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Nigeria: Government amnesty program for Niger Delta militants, particularly with respect to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) (2009-August 2011)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 5 August 2011
Citation / Document Symbol NGA103789.FE
Related Document Nigéria : information sur le programme gouvernemental d'amnistie pour les activistes du delta du Niger, particulièrement en ce qui a trait au Mouvement pour l'émancipation du delta du Niger (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta ? MEND) (2009-août 2011)
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Nigeria: Government amnesty program for Niger Delta militants, particularly with respect to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) (2009-August 2011), 5 August 2011, NGA103789.FE, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In June 2009, the President of Nigeria, Umaru Yar'Adua, signed an offer of unconditional amnesty for militants operating in the Niger Delta (AFP 25 June 2009; Nigeria n.d.a). This offer was effective from 6 August 2009 to 4 October 2009 (AFP 1 Oct. 2009; Nigerian Tribune 11 July 2010; Daily Independent 18 Sept. 2009).

In writing about the amnesty program's objectives and deliverables, the Nigerian government identified the following three phases:

  • A disarmament phase to take place between 6 August 2009 and 4 October 2009 and to include the collection of biometric data.
  • A demobilization and rehabilitation phase to last 6 to 12 months and to include the provision of, among other things, counselling and career guidance for the participants.
  • A reintegration phase to last up to five years and to include the provision of, among other things, training and microcredits for the participants (Nigeria n.d.a).

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported in 2010 that through the amnesty program, the Government of Nigeria promised to give the former rebels training, compensation funds and jobs (15 May 2010). In addition, the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) indicated that the government was planning to offer the militants a pension, occupational training and microcredit (UN 26 Apr. 2010).

To take advantage of the amnesty, the militants had to "go to the nearest screening centre, turn in his or her arms, register, take an oath of renunciation, receive the presidential amnesty and then register for [the] reintegration programme" (Nigerian Tribune 11 July 2010).

MEND's reaction to the amnesty offer

Several sources state that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is not a well-defined entity but rather a coalition of armed groups operating in the Niger Delta (Obi Sept. 2008, 424; The Jamestown Foundation 30 Oct. 2009; BBC 4 Oct. 2010). An article published by Le Monde describes MEND as a [translation] "nebulous group" that has no command structure and an unclear number of members (Le Monde 16 Apr. 2011). According to the Jamestown Foundation, an organization that informs policy makers about societies that are "strategically or tactically important" for the United States (The Jamestown Foundation n.d.), since the amnesty, it remains unclear who speaks for MEND (30 Oct. 2009).

In July 2009, Henry Okah, described by Radio France internationale (RFI) as one of MEND's leaders, accepted the amnesty offer (RFI 12 July 2009). MEND, which claimed to [translation] "understand" Henry Okah's decision, still rejected the amnesty (ibid.). However, MEND announced a 90-day unilateral ceasefire (PANA 25 Oct. 2009). The AFP reported instead that MEND extended by 30 days the initial 60-day ceasefire to which it had submitted itself (15 Sept. 2009). In mid-September, media indicated that while some militants had turned in their weapons, other decided to refuse the amnesty (AFP 15 Sept. 2009; Daily Independent 18 Sept. 2009). Jomo Gbomo, introduced by the Daily Independent as a MEND spokesperson, stated in September 2009 that "MEND does not recognize an amnesty that has not made any provision for meaningful dialogue on the root issues that gave birth to the Niger Delta unrest" (ibid.).

On 29 September 2009, MEND announced that it had appointed a group of mediators to engage in dialogue with the government (RFI with AFP 2 Oct. 2009). On 1 October 2009, Tom Ateke, described by the RFI as the leader of a MEND faction, stated that he accepted the amnesty (ibid.). According to the Jamestown Foundation, on 4 October of that same year, the expiry date of the amnesty offer, "[n]early all of the major militant leaders who had been advertised as the core of … MEND, accepted the amnesty program" (30 Oct. 2009).

