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Nigeria Militant Leader Says Most Rebels Want Amnesty

Bloomberg

By Dulue Mbachu

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) — Henry Okah, the leader of Nigeria’s main militant group in the Niger River delta, said most fighters in the oil region want to accept the government’s amnesty offer.

“Like the government, we also want peace for there to be development,” Okah, who heads the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, said in a phone interview today from the capital, Abuja.

Okah, who was facing trial for capital offenses including treason and gun-running, was freed on July 13, making him the first beneficiary of the amnesty plan initiated by President Umaru Yar’Adua. For peace to last, the government has to address demands for more local control of oil resources, Okah said.

Today saw the start of a broader government amnesty plan under which fighters in the southern delta, which accounts for nearly all of Nigeria’s oil and gas output, must hand in their weapons within 60 days to avoid prosecution.

Since 2006, rebel groups have resorted to kidnapping oil workers and sabotaging oil facilities to win a greater allocation of the oil wealth for their people. The attacks have cut Nigeria’s oil exports by more than 20 percent and made operators such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp., Total SA, Chevron Corp. and Eni SpA scale back investments.

Government Revenue

Reduced oil exports, which generate more than 80 percent of Nigerian government revenue, are undermining spending plans for 2009, Finance Minister Mansur Muhtar said on state-owned television yesterday.

“We had premised the budget on 2.2 million barrels daily and so far, at best, we’re making 1.6 million,” he said.

Nigeria’s oil production may be even lower currently, at about 1 million barrels per day, on account of the unrest in the delta, Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi said on Aug. 4.

A government panel set up last year recommended raising the share of revenue going to states in the oil region to 25 percent from the current 13 percent. MEND wants the oil region to control 100 percent of oil revenue and pay a tax to the central government, according to the group’s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo.

“Whatever the people are demanding is also what I want,” Okah said, declining to commit to a figure.

The MEND leader said militant commanders in the oil region are divided between those who want money in exchange for weapons, as offered by the government, and those who want their political demands met.

“Personally I want a situation where weapons will be surrendered without cash,” Okah said. “Because people can submit their weapons and buy new ones.”

Six militants handed in weapons including two AK-47 rifles, a pump-action shotgun and a pistol today at a collection center in the Ogoni district of the delta. There are a total of 13 such centers in the region.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dulue Mbachu in Lagos at [email protected].

Last Updated: August 6, 2009 15:13 EDT

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