Nigeria’s president has met former rebel leader Henry Okah to discuss ways to achieve peace in the oil-producing Niger Delta, a government spokesperson said.
Many believe Okah, who was freed from detention in July after accepting a federal amnesty offer, was at one time the brains behind the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and its attacks that have battered Africa’s biggest energy producer for the last three years.
Okah has denied ever being MEND’s leader.
Olusegun Adeniyi, the president’s spokesman, said the meeting between the two late on Monday was “very fruitful” but declined to elaborate.
“The federal government has agreed to dialogue with every and any person who can help bring lasting peace to the Niger Delta,” Adeniyi said.
A presidency source told Reuters that Yar’Adua wanted to see if Okah still had some influence with MEND since the departure of the group’s main leaders for the government’s unconditional pardon.
The militant group ended its three-month ceasefire last week and has threatened to resume its campaign of violence against the oil industry and Nigerian security forces.
But MEND has been severely weakened since its leaders and thousands of gunmen accepted an amnesty and disarmed. It is unclear who is now running the group.
Unrest in the Niger Delta has cost Nigeria which vies with Angola as Africa’s biggest oil producer $1 billion (R7 billion) a month in lost revenues, according to the central bank, and has helped boost global energy prices.