Nigerian militant amnesty starts

By Caroline Duffield
BBC News, Lagos, Nigeria

An amnesty for militants in Nigeria’s troubled oil-producing region, the Niger Delta, has begun.

The Nigerian government is offering the militants the chance to lay down their guns in exchange for re-training and a presidential pardon.

But it is unclear whether any of the militant groups will take up the offer.

In recent months the violent struggle in the Niger Delta has worsened, but there have been steps to find a political solution to end it.

Armed groups there portray themselves as champions of an exploited region and an impoverished people.

They say that they fight for a fair share of Nigeria’s oil wealth for local people.

They blow up oil pipelines, attack the oil companies operating in the delta and also fight the Nigerian military.

Oil revenue is the major source of income for the entire country but the so-called oil war has cut Nigeria’s oil output by around a quarter in recent years.

Now the government is attempting to defuse the violence.

Nigeria’s president clearly hopes that his amnesty combined with the release from jail of a senior militant, Henry Okah, and a heavy military presence in the delta will persuade the gunmen to give up their weapons.

Oil bunkering

The most visible group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), has meanwhile announced a temporary ceasefire.

It is all being seen as the most significant steps yet towards a political process to tackle the violence.

But nothing in the Niger Delta is straightforward.

What is really at stake is vast amounts of money.

The militants take part in what is called oil bunkering – in reality, oil theft.

They tap into pipelines, siphon off oil and sell it.

The industry operates under cover of the conflict and is thought to make more than $50m (£29m) a day.

Some of the most powerful people in Nigeria directly profit from the militants’ activities.

With that kind of money involved it is hard to see why the militant gangs or their powerful patrons would want peace at all.

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