The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have conveyed a message of peace to the Nigerian government by setting free every foreign hostage in their hold. They (MEND) have however demanded that the Nigerian military withdraw from occupied communities in Delta State, so displaced people could return home in peace.
According to a statement from MEND, the releases were a bonus of the current ceasefire and amnesty initiated by the Federal government. The group hopes that the Nigerian government would reciprocate by withdrawing its troops from the Niger Delta communities.
“It is our sincere belief that at the end of 60 days, the process of ending tension in the Niger Delta region would have been achieved with the cooperation of all the stakeholders. With this cessation of hostilities and militancy by MEND, the final march to lasting peace and progress in the Niger Delta under the profound watch of President Umaru Yar’adua has now begun,” the Honorary Special Adviser to President Umaru Musa Yar’adua on Niger Delta, Chief Timi Alaibe was quoted as saying.
The recently released hostages were seized from an oil tanker, the Sichem Peace, on their way to Lagos for medical checks, about three weeks ago. The ship sailed under the flag of Singapore when it was hijacked by armed men who boarded the ship. The hijackers took the ship to a safe distance offshore, and took hostages; six crew members – three Russians, two Filipinos and an Indian.
The violence in the Niger Delta cut Nigeria’s oil production, costing the western African country billions of dollars in revenue. MEND said it was fighting for a fairer share of the wealth of the Niger Delta, even though it engaged in oil theft, kidnapping, and vandalism.
In an effort to end years of attacks on Nigeria’s oil industry, the rebel groups in the region were offered a presidential pardon, rehabilitation, training and education in exchange for laying down their arm. The ceasefire was proposed by President Umara Yar’Adua in May. It was accepted by Mend after the government released its leader Henry Okah, and dropped charges of gun-running and treason against him.
Will amnesty mark the end of hostilities?
In Ivory Coast, a law giving amnesty for crimes committed during the civil war divided opinion. Some argue it helped in the peace process, while others say it merely bred a climate of impunity. In Uganda, a presidential pardon to end 20 years of conflict was rejected by the Lord’s Resistance Army’s leader, Joseph Kony. He said he distrusted the whole process.
Like in Ivory Coast and Uganda, the move of an offer of amnesty by the Nigerian government has also been faced with opposing views: on one side many believe it will help return peace to the oil-region, and on the other side, many believe the amnesty offer will not be enough to ensure peace.
“We have seen enough violence, bloodshed, death, and tears. Precious lives and valuable resources have been wasted. A time has come for us to give peace a chance. No matter how long the war is waged, the road to peace starts from the negotiation table. Let us therefore embrace the peace process and move forward from there” he advised,” Chief Timi Alaibe added.