By Anamesere Igboeroteonwu
ONITSHA, Nigeria (Reuters) - A Nigerian militant group known as the Niger Delta Avengers which has been attacking oil facilities might agree to a ceasefire on Thursday to allow the government time to meet its demands, a community leader involved in peace efforts said.
Two oil ministry officials said earlier on Wednesday that the government had agreed a truce with the militant group in the oil producing swamp region, although the group denied this.
The militants say they want a greater share of Nigeria's oil wealth to go to the impoverished Delta region. Crude sales make up about 70 percent of Nigeria's national income and the vast majority of that oil comes from the southern swampland.
"The Avengers might be giving the federal government some time to do something about the demands," said Godspower Gbenekema, who said he met oil minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu last week to find ways to end attacks on oil facilities.
Gbenekema is from an area in the southern swamps where officials suspect the Avengers, who have claimed a series of attacks on facilities in Nigeria's oil and gas hub, are hiding.
Kachikwu travelled to the Delta last week to meet community leaders who oil sources say pass on messages to the militants who have not engaged in direct talks.
"Nobody represented the Avengers in that meeting," Gbenekema said. "We used that opportunity to relay to the minister the problems of the Niger Delta such as lack of development and neglect."
"The issue of truce or not depends on the seriousness of the federal government to address the issues at stake," he said, citing fighting poverty and providing jobs as examples. No follow-up up meeting had yet been agreed, he added.
The Avengers have also called for independence of the southern region, a demand widely seen as impossible for the government to meet.
Among the factors standing in the way of a ceasefire in the hard to access swamps is that militants are divided into small groups that tap widespread anger over poverty and oil spills and leaders have little sway over unemployed youths willing to work for anyone who pays them.
Earlier this month, the government said the military campaign in the Delta would be scaled down as part of an attempt to pursue talks with militants, who previously laid down arms in 2009 in exchange for cash benefits under a government amnesty.
Nigeria, an OPEC member, was Africa's top oil producer until the recent spate of attacks pushed it behind Angola. Oil production has fallen from 2.2 million barrels at the start of the year to around 1.6 million barrels.
The fall has also been responsible for pushing up global oil prices, which had plummeted earlier in the year.
The government angered former militants when it cut by two-thirds the budget allocated for the amnesty programme set up in 2009. Ex-militants were paid stipends and given employment training under the terms of the agreement.
(Additional reporting by London Energy Desk; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Louise Ireland and Alexander Smith)