Nigeria’s main militant group said it will resume attacks against Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry once its three-month old ceasefire expires at the end of next week.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) halted its attacks in Nigeria’s oil-producing southern region in July to allow for possible peace talks following President Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty offer to all gunmen. But the two sides have not yet held any formal discussions.
“MEND considers this next phase of our struggle as the most critical,” the group’s spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.
“In this next phase, we will burn down all attacked installations and no longer limit our attacks to the destruction of pipelines.”
But MEND, responsible for attacks that have crippled Nigeria’s oil industry for the last three years, has been severely weakened after its most prominent commanders and thousands of others accepted clemency and disarmed.
The president will meet with several of the former militant leaders tomorrow in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
“He will meet with them to discuss the second phase of the amnesty and to get to know what they really want for the success of the programme,” said Yar’Adua’s spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi.
MEND said it would not send representatives to Friday’s meeting and dismissed government claims that the amnesty programme, which expired earlier this week, was a success.
“Most of those who participated in this fraud were rented by the government in the hope that real militants would be persuaded to emerge,” MEND said.
Unrest in the region has prevented Nigeria, which vies with Angola as Africa’s biggest oil producer, from pumping much above two-thirds of its production capacity.
It costs the country $1 billion (R7 billion) a month in lost revenues, according to the central bank, and has helped to push up global energy prices.
But the decline in violence in the creeks of the Niger Delta has already helped bring back some oil production, now estimated at around 1.6 million barrels per day, oil minister Odein Ajumogobia told Reuters yesterday.
Sceptics say that there is little to stop fighters from finding new leaders and resuming attacks. Some residents fear they will return to the creeks unless those who hand over their weapons can quickly find work.
Pic: MEND members