Nigeria’s main militant group will consider reinstating a ceasefire in the oil-producing Niger Delta if the government is willing to begin serious peace talks, the group said.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) lifted a three-month old ceasefire last week and threatened to resume its campaign of violence, which has kept OPEC member Nigeria from pumping above two thirds of its capacity for years.
“MEND will consider the option after we are convinced the government is serious and sincere about engaging our team of negotiators in constructive dialogue on the root issues that has led to years of agitations and armed rebellion,” the group’s spokesperson said in a statement.
MEND, which says it is fighting for a greater share of the region’s wealth, named a team of negotiators last month that included Nobel Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka and two retired senior military officials.
But its negotiating team has yet to formally meet with government officials.
President Umaru Yar’Adua has offered to meet with any group that can help address the unrest in the Niger Delta, the heart of Africa’s biggest energy sector. But he has not specifically named MEND as being one of those groups.
“Mr. President is ready to dialogue with any group or persons who can help bring lasting peace to the Niger Delta,” presidential spokesperson Olusegun Adeniyi said.
Yar’Adua this week met former rebel leader Henry Okah, who many believe was at one time the brains behind MEND and its attacks, to discuss ways to halt the violence in the region.
A presidency source said the president wanted to see if Okah still had some influence with MEND after the departure of the group’s main leaders for the government’s unconditional pardon. It is unclear who is now running the militant 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.
A three-month lull in violence in the region has already helped bring back some oil and gas production.
Royal Dutch Shell resumed operations at its Soku gas plant last week, nearly a year after it was forced to shut down because of attacks on its pipelines.