On the Niger Delta and Amnesty programme
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment the other day of Brig.-Gen. Paul Boroh (rtd.) as the chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Implementation Committee that coordinates the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) would seem a timely move to douse mounting tension in the Niger Delta. Fortuitously, the latest rumbling over the delay of outstanding allowances and scholarship fees to ex-militants aimed at assuring peace and security in the region has been quietened by reports of commencement of payment of the monies.
However, much as Boroh’s coming on board assures restoration of confidence in government’s capacity to carry through its promise as long as the deal subsists, commitments by both the government and the people of Niger Delta to permanent peace and security must always be honoured in the nation’s collective interest. Indeed, President Buhari must personally take control of the Niger Delta, home of the nation’s economic mainstay, and make the region’s rehabilitation a personal assignment.
An expert in peacekeeping and conflict resolution, Boroh comes to his new office with a good pedigree. His comments on assumption of duty that the president is keen on the smooth and efficient running of the Amnesty Programme, and more importantly that he “wants things done properly” are indeed reassuring. But given the injustice to the people and degradation of their land, everything about the Niger Delta needs to bear the presidential imprimatur to be taken seriously.
Perhaps due mainly to change of government, some of the beneficiaries of the Amnesty scheme were reportedly eased off the educational facilities at which they were enrolled at home and abroad. Many others who were not accommodated in the programme originally even seized upon the delay in payments to join in the complaints the other day against the Federal Government. Significantly, the problems in the Niger Delta region are still huge and they require conscientious solutions irrespective of the previous attempts through channels like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of the Niger Delta. The region yearns for true development –beyond rhetoric and tokenism.
Regrettably, institutions genuinely created to bring development to the region have merely compounded the problems and enriched only appointees or community or group leaders. NDDC, a remarkable initiative, is known to have become a scheme for corruption and enrichment of a few. It became a money spinner for privileged individuals; it grew worse than ever before to the discomfort of many of the locals who should be core beneficiaries of the mismanaged resources.
The region has also enjoyed and still enjoys the genuine sympathy of patriotic Nigerians outside of the region. The devastation of the area through oil exploration which has caused a lot of deprivation to a people whose economic and social lives depend on the marine ecosystem remains of great concern to all of humanity. In spite of the token corporate and social responsibilities of oil prospecting companies, poverty has ceaselessly ravaged the people of the Niger Delta, hence a recourse to armed struggle by the youth which led to the bleeding of the economy before the amnesty programme of 2010, signalled end to the armed struggle.
A new comprehensive solution is what the region now needs. President Buhari in his inaugural address affirmed the Amnesty programme’s December 2015 terminal date but was short of disclosing any exit strategy. He alluded to government’s intention “to invest heavily in the projects and programmes currently in place” with a proviso that the rehabilitation would be streamlined and made more effective. Nigerians will hold him to these words but it is suggested that the PAP initiative should remain with a view to scrapping it only when the proper structures are in place to improve the lot of the people.
In much the same way, the indigenes should not see militancy as the only language government understands to make their feelings known. As militancy festers, development is impossible and poverty multiplies. However, problems of the region are multifarious. Community and opinion leaders are not communicating with their people neither are they trusted with funds provided by government and groups for development purposes at that level. Government should therefore be fully interested in how allocated funds to the agencies are disbursed for the projects.
Undeniably, huge allocations have gone to the NDDC in particular over the years (without commensurate results) and to the ministry in charge of the region’s affairs since creation. Accountability has, not only been suspect, there have been question marks over use of resources disbursed for capital projects while phantom overhead bills have been conduit for corruption and inefficiency.
A change of strategy is then required. There is also hardly any good understanding of the problems of Niger Delta by most government officials hence there is a limit to what can be done for impact. The people are itching for prosperity based on equity, one that requires a direct, conscious and visionary approach to issues. With the high level of degradation of the environment, and poverty of the people of the Niger Delta, they are now eternal skeptics who hardly believe concerns being expressed in some quarters in the country on their plight are genuine.
President Buhari once again needs to personally own the agenda for the Niger Delta and prove that his government wants to work at a better pace for the people. He must move nearer the people and personally assure them of his commitment against the background of distrust of past governments’ intentions. The total liberation of the Niger Delta from poverty, unemployment, backwardness and illiteracy must be his priority.