However, individuals claiming to be MEND members threatened to resume their attacks at the end of the ceasefire on 15 October 2009 (PANA 25 Oct. 2009; AFP 16 Oct. 2009). According to the AFP, other MEND followers who had accepted the amnesty, including [translation] "one of the most important former rebels," Government Ekpemupolo (also known as Tompolo), denied wanting to take up weapons again (16 Oct. 2009). MEND stated in a press release that those who had accepted the offer were [translation] "corrupted" by the authorities (PANA 16 Oct. 2009).

Some media stated that, on 16 October 2009, about 8,000 MEND militants accepted the amnesty (PANA 16 Oct. 2009; AFP 16 Oct. 2009). However, the government of Nigeria stated that at that time, approximately 15,000 militants had given up violence (Reuters 8 Oct. 2009). A 16 November 2009 article by Panapress also reports a total of about 15,000 militants who had renounced violence.

On 25 October 2009, MEND declared an unlimited ceasefire (PANA 25 Oct. 2009; AP 25 Oct. 2009). Nevertheless, it ended the ceasefire in January 2010 (AFP 15 May 2010; Le Figaro 15 Mar. 2010).

On 4 October 2010, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stated that "[n]early all the senior commanders in the field -- and their foot soldiers -- have accepted an amnesty, and are observing a ceasefire." The BBC added that one faction of the group presumed to be responsible for bombings in Abuja refused the amnesty (4 Oct. 2010). The faction continues to send statements to the media on behalf of MEND "to the irritation of the senior figures on ceasefire" (BBC 4 Oct. 2010). In addition, the BBC announced that Henry Okah, suspected of being the leader of a dissident faction that opposed the amnesty, was arrested on charges in connection with the bomb attacks in Abuja (BBC 3 Oct. 2010). In April 2011, Le Monde stated that Henry Okah was still incarcerated for his presumed involvement in the Abuja attack (16 Apr. 2011).

Le Monde pointed out in April 2011 that, since the amnesty had been proclaimed, [translation] "the armed groups who were claiming membership to MEND [had] officially turned in their weapons" (16 Apr. 2011). Furthermore, the Lagos newspaper This Day stated that the leaders of former Niger Delta armed groups announced their support of President Goodluck Jonathan for the 2011 presidential elections (15 Apr. 2011). However, in April 2011, having [translation] "stopped its plans to resume attacks" to allow the elections to take place, MEND threatened to resort again to violence if the government did not take steps towards a dialogue with the group (PANA 3 Apr. 2011). In May 2011, according to international media, the Nigerian armed forces launched an offensive aimed at flushing out armed groups from the Niger Delta (RNW 6 June 2011; AFP 16 May 2011). In June 2011, media outlets indicated that individuals claiming membership to MEND threatened to launch new attacks against oil facilities (RNW 6 June 2011; The Daily Times 7 June 2011; Daily Champion 7 June 2011).

Results of the amnesty program

In February 2011, the Nigerian Tribune stated that approximately 26,000 ex-militants of the Niger Delta enrolled in the amnesty program (9 Feb. 2011). Similarly, the Nigerian journal The Nation stated that some 26,000 rebels turned in their weapons following the amnesty offer (26 June 2011). According to the United States' Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010, between June and December of 2009, some of an estimated 20,000 ex-militants had completed a training program in non-violence, in a camp in Obubra, in Cross River State (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 1g). According to the Special Adviser to the President of Nigeria on the Amnesty Program, between June 2010 and May 2011, 15,434 people had participated in this training program (The Nation 26 June 2011). Media reports stated that some participants of the amnesty program have taken part in various occupational training programs in the country and abroad (ibid.; Leadership 17 Mar. 2011; This Day 15 Apr. 2011). In addition, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs stated that the Ministry had organized a job fair meant to link the youths in the amnesty program with potential employers (Nigeria n.d.b).

