Two senior militant commanders from the Niger Delta region are in amnesty talks with the Nigerian government, a Nigerian government official said Sept. 1. Ateke Tom and Government Tompolo are the last militant leaders (save one) from the Niger Delta with whom the Nigerian government has yet to negotiate a deal. Reaching an agreement with the top militants in the Niger Delta does not mean that violence in the oil-producing region will end, but that the Nigerian government and the country's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) has laid the groundwork to win the 2011 national elections.
Ateke Tom, the leader of the Niger Delta Vigilantes (NDV) gang in Nigeria's Rivers state, and Government Tompolo, the commander of the Delta state's Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), began negotiating amnesty terms Sept. 1 with the Nigerian government, according to government spokeswoman Timiebi Koripamo-Agary. Tom and Tompolo are the last senior militant commanders (save one) to negotiate with the Nigerian government. Accepting amnesty does not mean that MEND and other militants will cease their violence in the Niger Delta region, but that the Nigerian government and militants have agreed to deploy the rebels in a security fashion ahead of national elections. Abuja's 60-day amnesty program launched on July 15 was designed ostensibly to rein in militant violence that has disrupted a third of Nigeria's oil output (taking about 800,000 barrels per day off line). The true agenda of the program is to develop a common strategy enabling politicians in Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) to win presidential, state and local government elections in April 2011. Since Abuja's amnesty program began, a number of top-ranking militants in the Niger Delta negotiated deals with Abuja. Henry Okah, who was the main MEND arms dealer, agreed to work for Abuja and in return was released from prison, where he was held on treason and arms smuggling charges. General Boyloaf, commander of the MEND faction located in Bayelsa state, and Soboma George, commander of the Outlaws faction of MEND located in Rivers state, traveled to Abuja to negotiate with Nigerian government officials. Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who founded the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF) (the precursor to MEND), has been traveling between Abuja, Port Harcourt and Lagos negotiating on behalf of Abuja with local politicians, officials, and militants. There is one senior MEND commander who has yet to agree to amnesty terms — Farah Dagogo, leader of the Rivers state-based Niger Delta Strike Force (NDSF) — but following the announcement that both Ateke Tom and Government Tompolo have now agreed to terms with Abuja, Dagogo will either fall in line or be attacked by his peers on instructions from Abuja. Abuja's amnesty program will end on Oct. 4, and MEND itself has threatened to end its cease-fire with Abuja on Sept. 15. Neither date is meaningful, however. There may be a showing of the militant commanders coming in from the creeks and mangroves of the Niger Delta between now and the end of the amnesty program to turn in their small arms, but what is turned in will be a small portion of their weapons caches — and will be returned quietly. Additionally, monies funneled to the commanders will be used to purchase replacement weapons on the black market. There will be a period of controlled violence carried out by MEND and related gangs following the expiry of Abuja's amnesty program and MEND's cease-fire. The militants will carry out pipeline sabotage, and attacks on oil flow stations and offshore loading platforms, but the attacks will be less debilitating to oil facilities, and will rather focus on intimidation to extract protection monies from the oil companies. Illegal bunkering will continue as a means of acquiring and selling crude oil, the proceeds of which will go to Nigerian government officials. Kidnappings will occur to supplement revenues from oil-related attacks. Together, the revenues will flow to PDP coffers to finance their re-election campaigns, as well as to buy off rival politicians. MEND will likely keep up its rhetoric claiming to be fighting for justice and the concerns of the Niger Delta, but its public relations statements will maintain an official cover story while it works on behalf of the Nigerian government.