by Olatunji Saliu
ABUJA, June 7 (Xinhua) -- The Nigerian government on Monday said it had decided to suspend operation of the military in the country's Niger Delta region to pave way for dialogue with Niger Delta Avengers, a militant group which has been claiming responsibility for attacks on various oil and gas facilities in the country's oil-rich region.
Oil minister Ibe Kachikwu told reporters in Abuja that most of members of the militant group have already been contacted, and the government hope they will sheath their sword and embrace dialogue.
"The answer to the issue will not be heating up the grounds. The federal government is committed to continue the dialogue and the president has appointed a team," the minister said, adding military operations will be suspended for a week or two for individuals in the creeks to converge for the dialogue.
Last week, the Nigerian authorities said an armada of five warships, 100 gunboats and fighter jets had been deployed to the creeks of the Niger Delta in response to continued bombing of oil and gas pipelines by the militant group.
Attacks by Niger Delta militants had become more audacious in recent weeks as it continues to cripple Nigeria's oil production in hopes of achieving its aim of establishing a sovereign nation for the Niger Delta people.
The militants had recently rejected a meeting convened by the national government in Abuja, saying they were preparing to carry out an attack which will "shock the whole world".
Kachikwu said over the last few months, Africa's largest oil producer had lost 600,000 barrels from various attacks by the militants, leading to a shortfall that brought down Nigeria's production to as low as 1.3 million barrels per day.
According to him, the Nigerian government was committed to hold talks with the militants due to the intensity of the attacks. The dialogue will be wrapped up within one week, he added.
He noted that one of the objectives of the team constituted by government to hold talks with the militants is to see to the developmental plan of the Niger Delta region.
According to the minister, the government had also extended an olive branch to the militant group.
While carrying out its vicious attacks on oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta, the militant group had forced major oil firms operating in the West African country to either declare force majeure or cut down production of crude oil in Nigeria.
The actions of the militants has caused closure of many industries because of the non-availability of diesel to power industries, Azubuike Okafor, a regional chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) told Xinhua in southern city of Awka, capital of Anambra State on Tuesday.
Okafor said the development would negatively affect the efforts of the government to increase power generation in the country. Enditem