The Special Advisor on the Amnesty Program stated that the return of peace, security and sustainable development to the Niger Delta has stemmed from the successful management of the post-amnesty program (The Nation 26 June 2011). Business Day from Lagos also states that the amnesty program contributed to the decline in violence in the Niger Delta (28 Feb. 2011).

However, in an interview with IRIN, an analyst of the International Crisis Group stated that not enough effort had been invested in the rehabilitation and reintegration of the militants (UN 26 Apr. 2010). A human rights defender cited by IRIN said that [translation] "'the rehabilitation centres … do not have essential equipment -- the program is failing'" (ibid.). According to Business Day, some analysts claim that "no one in government seems to know what exactly comes next" in the program (28 Feb. 2011).

According to Le Monde, [translation] "a new outburst of violence should not be ruled out in the short or long term because the amnesty program did not resolve anything politically" (16 Apr. 2011). In an April 2011 online press release, MEND stated [translation]:

"With billions of naira spent, the amnesty and reintegration program ... is an obvious failure, given that the initial program objective was overlooked for political ambitions and personal interests." (qtd. in PANA 3 Apr. 2011)

In addition, Human Rights Watch points out in a May 2011 article that despite the government's amnesty towards armed groups, some criminal groups and militants operating in the Niger Delta have carried out "kidnappings, bombings and attacks on oil facilities" (28 May 2011). In his comments on a bombing attributed to MEND, which occurred in March 2010 in the city of Warri, Delta State, near a meeting by authorities to debate the amnesty program, a human rights defender told IRIN that these attacks [translation] "are enough to inform the whole world that the post-amnesty rehabilitation program is not working" (UN 26 Apr. 2010).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 16 May 2011. "Delta du Niger : un groupe armé dit arrêter la lutte, l'armée pas au courant." (Romandie News) [Accessed 4 Aug. 2011]

_____. 15 May 2010. "Jonathan tend la main aux rebelles du delta." (Jeune Afrique) [Accessed 15 June 2011]

_____. 16 October 2009. "Nigéria : le Mend annonce la reprise des attaques contre l'industrie du pétrole." ( [Accessed 15 June 2011]

_____. 1 October 2009. "Les insurgés nigérians sur le chemin de la paix?" (Jeune Afrique) [Accessed 15 June 2011]

_____. 15 September 2009. "Nigéria : le groupe armé Mend prolonge son cessez-le-feu." (Cyberpresse) [Accessed 15 June 2011]

_____. 25 June 2009. "Nigéria : le président offre l'amnistie aux groupes armés du delta du Niger." (RTL [Accessed 24 June 2011]

Associated Press (AP). 25 October 2009. "Nigéria/Mend : cessez-le-feu illimité." (MétéoPolitique) [Accessed 4 Aug. 2011]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 4 October 2010. Caroline Duffield. "Who Are Nigeria's Mend Oil Militants?" [Accessed 15 June 2011]

_____. 3 October 2010. "Nigeria Ex-Rebel Leader Okah Arrested After Abuja Blast." [Accessed 8 June 2011]

Business Day [Lagos]. 28 February 2011. Ameto Akpe. "Observers Criticise Endless Post-Amnesty Programme." [Accessed 17 June 2011]

Daily Champion [Lagos]. 7 June 2011. Dennis Naku. "Nigeria: We Will Resume Violent Attacks Soon - MEND." ( [Accessed 2 Aug. 2011]

Daily Independent [Lagos]. 18 September 2009. Ofonime Umanah, Paul Arhewe, Adeola Yusuf, Chesa Chesa and Harris-Okon Emmanuel. "Nigeria: Why We Extended Ceasefire - Mend." ( [Accessed 8 June 2011]

The Daily Times [Lagos]. 7 June 2011. "‘We Will Resume Attacks' - MEND." [Accessed 2 Aug. 2011]

