Remnants of Nigeria’s main militant group MEND should be ignored, a former rebel commander told Reuters yesterday, since all its leaders have disarmed and accepted a government amnesty.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it would resume its campaign of violence against the oil sector once its three-month old ceasefire expires at the end of next week.
But Soboma Jackrich, a former MEND field commander who accepted President Umaru Yar’Adua’s pardon last week, dismissed the threats from his former group and said there would be “absolute peace” in the Niger Delta.
“As far as I know of MEND (Government) Tompolo, Boyloaf, Farah (Dagogo), me and even Ateke Tom they have submitted their arms and accepted the amnesty,” Jackrich said, listing ex-commanders of MEND.
“There are people that have hijacked the struggle for their own selfish interests. They sit down anywhere with their laptops or computers and write whatever they want and send them out to the public,” he said in an interview at his home in Buguma, near the oil hub of Port Harcourt.
The umbrella militant group was responsible for numerous attacks that have crippled the OPEC member’s oil industry for the last three years. Unrest has prevented Nigeria from pumping much above two-thirds of its oil capacity, costing it billions of dollars in lost revenue.
E-mails from MEND’s spokesperson Jomo Gbomo to media have in the past caused oil prices to spike.
But the group has been severely weakened by the amnesty offer — Tompolo was arguably its most important commander in the western delta and Farah Dagogo a key leader in the east.
Up to 15 000 gunmen have surrendered their arms in return for clemency, the chief amnesty coordinator said earlier yesterday.
But MEND has said it had found replacements to continue the fight and warned on Wednesday it would “burn down all attacked installations and no longer limit our attacks to the destruction of pipelines”.
Jackrich, also known as Ebri Papa, said he was involved in the kidnapping of foreign oil workers, including those from Royal Dutch Shell, and in the lucrative oil theft trade known as oil bunkering.
He was arrested on December 28 last year and released last week after accepting the amnesty.
“All of this is in the past. We have shunned violence, bunkering and armed struggle and have now embraced the amnesty and peace in the Niger Delta,” Jackrich said.
He called on the president to form a committee of former rebel leaders and government officials to address the problems of the Niger Delta.
“(Yar’Adua) should call together all ex-leaders of the people, whether former fighters or not, into a committee because they know the plight of the people and will advise him properly in the development of the region,” he said.
The president will meet several of the former militant leaders today in Nigeria’s capital Abuja to discuss the second phase of the amnesty.
Activists and Niger Delta residents fear that the former militants could easily return to the creeks and resume attacks if Abuja fails to find them jobs quickly.
Pic: MEND members