SA-M-N-E-S-T-Y Before Daybreakunday
In the context of the recent global economic crisis, the revenue earned by Nigeria from oil and gas exports has already experienced a sharp decline. Very worryingly, the activities of the militants are said to have caused about 20 percent fall in oil output.
Nigeria is believed to have the capacity to produce 3.2 million barrels of oil per day (mbpd); and indeed the country was producing about 2.9 mbpd at certain stages in 2008. However, owing to an increase in militant acts of sabotage, oil bunkering, hostage-taking, etc., oil production actually fell to between 1.2 and 1.3 mbpd.
The number of persons reportedly kidnapped or held hostage has increased from 353 in 2008 to 512 in the first quarter of 2009. In addition, the continued disruption being caused by the militant activities has also been cited as a major threat to the operations of the electricity projects and the local refineries.
It is, perhaps, the combination of these economic factors that has forced the government to come up with an amnesty package, in the hope that it will pacify the militants and enable the multinational oil companies to resume full economic activities in the country, especially in the South-South. It may also be as a result of change of heart by the government over historical neglect, by successive governments, of the proverbial chicken that lays the golden egg.
The history of this crisis may also be traced to how the country was supposedly put together; the unequal relationship between the over 400 ethnic groups; how political power and resources are being shared; as well as perceived domination of one ethnic nationality by another.
Indeed, politics in Nigeria is defined as ‘who gets what, when and how’. Or simply as the allocation of values as defined by the elite, which cut across ethno-religious divides. Thus, a National Sovereign Conference has been championed by many groups as a way of resolving inherent contradictions in the federation.
THE Federal Government on June 24, 2009 officially opened a two-month amnesty window (from August 6 to October 4, 2009) to all militants in the Niger Delta in exchange for their demobilisation and disarmament. Upon surrendering their weapons, militants would receive financial compensation from the government over a period of time.
Amnesty is a general pardon, especially for those who have committed political crimes. It could also be a period during which crimes can be admitted or illegal weapons handed in without prosecution. But the questions many Nigerians are asking, in the case of the government reprieve for Niger Delta militants, are:
What is the nature of the arms being submitted? How much is being given up? How many are being withheld? What is the source(s) of the arms?
Shortly after President Yar’Adua announced the amnesty package, one of the militant leaders, Henry Okah, was released from a 23-month prison detention. The charges of treason and sabotage preferred against him were also withdrawn.
In consequence of this development, the Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), one of the most active Niger Delta militia groups, announced a 60-day ceasefire. But the group also wants more than the amnesty package. It has demanded the withdrawal of the army and the Joint Task Force from the Gbaramatu area of the Delta. In addition, it has demanded that processes be put in place that can facilitate discussions and dialogue on the main issues – self-determination and resources control – that gave rise to armed activities in the first instance.
But responding to these demands, Nigeria’s Defence Minister, Godwin Abbe, insisted that: “They cannot give conditions to government. The government will make decisions on the effective deployment of troops when the conditions become ripe enough and when law and order is comfortably established.”
Within this context, the amnesty package appears in certain quarters as a clear device to dodge the major issues at stake. Also evident from this is the fact that government is not prepared to relent from its strategy of using military force to have its way in the Delta region. Whichever, the die is cast and the world waits anxiously for the direction of things.
HOWEVER, besides many quantities of arms already surrendered across the region, government’s hands seem to have been strengthened with the Thursday, October 2, acceptance of the amnesty by one of the key militant figures in the Niger Delta, Ateke Tom. Atake had, like some other leading militants, called for extension of the amnesty period, which government had rejected.
But many people believe that if there is one thing the Yar’Adua government has consistently proved over time in its last two years in power, it is the penchant for reversing self, code-named policy summersault. As such, it will be consistent in the character of the regime to extend the amnesty package. Or at worst, it looks the other way for a while, allowing MEND and its brethren to direct further cause of action.
Well, today, October 4, is the deadline set by government for the militants to surrender and hand over arms in their possession otherwise, they face the full consequences of their recalcitrance.
Will the militants take the bait or taste government action such as was visited recently on the Boko Haram religious activists in parts of the North? Recall the speed of government reaction and the aftermath allegation of extra-judicial killings of members of the Islamic sect! Surely, commentators see that as a dress rehearsal by the authorities to bring to bear the full federal might on Niger the Delta militants.
As a political analyst told The Guardian: “The Boko Haram people were simply used as guinea pig in the Federal Government’s preparation to annihilate militants in the Niger Delta. The government was merely flying kite and sending signals to the zone. The only question is just that, is the government ready to jeopardize its oil production in the Niger Delta?”
Perhaps, it does not. Hence, it put the amnesty package in place. Still, the militants should not test government’s resolve, as such would have dire consequences for everyone including the very Niger Delta people, whose cause the militants profess to champion.