Nigerian rebels opt for peace - Daily Nation

Nigerian rebels opt for peace

Sunday October 4 2009

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua.  

ABUJA, Sunday

A senior militant leader in Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta region is to instruct followers to lay down their weapons, a day after two more commanders disarmed.

Government Tompolo, who heads the main rebel faction in the western Delta, was due to make the move before an amnesty expires at midnight local time.

On Saturday, militant commanders Akete Tom and Farah Dagogo led their fighters in handing over weapons. The government has offered an amnesty in return for pledges of cash and jobs.

Militants took up arms in 2006, saying proceeds from the region’s oil wealth had not benefited local people.

Biggest oil exporter

Although Nigeria is the world’s eighth biggest oil exporter, unrest in the Delta has prevented it from pumping much more than two-thirds of its production capacity.

Correspondents said militants were in exuberant mood on Saturday as they marched through the streets of Port Harcourt carrying their weapons and swigging alcohol.

Thousands of people lined the streets, cheering as the fighters made their way to the disarmament sites.

In a statement, Farah Dagogo said: “I Farah Dagogo, overall field commander for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), accept together with field commanders in Rivers state, the presidential offer of amnesty to militants who lay down their weapons. We are surrendering all weapons under our direct control.”

Fellow militant leader Ateke Tom and hundreds of his followers also disarmed at a beach ceremony in Port Harcourt.

Former fighters

With only hours to go before the amnesty expires, Government Tompolo is still to disarm, but he has promised to do so by midnight on Sunday.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua’s special adviser on the Delta, Timi Alaibe, said he was confident that all of the militants would give up the fight.

However, BBC Africa analyst Mary Harper said that unless the government kept to its side of the bargain - paying former fighters and training them so they can find jobs - it was possible that the militants would resume their campaign of disrupting oil production.