Abuja - Nigeria's fragile truce with rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta appears to be under serious threat. Former militants are protesting the non-payment of allowances and militants have blown up an oil pipeline in a "warning strike" over delays in peace talks.
More than 8,000 Nigerian armed youths gave up their weapons and embraced an amnesty offered by the government in a bid to end years of conflict in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
But hopes for peace are fading because of delays in implementing the peace process following President Umaru Yar'Adua's hospitalization in Saudi Arabia in November.
Mr.Yar'Adua's absence has caused negotiations to stall. It has also delayed funding for the project.
A human rights activist in the Niger Delta, Omo Irabor, says the long absence of Mr.Yar'Adua has ended any prospect of achieving peace under the amnesty program.
"The president is sick, the country is sick," he said. "And the Niger Delta amnesty is just not sick but is doomed and failed. Let us for example loot at Delta and Bayelsa states. Do you know that people who go there and collect money are not people who were militants? You can imagine the type of people Nigerians are. So definitely amnesty or no amnesty, the purpose of the federal government has failed and doomed for ever."
Nigeria's main rebel group said last week it attacked an oil pipeline operated by Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, ending a two-month truce. Hundreds of former militants have staged protests over the non-payment of their allowances.
Still, not everyone is pessimistic. Edward Oformeh, a lawyer in Warri, the main oil city in Delta state, remains hopeful about the chances of forging a lasting peace in the delta.
"There is no time fixed for them to start all these things. It must be gradual," said Oformeh. "They themselves they should not be too eager, they should not be too quick at wanting results. It takes time to plant and it takes time for what you have planted to grow and for you to harvest. So they should give it time to mature."
Activists say the government has not delivered on promises it made during an amnesty period earlier this year and that the region, which is home to Africa's biggest oil and gas industry, risks returning to violence.
Militant attacks on the oil industry in the vast wetlands region have crippled oil production in Nigeria, costing it an estimated one billion dollars per month.
A previous attempt at disarmament under President Yar'Adua's predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004 broke down as factions argued over the money promised for their weapons.