By Emma Amaize
LAGOS â€” MILITANT group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, expressed cautious optimism, yesterday, after a meeting between its leader, Henry Okah and President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua.
â€œIt looks like this is the beginning of dialogue MEND has been advocating,â€ the groupâ€™s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said in an email statement.
â€œIf this happens, it is surely light at the end of the tunnel,â€ he said. â€œWe remain cautiously optimistic.â€
MEND and other rebel groups have cut Nigeriaâ€™s daily oil output by one third since taking up arms three years ago demanding a greater share of the countryâ€™s oil wealth for the people of the Niger Delta. Nigeria is the worldâ€™s eighth largest oil exporter.
MEND leader, Okah, freed in July after nearly two years in jail when charges against him were dropped, met Yarâ€™Adua for the first time on Monday.
The meeting was facilitated by the publisher of one of Nigeriaâ€™s leading daily newspapers, according to MEND.
Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s spokesman, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, said the meeting in Abuja was â€œfruitfulâ€, but gave no further details.
Okah, who was in South Africa for treatment of a kidney condition, was flown to Abuja in Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s presidential jet.
Okahâ€™s lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana told AFP â€œthe meeting was to seek the possibilities of working together to achieve peace in the regionâ€.
The government has in recent months stepped up efforts to end the oil crisis, offering an unconditional amnesty to thousands of militants.
Reports said Monday that the government plans to plough an extra 10 percent of the Niger Delta oil money back into the region, if it can get approval of the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta, yesterday, denied a newspaper report (not Vanguard) that it deployed â€œno fewer than 200 troops led by a Lieutenantâ€ in the venue of a birthday ceremony of the daughter of ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, in Warri and caused security stir in the state.
Coordinator of the Joint Media Campaign Centre of the task force, Lieutenant Colonel T.O. Antigha in a statement, entitled: â€œRe: Security stir in Delta as JTF deploys troops in Tompoloâ€™s daughterâ€™s birthday venueâ€ said, â€œThe report sensationally and without regard for facts claimed that the JTF deployed no fewer than 200 troops led by aÂ Lieutenantâ€ at the venue of a birthday ceremony in Effurun, Warri.
â€œThe report further claimed that the â€˜unusual presence of troops created tension in Effurun and its environsâ€™.
Additionally, the reporter insinuated that the JTF â€˜had planned to arrest some unrepentant militantsâ€™. All these existed only in the imagination of the reporter.
â€œIt is pertinent to state that none of the claims in the report is true. Sector 1 of the JTF in Warri deployed only 15 Policemen and 25 Soldiers to a ceremony, in view of the fragile security situation in Warri. For the avoidance of doubt, it is within the authority of the Sector Commander to decide which events within his area of responsibility, has potentials to generate security concerns, and act accordingly to forestall itâ€, he added.
According to him, â€œThe JTF is particularly worried by the presumptuousness of the reporter. Anyone who understands the military would know that the JTF cannot put 200 soldiers under the command of a Lieutenant. Furthermore, to raise 200 troops, the JTF would have been required to withdraw personnel from other locations. A professional military outfit like the JTF could never engage in the level of frivolityâ€.