Nigeria oil militants disarm slowly

Scores of Nigerian oil militants turned in weapons in the creeks of the Niger Delta, two weeks after a 60-day amnesty period began, but the participation so far is still below authorities’ expectations.
President Umaru Yar’Adua offered an unconditional pardon in June to all militants who take part in the amnesty, the latest effort to stem unrest which has prevented Nigeria from pumping much above two-thirds of its oil capacity in recent years.
Attacks on pipelines and industry facilities along with the kidnapping of oil workers since early 2006 have cost the world’s eighth-biggest oil exporter billions of dollars a year in lost revenues and added to volatility in global energy prices.
Scores of young men in civilian clothes queued to have their photographs and thumbprints taken by the security forces before handing over weapons at this camp at Aluu in Okrika district, around 50 km (30 miles) east of the oil hub Port Harcourt.
“I’m happy because of the sincerity of Mr President to give us amnesty and he has promised to develop the Niger Delta,” said a smiling 32-year-old Justice Worgu, a mobile phone earpiece dangling down his neck.
Officials said 69 militants handed in 50 AK-47 rifles and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition at the camp in Rivers state on Thursday, the first stage in their demobilisation process.
With 50 to 60 militant camps believed to be in the creeks of the Niger Delta, the government hopes about 10 000 gunmen will take up the programme, which seeks to disarm, educate, rehabilitate and reintegrate them into mainstream society.
Officials admit the uptake so far has been disappointing.
“They are still worried about their safety, but they are now seeing the government means very well for them and that we will ensure their safety,” Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, spokesperson for the presidential panel on amnesty told Reuters.
More than a short-term cure?
Hundreds of militants had expressed interest to disarm, including a commander in the Bakassi area who said he and 800 fighters were ready to accept the clemency, Koripamo-Agary said earlier this month.
Thirty-two members of the main militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) led by the group’s leader in neighbouring Bayelsa state met Yar’Adua in the capital Abuja on August 7 after accepting amnesty.
But Ebikabowei Victor Ben, known locally as Boyloaf, warned that failure to develop the oil-producing region would lead to a resumption of violence.
Gunmen who accept amnesty will be given a stipend of 65 000 naira a month of food and living expenses during the rehabilitation between August 6 and October 4, officials said.
But sceptics question whether the amnesty scheme will buy anything more than a short-term lull in the violence, saying the government has done little to create employment or training opportunities for those who do hand over their guns.
No mention has been made of other militant hardliners like Ateke Tom, Farah Dagogo or Government Tompolo, against whom the military launched its biggest campaign months ago.
A previous attempt at disarmament under Yar’Adua’s predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004 broke down as factions argued over the money paid for their weapons.
Thousands of guns were handed over but the subsequent five years were among the most violent in the history of the Niger Delta.

Pic: Nigerian oil militants