Ebikabowei “Boyloaf” Ben, a leader of the main rebel group in the Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger River delta, said his acceptance of an amnesty offer represented the aims of the movement and dismissed threats by its spokesperson to continue attacking the oil industry.
Jomo Gbomo, a spokesperson for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta or MEND, said the group will resume armed attacks against the country`s oil infrastructure at the end of a 60-day cease-fire on Sept 15. MEND had also suspended peace talks with the government, he said.
“All those threats should be disregarded,” Ben said in a phone interview from Yenagoa.
“Who is MEND? I am the person who coined that name MEND.”
Under President Umaru Yar`Adua`s amnesty program which began on Aug. 6, fighters in the Niger River delta that produces almost all of the country`s oil have 60 days to give in their weapons to avoid prosecution. Attacks by armed groups in the region have cut more than 20 percent of oil exports since 2006.
Nigeria, which vies with Angola for Africa`s top oil producer is the fifth-biggest source of US oil imports, Bloomberg reports.
Ben led hundreds of fighters who handed in more than 500 automatic rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers at a public ceremony in Yenagoa on Aug. 22. MEND spokesperson Gbomo denounced the event as “a charade.”
“Boyloaf has been sidelined by us for a while because we had begun to doubt his loyalty to the cause,” Gbomo said in an e-mailed response.
“His departure will even strengthen us now because our style requires a few good men.”
The militant group, which first launched attacks on the oil industry early in 2006, is opting out of the amnesty program because the government wants the group to disarm without addressing its key demands, Gbomo said.
MEND wants “fiscal federalism” under which the oil region will control its energy resources and pay tax to the central government.
Currently the central government receives 87 % of oil revenue while 13 % goes to oil-producing states. Nigeria depends on oil exports for more than 80 % of government revenue and more than 95 % of foreign exchange income. Ben said President Yar`Adua provided assurance that their demands will be addressed.
MEND declared a cease-fire on July 15 after the government freed its leader, Henry Okah, who had been facing trial for alleged capital offences including treason and gun-running. Ben said Okah had been ungrateful after he fought for his release, saying that Okah “wants to use the struggle for his own business.”
Calls made to Okah`s mobile phone for comment didn`t go through.
“We retain 101 % confidence in Okah`s ability to lead,” MEND spokesperson Gbomo said. Okah will continue to maintain his “silence and maturity by not joining issues” with Ben.
Pic: Nigerian oil pipes