PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (Reuters) – Hundreds of Nigerian rebel fighters gave up their weapons and accepted an amnesty deal yesterday in the most concerted effort yet to end years of fighting in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
Militant commanders Ateke Tom and Farah Dagogo, both responsible for years of attacks on the oil industry in the eastern Niger Delta, led gunmen from camps in the mangrove creeks to the oil hub of Port Harcourt to disarm.
Government Tompolo, the final prominent militant, meanwhile signed an amnesty agreement in the capital Abuja after meeting with President Umaru Yar’Adua. His followers, the main rebel faction in the western delta, are expected to disarm today.
“Now the stage is set for the post-amnesty period,” Yar’Adua said after the signing ceremony. “Government will now meet with all the militants and leaders to have their input into the rehabilitation and reorientation programme.”
Unrest in the Niger Delta has prevented Nigeria, the world’s eighth biggest oil exporter, from pumping much above two-thirds of its production capacity.
It also costs the country $1 billion a month in lost revenues, according to the central bank, and has frequently helped to push up global energy prices.
“I urge others who are yet to do so to also disarm,” Tom said at his disarmament ceremony, held in a dilapidated amusement park called “Tourist Beach”.
“I believe Yar’Adua is sincere. He wants to develop the Niger Delta, so let’s give him a chance,” he said, after his fighters handed over rocket launchers, grenades, heavy machine guns, automatic rifles and barrels of ammunition.
The amnesty offer expires at midnight tonight.
Hundreds of Tom’s supporters paraded in convoys through Port Harcourt after the ceremony, riding on cars, chanting and slugging from bottles of whisky and Ogogoro, locally brewed gin.
“It is not proper for us to be in the bush. We cannot enjoy our lives. So I am happy today,” said Wisdom Aziza, who said he had fought in the creeks for four years.