts to bring peace to the Niger Delta, where five decades of oil extraction have yielded almost no benefits for poor communities while fuelling corruption that has devastated public services.

Several armed groups responded to Yar’Adua’s overtures by releasing a total of 19 foreign hostages, although 10 other expatriates remain in captivity and there is still a shortfall of over 700 000 barrels per day in oil production.

Meanwhile, violence has continued.
Troops killed 12 rebels on June 21 during a raid to free hostages, gang fighting in the regional capital, Port Harcourt, killed at least nine on Monday, and a gunfight on Monday between a naval patrol and militants has disrupted traffic around Bonny Island, an oil export hub.

New Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, who was chosen partly because he originates from the delta, met rebel leaders and activists in a remote camp in the creeks last Thursday to try and kickstart a dialogue.

Some militant factions have lauded Yar’Adua’s and Jonathan’s efforts and the release on bail on June 14 of a prominent former militia leader, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, which they interpreted as a political gesture to appease them.

But others have said they were disappointed and have reiterated demands for much greater concessions from the government, especially “resource control” or the right of Niger Delta communities to control oil revenues from their lands.

Jonathan on Monday launched a new Peace and Reconciliation Committee, but some activists immediately said it would fail because its members were part of the discredited political class and did not represent the fighters.

“It’s not going to work because these people have been tried before and they are not working on the foundation of justice for our people,” said Oyeinfie Jonjon, head of the Ijaw Youth Council that represents the delta’s biggest ethnic group.

“He [Jonathan] should allow the freedom fighters to nominate their own negotiators. We agreed this last Thursday at the camp, only to hear a few days later that he has inaugurated a committee that does not represent the militants,” said Jonjon.—Reuters

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