Threats or Amnesty: Nigerian President and Rebels react

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Nigerian President, Umaru Yar’Adua has offered Niger Delta Militias in Nigeria a chance to be rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society if they put down their arms.

Nigerian president Mr. Umaru Yar’Adua said he wanted ‘new rules of engagement’ for the Niger Delta. “We are working on terms for the granting of amnesty for those who are prepared to lay down their arms,” he told a committee of leaders of his People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Early March, a criminal rehabilitation project set up by Rotimi Amaechi, the governor of Rivers state in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria recorded more than 3800 surrendered militants seeking rehabilitation and reformation. Analyts have indicated that while the governor had indicated that those who had “taken life will account for the life (they had) taken. Those who have not taken (any) lives will be rehabilitated”, Mr. Yar’Adua’s position on the prosecution of those charged with murder is not clear.

In response to the President’s call, the most prominent rebel faction: The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), have said they would not give up their arms because of what they described a mere verbal statement from the president. “It will only be considered under a well-coordinated peace arrangement, under the supervision of a respected international mediator,” a statement from Mend, read.

Militants attacks and kidnappings in the Niger Delta have cut Nigeria’s oil profits by 25% in three years. The country is one of the largest oil producers in Africa, but the attacks have severely hit its oil revenue and caused many oil companies withdraw their staff.

However, the president warned that if the rebels persist on their attacks and bunkering (oil theft), he would empower Nigeria’s military to fight the them more effectively, providing more funding to enable the Joint Task Force (JTF) enforce law and order in the region. The president has called a National Security Council Summit for next week to discuss the proposals further.

Observers have described the ongoing violent confrontation between armed groups, the international oil industry in the Niger Delta and the Nigerian government as an open wound that needs medication. While some of the rebel factions claim they are fighting for a share of the oil wealth for the people of the Niger Delta, other factions have seized the situation to extort, steal oil and kidnap oil workers and members of their families in what has been described as purely criminal acts.

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