JOAB-PETERSIDE: Amnesty Not Designed For Patronage, But Development



Dr. Sofiri Joab-Peterside is a sociology teacher at the University of Port Harcourt. He was one of the resource persons that worked with the Ledum Mitee-led Technical Committee on the Niger Delta that recommended the amnesty programme. He told KELVIN EBIRI that those who implemented the programme ran it like a patronage agency and failed to address the core issues of lack of human and physical development that triggered insurgency in the Niger Delta.

What is your assessment of the implementation of the Amnesty programme?
I HAVE said repeatedly that there is a gap between what the Technical Committee on Niger Delta recommended and what actually the government decided to implement. Amnesty was a temporary measure to restore peace in the Niger Delta area. While government, in return, will train the ex-combatants on skills, to make them live a normal civilian life, and then address the whole question of development process that actually generated the insurgence in the first place.

The technical committee report contained a compass, which the government needed to keep to and one of this compass is the whole question of amnesty, which is like, saying we have forgiven all those who carried arms so long as they surrender their arms and renounce violence as a means of addressing the Niger Delta crisis. And that needed to be followed with a comprehensive package of development, because it is the absence of development and the stranglehold of poverty that actually generated this insurgency in the first place.

The militant insurgency took off in the first place as a mechanism of drawing attention to the development gap, in terms of infrastructure provision in the region. What we see is that government then, just selected this amnesty, which was a kind of temporary measure out of the whole lot and decided to pursue the programme. Though, it was doing so, it also undertook the responsibility of addressing the whole question of environmental degradation, which in the context of what government decided to do, was to be the responsibility of ministry of environment, while the Ministry of Niger Delta was to address the whole question of infrastructural provision in the area. But what is on ground has shown that decision of government has not actually seen effective implementation. Granted that the Ministry of Niger Delta affairs was created, we are yet to see the extent that ministry has actually discharged its mandate in terms of bringing development closer to the people, as there is still very serious infrastructural gaps in the region.

The whole issue of environmental remediation is also not addressed, like the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland. If you ask me, the region has not benefitted in the dimension that people had envisaged, but we can also see that government has benefitted. If government is assessing its performance in terms of the programme, on the quantum of oil pumped from the oil wells, the total revenue strength of government generated from oil, which documents have shown is on the high side. If it is on the high side, there is also the need to match that with the fulfillment of the promises made to the people of the Niger Delta.

he way the programme was constituted, there were thousands of these young men waiting to be trained, because the training was in batches. The people first went for reorientation at Obrubra, and after that, they got enlisted to be sent to where they were to be trained. What we see is that, there are thousands waiting for their own turn to be trained, who have actually gone through this reorientation programme at Obrubra and who also needed their capacity to be built on several skills. That has not happened and that creates a pool of young people who already have expectation that they will go for training that is not materialising.

There is also the issue of those who have been trained and have not found jobs. There is a mismatch of the skills they were trained in and available openings. And of course, problem of rebuilding, recreating and reviving the natural economy of impacted communities, which use to sustain them, that also have not been done. So, these are issues that needed to be addressed, which we think the programme ought to have, but it didn’t. There is also what I call this patronage system, which was used as a way of making sure that these former ex-agitators take responsibility of protection of oil facility in their area.

We also have learnt that that contract has been cancelled. Government is saying that the economy is in bad shape and it cannot afford actually to begin to pay that amount of money for the protection of oil facilities in the area. These are issues that are capable of generating tension again within the Niger Delta.
The programme is supposed to end this year, won’t the exclusion of these yet to be trained ex-militants put the region in another season of unrest?

Even if the region does not return to armed struggle days, I still see the resurgence of violence. What government needs to do is to keep to its own part of the bargain, those promises that were made. You cannot just wind up the programme, because in one of the stakeholders’ meeting held in Port Harcourt, a report conducted by the faculty of social sciences of University of Port Harcourt on post amnesty Niger Delta conflict management framework was deliberated on. I had the privilege of leading the research team on the study, which as funded by Nigerian Reconciliation and Stability Programme, and it was a general opinion and resolution of stakeholders that given the gap in terms of total number of those who signed up for the programme vis-à-vis the number of those who have not been trained, it will not be a very good strategy to leave over ten thousand young men in the cold without actually trying to assist them get trained.

