Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Niger Delta Amnesty: What Next......?

Despite ‘acceptance’ of the amnesty deal by some of the most notorious Niger Delta militants like Tom Ateke, Government Ekpomukpolo (Tompolo), Farah Dagogo, the jury is still out on the how long before these militants are back in the creeks. And now that the amnesty programme has ended, the questions now been asked are, how successful was the amnesty programme? And, will it bring lasting solution to the Niger Delta crisis?

If the success of the amnesty is to be measured by number of militants that have signed up to the deal, then President Yar’Adua cannot ask for anything more. If the success is measured by the arsenal of weapons handed in by the militants, then President Yar’’Adua and indeed all Nigerians, have every reason to jump up for joy! For me, the cache of weapons deposited by the Niger Delta militants is enough to launch guerrilla warfare and destabilise the existence of any nation.

As the region that lays the golden egg, the strategic importance of the Niger Delta to the development of Nigeria’s economy cannot be over-emphasised. As a mono-economy heavily reliant on revenue from oil proceeds, the oil wells of the Niger Delta have been the nation’s ‘cash cow’ since independence.
The effects of sustained violence in the Niger Delta have been far reaching. The sharp drop in the nation’s daily oil output, from its peak of 2.6million bpd to 500,000bpd is an example. This coupled with the dwindling oil price in the world market, resulted in the massive loss of government revenue.

It therefore became imperative for the government to find a lasting solution to the Niger Delta militancy. And it was for this reason that the President Yar’Adua announced the plan to offer the Niger Delta militant an ‘Amnesty’ earlier in the year. The government amnesty package noted to worth about N50billion includes monthly payment to militants who were willing to lay down their arms.

The amnesty plan was however met with fierce public criticism. Many commentators, including the author, believed that the solution to the Niger Delta crisis is more than just offering a salary package to militants in exchange for arms. The public also couldn’t understand how a militant that could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil bunkering will lay down his/her arms in exchange for N50, 000 per month. So as far as the public was concerned, it was a gamble.

But now that most of the militants have laid down their arms, the fundamental question remains what next? Has the government gamble paid off? Apart from laying down their arms, the warlords have also been flown in Presidential Jet to Abuja to wine and dine with the President in Aso Rock. Some have also been treated to a ‘presidential photo session’.

On face value, the government’s amnesty package seems to have been a huge success. However, if current media reports are anything to go by, the success may be short lived

It was reported that the government caved into the demands of the former warlord Tompolo to engage him and his lieutenants and their boys on contract to provide security for oil pipelines. This agreement according to the government “will help provide a legitimate source of income for the warlord and their soldiers”.

For me, if this is what the government amnesty is about then it is nothing more than a “travesty”. It is like saying to homeowners, that the solution to house robbery is to engage an armed robber as your security guard! If the demand was the “condition “on which Tompolo accepted to surrender his arms, then I’m sorry it’s not an “amnesty”. Such agreement also calls into question, the integrity of the amnesty package.

By definition, an amnesty is a legislative or executive act by which a state restores those who may have been guilty of an offense against it to the positions of innocent persons. This means that for an amnesty to be offered to an individual, he/she must be deemed to have committed an offence punishable by law. Therefore, how can an offender dictate the terms under which he should be pardoned?

Also, why the need to employ ex-militants to guard oil pipelines if indeed the militants and government are genuine in find a lasting solution to the Niger Delta crisis? Prior to advent of militancy, I cannot remember any case of pipeline vandalisation. Which in other words means that pipeline vandalisation was perpetuated by the so-called militants with support of few elites, who are engaged in illegal oil bunkering.

Even if the government assumes that vandalisation of oil pipelines will still persist post-amnesty, then why can’t the nation’s security agencies perform this role. What is the point of having military, police and para-military forces, if they cannot secure and protect our key infrastructure?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that some of these ex-militants can not be involved in providing security in the Niger Delta region. My point is, this should be done properly through a rehabilitation process and not just as a condition of sham amnesty deal.

Let’s make no mistake, the agitation in the Niger Delta crisis is more than signing a deal with few militants, in order to keep them quiet. The government cannot just offer employment to a few thousand militants as security guards under fictitious amnesty deal and think all is well. What about millions of other citizens who have been impoverished for decades but have not been engaged in militancy? Is the government saying it pays to be a militant after all?

For now, the situation seems to be a win-win situation for the government and militants. Oil exploration continues without hindrance, thus increasing government revenue. The northern oligarchs also continue to feed fat from the cash cow. At the same time, the militants can continue to hold the government and oil companies to ransom by been engaged as security guards. So everyone is happy! But as the Yorubas say, “ewu nbe loko longe, longe fun rara e ewu ni”.


Anonymous said...

As far as Im am concerned, this amnesty is a farce. The militants should have destroyed every single pipeline in the country and ended the supply of oil. In a situation like that the thieves in the government will not have any money to steal and with no money to gain support, they will lose their support. So its a loss for the Niger/Delta. Well all I can say is this is just the begining. Lets see how things will play out in the end. The militants became unpopular because they started to engage in acts of kidnapping and all sorts so they had no choice but to follow this line which seems to bring them redemption. Well the solution to the problem in the Niger Delta is of course cessation of production and a reset to the relation between all the tribes in the country. People should come together and give ideas on how they can make the country better rather than what they can get. Because a collective effort will definitely help in the long run. And as Nigerians are not respected abroad the only place to turn to for respect is home. Only then will they get the respect abroad.

Anonymous said...

What do you think will happen when you are my OTA and i give an offer that as soon as you become my ORE, what do you think Government will do to them than turn it against them. Juat tell them you look forward for the Part 2 of the Annesty Programme