By Emma Amaize & Lawani Mikairu with agency report
WARRI â€” THE Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) has extended its unilateral ceasefire by another 30 days, just as there are strong indications that top militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, may meet with President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua at the Aso Villa, Abuja, in no distant time to discuss with him the need to extend the October 4 deadline for the acceptance of amnesty and turn-in of arms by militants in the Niger-Delta .
Vanguard gathered exclusively that the Minister of Defence and Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Amnesty, Major General Godwin Abbe (rtd) and Tompolo agreed on the meeting of the latter with the President at their Sunday meeting after Tompolo explained that the October 4 deadline was not feasible.
MEND ceasefire extension
In a statement, MEND said it â€œis extending its unilateral ceasefire which expired midnight (2300 GMT), September 15, 2009 by 30 daysâ€.
MEND, which has waged an â€œoil warâ€ targeting oil installations and the military deployed in the oil hub, declared in July a 60-day truce in response to a government offer for unconditional amnesty. MEND has however said that it â€œdoes not recognizeâ€ the amnesty offered by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua â€œthat has not made any provision for meaningful dialogue on the root issues that gave birth to the Niger Delta unrest in the first place.â€ It would therefore â€œcontinue fighting.â€
MEND, which appeared in 2006, says it is fighting oil companies operating in the Delta and the federal authorities to ensure that the desperately impoverished people of the Niger Delta benefit from the oil income.
Militant activities have disrupted operations of oil companies in southern Nigeria, resulting in a sharp decline in production since 2006.
In August, MEND said of the ceasefire: â€œWe are prepared to keep it and even extend it if the conditions are encouraging.â€ On Monday it said it was waiting for directives from Okah on how to proceed after the expiration of the ceasefire.
A government team overseeing the implementation of the deal said early this month a â€œhugeâ€ number of militants had embraced the amnesty offer making it so far a â€œhugeâ€ success. But no figures have been given of the estimated 10,000 militants believed to be in the region.
It also said it was holding â€œinformal talksâ€ with key leaders of the various armed groups in the oil-rich region of Nigeria, the worldâ€™s eighth largest oil exporter.
The violence in the Niger Delta has brought about a plunge in Nigeriaâ€™s crude production to about 1.7 million barrels a day compared with 2.6 million in 2006. MEND has not clearly stated its position as a group although one of its commanders has already surrendered some arms.
Tompolo to meet Yarâ€™Adua
Even as the issue of the amnesty granted militants by the Federal Government due to expire on October 4 is being debated, Major-General Abbe maintains that the date remains sacrosanct when he spoke at the palace of the traditional ruler of Gbaramatu kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Godwin Bebenimibo.
In a closed-door meeting with Tompolo where the issues were laid bare, the militant leader gave reasons why the amnesty deadline should be extended.
He said that there were a lot of arms in the creeks with the boys who fled the militant camps as a result of the Cordon and Search operation by the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta and until they were debriefed appropriately asked to surrender their arms, they would not do so.
Tompolo said the task force was hunting for him when President Yarâ€™Adua announced amnesty for militants and having just come out publicly since the May 13 incident, he needed enough time to get in touch with his men and ask them to accept the amnesty.
Vanguard learnt that at this stage, General Abbe who had insisted on the October 4 deadline acquiesced that there was a point in what Tompolo said, but said he had to tell Mr. President himself.