More importantly, all these are cosmetic issues. The main issue that actually generated the crisis in the first place is fundamentally not addressed. The whole question of people benefitting from the resources that is derived from their place has not been addressed. The extent to which multinational corporations can assume corporate responsibility at a global standard in their own area of operation and the whole question of environmental remediation, because of the destruction associated with the recklessness of extraction of oil the area have not been addressed. These are key issues.

Of course, the question of how the indigenous governance institutions have been destroyed by the politics of oil, the divide and rule tactics of the Nigerian State in collaboration with the oil companies needs to be tackled. And then, the violation of fundamental rights of the people of the area due to military incursion and all that have also not been addressed.

Rebuilding communities destroyed as a result militancy and state security agencies’ quest for actually apprehending the militants, which often, result in the destruction of the whole community and communities, have not been addressed and they should be addressed. If government fails to address these issues and it is prepared to wind up the programme, this can generate crisis. Of course, the point needed to be made that I do not support that the programme should run indefinitely. There should be a way of organsing it that most of these issues I raised could be addressed and unless that is done, there is going to be problem.

Do you support a review of the amnesty programme?
Yes. I agree that it should be reviewed because there are young people who are ex-militants, who did not sign up to the programme. They exist in Akwa Ibom, Delta and Edo States, and there are also, some who claim they have not benefitted from the programme even in Rivers State. So, what needs to happen is that these pockets of exclusion in the programme need to be identified and integrated in the reformed, restructured and restrategised implementation of the programme in the region. That is my take on that.

Will it be out of place to argue that the amnesty implementation suffered a setback, because major ex-militant leaders were more concerned about pipeline contracts than the problems of the Niger Delta?
I agree with you in certain aspect, because the programme created its own legacy. There is, actually, often times, disconnect between these militant agitator commanders and their foot soldiers. There were complaints of neglect and shortchanging of the foot soldiers by their leaders, and of course, the way the office that had the responsibility to implement this programme ran it, it became a patronage agency. It created its own crop of class within the militants’ movement, particularly among the ex-agitators, who seem to be divorced and totally disconnected with the general situation in the Niger Delta. Most of them were residents in cities that were not actually very close to the Niger Delta people, and therefore, were very much interested in their own welfare to the extent to which they can enjoy the good things of life without remembering actually the major reason that propped them up into prominence, and to make sure that that struggle reached its final stage, which was bringing development to the people.

There is this controversy that amnesty programme has been marred by corruption. Should the programme be probe?
I’m not against transparency, probity and accountability, and fortunately, the special adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, who implemented that programme, has said that he is prepared to be investigated. I think that it is important for us to now know to the extent to which the budgetary allocation meant for that programme was used. You and I live in the Niger Delta and we know there is the problem of light weapons still in circulation, because these small arms and ammunition were supposed to be mopped with the programme, that also was not realistic, because there is a resurgence of violence, there is a resurgence of weapons, which people did not surrender in the area. These and some other gaps require urgent attention. Let us see the extent to which budgetary allocation were deployed for that purpose. There is nothing wrong in knowing, so that we can see the extent to which all the complaints are real or imagined. I think there is nothing wrong with making sure that funds that was used or managed is brought to the public attention for the benefit of the citizens and those who implemented the programme and believed they acted in tandem with the vision and mission of the amnesty programme.

How best can the President Buhari administration address the Niger Delta question?
I think that the problem we had in our country is not the issue of committees. Several committees have been set up and recommendations made. But I think that the report of the technical committee on Niger Delta appeared to be very current because it is a compendium and review of previous reports, previous commissions on the Niger Delta and what I call a recommendation that is quite acceptable to receive the support of most segment of this country. Unfortunately, government failed to issue a White Paper on that report. If you ask me the way out of the development logjam in the region is to return to the implementation of the report of the technical committee because it is an all-encompassing report. It dealt with the issue of good governance, which has actually not been given serious attention in creating governance levels and strategy that will make sure that the people at the community level will have a say in what is happening in government. And of course creating models where community will drive their development process in the Niger Delta. I think the government should assess that report, issue a White Paper on it and then comprehensively begin to implement the report. That is one way to assuage the feeling of neglect of the people of the Niger Delta. Any other thing short of that will amount to focusing on the cosmetics aspect of what the crisis is and leaving the core issues that require urgent attention.

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