Nigeria’s Acting President Goodluck Jonathan expects swift progress reviving an amnesty programme in the oil-producing Niger Delta and recent talks with militants give grounds for hope, his spokesman said yesterday.
Maintaining peace in the Niger Delta, the heartland of the OPEC member’s oil industry, is one of the four top priorities for Jonathan, who assumed full executive powers last week in the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua, spokesperson Ima Niboro said.
The Niger Delta amnesty, under which thousands of gunmen laid down weapons last year, was driven by Yar’Adua and has faltered since his hospitalisation in Saudi Arabia almost three months ago, with militants threatening to resume attacks.
“We have completed the disarmament process and we are going to the next stage now, we need to get the militant leaders on board,” Niboro told Reuters in his office in the capital Abuja.
Niboro said five amnesty committees including government officials, members of the oil industry and activists from the delta had been holding talks with militant leaders and were due to report back to Jonathan in the coming days.
“The committees are working. They are in touch with the leaders and militants and in a short while the contentious issues will be resolved,” he said.
Years of attacks on Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry have prevented Nigeria from producing much above two thirds of its oil capacity, costing it around $1 billion a month in lost revenues and adding to volatility in world oil markets.
There have been no major militant attacks in the Niger Delta for more than six months, one of the longest periods of calm in recent years, but diplomats and investors have been concerned that uncertainty over Yar’Adua’s absence could reignite trouble.
Nigeria’s main militant group, MEND, told Reuters last week it was waiting to be invited by Jonathan to resume peace talks and that its ceasefire remained suspended in the meantime.
Jonathan is the first person from the Niger Delta to lead Africa’s most populous nation but he does not enjoy universal support in his home region.
Niboro said peace in the Niger Delta was also key if Nigeria was to harness its gas reserves, most of which lie in the region, in order to boost domestic power production.
Most of Nigeria’s 140 million people live without access to reliable mains electricity and shambolic power infrastructure is one of the major brakes on economic growth.
“Power, infrastructure, Niger Delta, electoral reforms, these are the four key issues.
It’s obvious to every Nigerian that these are the four things that plague us,” Niboro said.
He said Jonathan was committed to organising credible national elections, due in 2011, and that electoral reforms would aim to ensure there was no longer impunity for those committing electoral fraud.
The polls that brought Yar’Adua to power in 2007 were so marred by voter intimidation and ballot-stuffing observers said they were not credible. Legal challenges to the outcome undermined Yar’Adua’s authority for months into his tenure.
Pic: Nigerias acting president- Jonathan Goodluck