MEND, a loose coalition of militant groups, denounced the hundreds of rebels that have participated in President Umaru Yar’Adua’s 60-day amnesty programme, which aims to stem unrest in the Niger Delta, Reuters reports.
“The ongoing amnesty programme by the government of Nigeria seems to have achieved separating those who still have the zeal to fight for our freedom from those who were in it for the money,” the group said in a statement.
MEND, which declared a 60-day ceasefire in July to allow for peace talks, said it has suspended negotiations with the government.
Hundreds of Nigerian militants surrendered their weapons, mortar bombs and gunboats during a public ceremony in the Bayelsa state capital Yenagoa.
The handover by dozens of militant groups was the largest collection of weapons and ammunition since President Umaru Yar’Adua’s 60-day amnesty programme began two weeks ago.
A chance for peace
“We give up our weapons so that we give peace a chance and for all oil companies and other multinationals to come into our region to develop the place,” said Erepamutei Olotu, known as General Ogunbos, during a public handing-over ceremony.
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.
At the ceremony, former militant leader Ebikabowei Victor Ben, known as Boyloaf, gave a senior government official his flak jacket emblazoned with the logo of Nigeria’s most prominent militant group – the MEND.
“As chairman of MEND in Bayelsa state, I hand over this jacket as a proclamation that we have disarmed and stand by our word. We expect the president to stand by his word and develop the Niger Delta,” Ben told a crowd of hundreds that included former militants, government officials and security officers.
Ben was among 25 former militant leaders that surrendered more than 500 weapons, dozens of rocket launchers and mortar bombs and 14 gunboats, which were on display at the ceremony.
Ben, whose group handed over the bulk of the weapons collected on Saturday, has warned that failure to develop the Niger Delta would lead to a resumption of violence.
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.
MEND has said a replacement to take over Boyloaf’s command had already been put in place, somewhat undermining the points of his departure and other key commanders in the creeks of the delta have shown no such willingness to take part.
No mention has been made of other hardliners like Ateke Tom, Farah Dagogo or Government Tompolo against whom the military launched its biggest campaign for years, just months ago joining the amnesty programme.
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.