Retooling Niger Delta Amnesty Within APC’s Mandate Of Change
EXACTLY six years ago, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua signed the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme. The action was a demonstration of the Federal Government’s seriousness over the granting of unconditional amnesty to former militants protesting environmental despoliation of the Niger Delta region.
Taking up arms and engaging in various breaches against the smooth operation of drilling and ancillary petroleum, as well as, social activities in the area, the militants sabotaged production and export of Nigeria’s oil.
From 2006, when the militancy escalated to 2009, when the amnesty programme came on stream, there was widespread violence by the militants, notably abduction of oil workers, sporadic attacks on oil installations leading to a sharp drop of oil production to one million barrels per day from 2.6 billion bpd.
With their violent strategies, the militants attracted international attention to Federal Government’s neglect and failure to provide basic facilities to their people. It was in realisation of the enormous economic losses and image problems that the militancy in the Niger Delta was causing the country, thatgovernment decided to promulgate the amnesty programme. The granting of unconditional amnesty to the militants who surrendered their weapons and pledged to a new life of collaboration with the government, marked a great turning point in the restive Niger Delta.
Part of the amnesty package was the training of the ex-rebels in batches in various skills. It also included the provision of critical infrastructure and social amenities. The import of the training cum rehabilitation schemes of the Niger Delta amnesty programme could not be lost on those who remember the rate of pipeline compromises and shutdowns before the amnesty deal.
It is a fact that a lot of young men and women, who hitherto had been clutching AK47 and other lethal weapons against the nation’s economic interests, have received training under the scheme. In fact, close to 30,000 ex-militants were registered. However, notwithstanding the benefits of the amnesty programme, there were fears that the programme might atrophy due to the change of leadership and the expiry of the first term of the programme.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), under which platform, the President initiated the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme (NDAP), lost to the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the general election. The APC, which presented a retired General of the Nigerian Army as its presidential candidate, had change as its guiding philosophy.
Again the president, Muhammadu Buhari, hails from the northern part of the country where some misguided Islamic fundamentalists are engaged in insurgent activities.
Based on these new realities a lot of people expressed real fears that the noble programme that restored sanity in the creeks of the Niger Delta could be wound up. Moreover, some of those who anticipated that the NDAP might be terminated felt that the programme had achieved its main target of demobilising and disarming the core of the youth engaged in militancy and disruption of oil production facilities.
As if to buttress the apprehension in certain quarters about the continuation of the NDAP, the oil surveillance contract between the Federal Government and some ex-militants was cancelled. The idea of awarding the surveillance contract to such organisations was to ensure that they deploy their wealth of experience in a positive way in defending, instead of disrupting oil installations and production in the area.
Apprehensions, Reassuring Gestures
IT was perhaps on account of the real fears of reversal Federal Governmenty’s policy in the Niger Delta region that a former president of Urhobo Youth Council (UYC) in Delta State, Chief Sweet Eshenake, decided to plead with President Buhari to continue the mutually beneficial relationship that exists between the ex-militants and the federal government that begun under the late Yar’Adua.
Chief Eshenake’s plea followed discordant tunes about the Presidential amnesty programme and the aborted meeting of former militant commanders convened at the instance of former militant warlord, Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo). He told journalists in Warri that the friendly relations between the Federal Government and the ex-militants went a long way to foster “enduring peace, sustainable unity and genuine development of the Niger Delta region.”
While stressing that any attempt to tamper with the presidential amnesty programme could jeopardise the subsisting peace in the region, Chief Eshenake noted that the programme helped immensely in fostering peace and unity in the Niger Delta region, adding that it gave the youths a sense of belonging and legitimate sources of livelihood.
To compound the apprehension in the region, most of the ex-militants especially those undergoing training and studying overseas on government scholarship cried out against default in the payment of their stipends. Worse still, the exit of the former Coordinator of the programme, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, left a vacuum.
The Buhari administration seemed to have interpreted the growing apprehension in the region as a possible trigger to relapse to the days of militancy. By appointing a replacement to Kuku, the federal government restored confidence in the amnesty programme. President Buhari selected retired Brigadier General Paul Boroh to Co-ordinate the amnesty office.
What To Do, Way To Go
THE appointment of a new coordinator for the amnesty programe is a welcome development, but the greatest benefit lies in charting a new course for the noble programme. The challenge of the amnesty programme under the new federal government includes reorienting the beneficiaries and creating opportunities for them to redirect their energies in replicating the training they received. The perception that the amnesty programme begins and ends in handouts and provision of free incomes should be erased through continuous enlightenment programmes for youth in the region. Over and above enlightenment and conscientization of Niger Delta youth, government should explore the possibility of providing micro-credit facilities for the ex-militants that have acquired various skills to set up business outfits that would help to absorb some of the idle hands in the region. Apart from provision of security for oil facilities and amenities, a veritable area where the training of the ex-militants could help is oil services.
It does not make economic sense to outsource the same jobs for which these ex-militants have been trained. Handouts have never proven a sustainable poverty eradication or reduction models. The missing angle to the narratives about the amnesty and the situation in Niger Delta is the mix of poverty. Creating institutional legitimacy should occupy the plans for enduring peace in the region. The people need assurances that the institutions concerned with the Niger Delta problem are transparent and credible. In time past some of the ex-militants went into protest over allowances and sundry opportunities based on insufficient information. Bringing some of the ex-militants on board in the amnesty office would go a long way in sustaining confidence. The negative impact of poverty is more defined when the government lacks the political will and structures to address declining socio-economic circumstances. Poverty may not be just lack or penury but absence of access to means of production or economic activities.
In their essay on the challenges of the amnesty programme, Kingsley Nnorom and Jude Odigbo of Kwararafa University stated: “… It is the failure to draw the poor into the design and subsequent implementation of development programmes that affect their lives. These are mainly issues bothering on the capacity of the state to evolve credible processes to deal with the basic and fundamental needs of the people. Thus, the outcome of this haphazard and poor implementation process of development programmed in the Niger Delta is obvious complication of the existing poverty crisis to a more complex degree.”