Le Figaro [Paris]. 15 March 2010. Isabelle de Foucaud. "Total menacé par un groupe armé au Nigéria." [Accessed 2 Aug. 2011]

Human Rights Watch. 28 May 2011. "Nigeria: President Should Make Rights a Priority." [Accessed 15 June 2011]

The Jamestown Foundation. 30 October 2009. Thomas Strouse. "Will Nigeria's Amnesty Campaign Have a Lasting Impact on the Delta Insurgency?" Terrorism Monitor. Vol. 7, No. 32. [Accessed 17 June 2011]

_____. N.d. "Mission." [Accessed 4 July 2011]

Leadership [Abuja]. 17 March 2011. James Ume, Osa Okhomina and Ime Akpan. "Nigeria: MEND Bombs Agip Stations." ( [Accessed 15 June 2011]

Le Monde [Paris]. 16 April 2011. Aymeric Janier. "Delta du Niger : l'insoluble conflit?" [Accessed 15 June 2011]

The Nation [Mushin, Nigeria]. 26 June 2011. Dele Anofi. "Jonathan to Present New Vision for Amnesty Programme." [Accessed 29 June 2011]

Nigeria. N.d.a. Niger Delta Amnesty Programme. "About the Amnesty Programme." [Accessed 29 July 2011]

_____. N.d.b. Ministry of Information and Communications. "Niger Delta Minister Visits Amnesty Centres, Seeks Support from Monarchs." [Accessed 17 June 2011]

Nigerian Tribune [Ibadan]. 9 February 2011. Okey Muogbo. "Ghana Frees 27 Nigerian Militants." [Accessed 15 June 2011]

_____. 11 July 2010. Oluwole Ige. "Obubra: Where Alaibe Was Harassed." [Accessed 15 June 2011]

Obi, Cyril I. September 2008. "Enter the Dragon? Chinese Oil Companies & Resistance in the Niger Delta." Review of African Political Economy. Vol. 35, No. 117.

Panapress (PANA). 3 April 2011. "Le MEND suspend ses attaques prévues contre les installations pétrolières." [Accessed 15 June 2011]

_____. 16 November 2009. "Nigéria : la production pétrolière passe à 2,4 millions de barils/jour." [Accessed 15 June 2011]

_____. 25 October 2009. "Le MEND annonce un ‘cessez-le-feu illimité' au Nigéria." [Accessed 15 June 2011]

_____. 16 October 2009. "Le MEND annonce la reprise des ses attaques dans le Sud-Est du Nigéria." [Accessed 15 June 2011]

Radio France internationale (RFI). 12 July 2009. "Le leader du Mend accepte l'amnistie présidentielle." [Accessed 5 July 2011]

Radio France internationale (RFI) with AFP. 2 October 2009. "Un chef insurgé accepte l'offre d'amnistie du président." [Accessed 5 July 2011]

Radio Nederland Wereldomroep (RNW). 6 June 2011. "Nigéria : les activistes du MEND menacent d'attaquer les installations d'Eni." [Accessed 15 June 2011]

Reuters. 8 October 2009. Camillus Eboh. "Up to 15,000 Nigerian Gunmen Took Amnesty - Govt." (ReliefWeb) [Accessed 4 August 2011]

This Day [Lagos]. 15 April 2011. Ndubuisi Francis. "Nigeria: Ex-Militant Leaders, Amnesty Office Rally Support for Jonathan." ( [Accessed 17 June 2011]

United Nations (UN). 26 April 2010. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)."Nigéria : l'amnistie dans le Delta risque d'être mise à mal - analyse." [Accessed17 June 2011]

United States (US). 8 April 2011. Department of State. "Nigeria." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010. [Accessed 15 June 2011]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives of the Nigeria High Commission in Ottawa and of the Nigerian Bar Association were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including:, Amnesty International, Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme, The Punch, Syfia International, Vanguard.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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