/ 16 August 2009

Amnesty deal in Niger Delta

An amnesty deal by the Nigerian government for militants in the Niger Delta aimed at reducing unrest in the oil-rich region came into effect this week.

President Umaru Yar’Adua has offered an unconditional pardon and cash payments to rebels who agree to lay down their arms and assemble at screening centres in the next 60 days.

The government is targeting up to 10000 militants whose attacks in the six Niger Delta states have cost the country a third of its oil production.

”A lot of militia leaders and foot soldiers have indicated they are tired of fighting and want to come out,” Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, a spokes­person for the amnesty committee, said. ”The arms collection centres are now open, but I think people will watch what happens for a few days before it takes off.”

Sabotage, oil siphoning and kidnappings by criminal gangs and militants who say they are fighting to gain the local population a greater share of the oil wealth have hit Nigeria’s economy hard this year.

In May the military launched a major ground, air and sea offensive to flush militants out of their camps in the delta.

Yar’Adua then announced the amnesty deal and freed Henry Okah, a suspected leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), now the most active militant group.

Okah accepted the offer after treason and gun-running charges against him were dropped.

Officials say gunmen who surrender their arms will be given about R3300 a month in cash and food allowances during the rehabilitation period.

Mend agreed to a 60-day ceasefire in July, but has not said whether it will take part in the programme.

Last year a government-appointed committee recommended that delta states should receive 25% of the country’s oil revenue, up from 13%. —