By Daniel Idonor, Lawani Mikairu, with agency reports
ABUJA â€” A PRESIDENTIAL review meeting on the implementation of the Amnesty programme attended by all stakeholders including officials of the Amnesty panel and Governors of the affected states was convened by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua with Vice President Goodluck Jonathan in attendance, yesterday rose with a resolution that the October 4, 2009 deadline for all militants to surrender their arms remains unchanged.
This is coming even as the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, yesterday named Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka and Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe in its team of mediators with the government.
Addressing State House Correspondents, Chairman of the Amnesty Panel, Major General Godwin Abbe (rtd)), who is also the Minister of Defence, said after a careful review of the exercise so far it was generally agreed that a lot of progress has been made with special commendation to the substantial number of militants that have repented.
â€œAs you would notice, Mr. president and the Vice President, the governors of Niger Delta region, Ministers of Niger Delta Ministry, myself and other senior government officials have been deliberating in the last couples of hours and reviewing the amnesty programme and after looking at the various aspects of the programme, we have now come out with the conclusion that all the militants who have embraced the amnesty deserve commendation as patriots of this country.
â€œAnd to believe that between now and 4th of October, if there are other militants who are still in doubt as to the sincerity of governmentÂ to make use of this opportunity by embracing the amnesty because after 4th of October the amnesty terminates there will be no extension. Government is firm, is resolute and government will continue with subsequent aspects of the rehabilitation and reintegration of all those who have embraced amnestyâ€, he said.
According to him, â€œMEND is not recognised by the Federal Government as the spokesperson for the group does not exist physically. MEND cannot choose for the Nigeria nation, if MEND decides to test the will of government and choose to threaten the very existence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the government is prepared to express the sovereignty of Nigeria in all its ramifications.
â€œMEND is only expressing their democratic right. The amnesty was granted unconditionally and they are expected to accept it unconditionally. What is important is that they cannot be discussing with government while they are carrying weapons. It is illegal and they have no right to bear armsâ€.
The retired General declared that â€œafter 4th October, government is going to pay attention to all the militants who have embraced amnesty they are going to be put together in various camps that have been designated and in this camps they will be categorised and partial contacts will be established with each of them after thorough documentation and their choice of training and settlement will also be identifiedâ€.
Government is willing to train them and to join them in any rehabilitation effort that will bring about their going into life as normal citizens without resorting to militancy.
No deadline extension
There were however strong indications from the meeting last night that the amnesty deadline will not be extended.
However, depsite the uncertainty over the amnesty programme, a Chinese state-owned oil company is in talks with Nigeria to acquire stakes in some of the countryâ€™s richest oil blocks, in potentially one of Beijingâ€™s biggest overseas oil deals.
MEND appoints Soyinka, Akhigbe
MEND said in an email statement that a team of â€œeminent Nigeriansâ€, including a former military chief and a Nobel laureate, would negotiate with the government on its behalf.
The group said â€œSome eminent Nigerians have graciously accepted to dialogue on behalf of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, with the Federal Government of Nigeria whenever the government realizes the need to adopt serious, meaningful dialogue as a means to halting the violent agitation in the Niger Deltaâ€.
Nigerian Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka will be on the four-member panel as an observer, MEND said.
Former Chief of General Staff and retired naval Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe is one of the mediators. MENDâ€™s announcement came as its leader Henry Okah said unrest was likely to continue in the Niger Delta after the amnesty deadline expires on Sunday because the root cause of the violence had not been addressed.
The group further said the mediators would â€œhave our mandate to oversee a transparent and proper MEND disarmament process that conforms with international standards as the current disarmament process is flawed and lacks integrity.â€
MEND had announced a 60-day truce on July 15 and extended the ceasefire by another month in response to the governmentâ€™s amnesty offer which came into effect on August 6. While some militants have laid down their arms, others still express reservations.
â€œThe MEND disarmament process will only come after the root causes of militancy and agitation in the Niger Delta have been addressed by the Nigerian government,â€ the statement said.
The group accused the Nigerian government of so far not showing â€œwillingness to dialogue, preferring instead to make wild unrealistic threats, purchase more useless military hardware, and dole out bribes to traitors to our noble cause.â€
Some leaders of the armed groups in the region want the amnesty period extended, but Defence Minister Godwin Abbe last week ruled it out.
China seeks major stake in Nigeria’s oil
Even with the uncertainty in Nigeriaâ€™s oil industry because of militantsâ€™ activities in the Niger-Delta, a Chinese state-owned oil company is in talks with Nigeria to acquire stakes in some of the countryâ€™s richest oil blocks.
Chinaâ€™s largest listed offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC is seeking to buy six billion barrels of oil, the equivalent to one in every six barrels of the proven reserves in Nigeria.
The bids could pitch China into competition with western oil groups including Shell, Chevron, Total and ExxonMobil which partially or wholly control and operate the 23 blocks under discussion. Sixteen licences are up for renewal.
Details of the talks are contained in a letter from the office of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to Sunrise, CNOOCâ€™s representative. The overall value of the Chinese offer is not disclosed, although some details suggest a figure of about $30 billion.