Three key militant leaders in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta could surrender their weapons within days in return for clemency, security and federal officials said.
Ateke Tom, Government Tompolo and Farah Dagogo, once considered core field commanders of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), have held informal talks with the government about accepting an amnesty offer.
“We are discussing with them (Ateke Tom and Tompolo), but it is all informal,” said Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, spokeswoman for the presidential panel on amnesty.
“We are assuring them that the amnesty is for real as they have expressed concern about their personal security.”
A security source, who did not want to be named, said rebel leader Farah Dagogo was also involved in the talks.
Agary said she would be travelling to Nigeria’s oil hub Port Harcourt later this week to meet with one of Ateke Tom’s aides.
Two sources close to Ateke Tom said the rebel leader was ready to surrender and a deal could take place within days.
President Umaru Yar’Adua in June offered amnesty to gunmen in the Niger Delta to try to stem unrest which has prevented Nigeria from pumping much above two-thirds of its oil capacity, costing it billions of dollars a year in lost revenues.
The amnesty programme has split militant factions in the region, with hundreds of rebels, including some senior leaders, handing over weapons but others refusing to take part.
MEND, which has warned it will resume attacks once a ceasefire period ends in two weeks, said it was abandoning militant leaders who engaged in talks with the government, labelling them as sell-outs.
“MEND is shedding most of its popular commanders whose identities have become known to government agents as this will not make our secrecy style effective,” the group said in an email to Reuters.
It said Ateke Tom and Tompolo may have held private talks with Agary but that the talks had nothing to do with MEND.
But the group said in a subsequent email that it was forming its own negotiating team which it said might include a retired vice admiral and that it wanted Nigerian Nobel Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka to be an observer.
Ateke Tom, Tompolo and Farah Dagogo had been considered key MEND leaders in the field, commanding thousands of militants in the Niger Delta behind attacks against Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry over the last three years.
Pic: Nigerian MEND memebers