Amnesty: Militants’ gain, Niger Delta’s loss

Niger Delta Avengers

Faced with an imminent collapse of the oil industry, President Umaru Yar’Adua, in June 2009, offered amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta to save the nation’s economy from collapse, and stem the growing insecurity in the region.

In a nutshell, the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), was conceived as a means of resolving protracted security challenges such as wanton kidnapping of expatriate and domestic oil workers, and attacks on critical oil installations, in a bid to boost crude oil production.

As part of the package, the Federal Government was also to address wider development challenges facing the Niger Delta.

While the amnesty programme has paved way for increased crude oil production and also drove down relative security challenges in the region, the core issues that gave birth to militancy are yet to be resolved nine years after.

When the Federal Government announced the amnesty offer, militants who operated under the (conglomerate) umbrella of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) were, under the terms of the programme, expected to surrender their arms and ammunition within 60 days, and then subsequently renounce recourse to violent militancy in any form.

As soon as the various militants groups, save for a faction of MEND led by Henry Okah, embraced the amnesty programme, the Federal Government immediately instituted the disarmament and demobilisation of the combatants estimated to be about 30,000. This process was driven by the then Minister of Defence, General Godwin Abe (rtd), who was suitable for the security component of the amnesty programme.

The rehabilitation and reintegration of the militants into the society training was introduced under the watch of the then Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Timi Alaibe, who had acquired sufficient experience dealing with agitators while serving as executive director finance and later, the managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

Shortly, after the demise of President Yar’adua, Alaibe was replaced with Kingsley Kuku, a former Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) spokesperson.

He was primarily saddled with the responsibility of continuing the security stabilisation in the Niger Delta through the rehabilitation and sustainable re-integration of ex-militants into the society as a part of a holistic medium and long-term human capacity development strategy.

Because most of the militants could not go back to their villages for fear of reprisal attacks, the government then offered to pay them N1, 500 daily for 30 days (N45, 000) as accommodation and N20, 000 for their upkeep.

Afterwards, the Amnesty Office started training a lot of the ex-militants in vocational trade, such as scaffolding, deep sea wielding, pipeline wielding, operation of earthmoving equipment, diving and seamanship, among others.

These trainings were both local and international.  In the human capacity building component of the programme, the Amnesty Office made initial errors, but later it realised that training without certification would amount to nothing.

Lots of the ex-militants numbering about 1, 004 were offered admission into some universities within the country, while others were sent to Cyprus, Russia, Belarus, Malaysia, United Kingdom, United States, Canada and others. At a point, there were about 350 students in England alone.

But following complaints by some segments of the Niger Delta that government was neglecting youths, who didn’t bear arms against the state, former President Goodluck Jonathan, approved a window for about 700 to 1,000 young people under the scheme “People from Impacted Communities,” that is, wherever the conflict in the Niger Delta had taken place.

It was through this new programme that some of the ex-militants and persons from impacted communities were able to secure admission into universities in the United States, and Warrick Royal School of Surgeons, Liverpool. By the time President Jonathan left office in 2015, there were about 232 students in United States, 10 in Canada, scores in Trinidad and Tobago; and some in Sheffield, England.

Some of the 40 ex-militants, who went through the rehabilitation and reintegration process at Obubra, were offered admission in one State University in the United States. Some of them have even joined the United States Army.

To the world, these ex-combatants were presented as students from the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, to avoid their possible stigmatisation.

Currently, some beneficiaries of the amnesty programme are studying in 16 countries and in 15 Nigerian universities.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, 1, 294 students were deployed to various universities in the country. Out of the 681 students, who graduated between 2015 and 2016, 14 graduated in the First Class Division and 84 with Second Class Upper.

According to the Amnesty Office, the Benson Idahosa University retained four students, who made First Class as teachers. Some of the ex-militants, who were trained in power system engineering in Dubai, were equally retained by the government there.

There are over 14, 000 people, who have been trained in various entrepreneurship and vocational skills as internationally certified pilots, air traffic controllers, aircraft maintenance engineers, medical practitioners, artisans, internationally accredited chefs and hospitality managers, shoe makers, automobile engineers, electrical technicians, as well as caterers.

A lot of the militant leaders, as part of the amnesty programme, were awarded multi-million naira pipeline surveillance contracts in order to check the incessant breaching and vandalisation of pipelines, and oil theft, that have taken direct tolls on oil production and supplies, with corresponding adverse effects on the country’s economy.

However, when the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration came on board, many assumed it would wound up the amnesty programme, but it opted to continue with it, but placing a lot more focus on exploring available potentials in the agriculture sector to grow the national economy.

In fact, the sum of N65b was budgeted for the office in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The funds would be expended on the provision of reintegration activities, payment of tuition fees for beneficiaries, who are in post-secondary institutions at home and abroad, payment of in-training and hazard allowances and vocational training costs.

The incumbent coordinator of the programme cum Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, General Paul Boroh (rtd) recently disclosed that his office has been vigorously pursuing partnerships with relevant agro-allied groups to encourage ex-militants to embrace commercial agriculture.

The Amnesty Office said it has empowered some militants to embrace fishery, poultry and crop farming, while others are yet to be trained in agriculture.

IRRESPECTIVE of these recorded successes, the PAP has been riddled with allegations of widespread corruption and misappropriation of funds, which have been levelled against the Amnesty Office by groups such as the Niger Deltans Against Greed and Gimmicking and MEND.

MEND spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo said: “We remain vehemently opposed to the fraudulent and unsustainable Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) headed by Brigadier General Paul Boroh (rtd), which still runs on the corrupt bureaucratic and operational template of the past administration. We have always made it very clear that unless the root issues which gave birth to the agitations in the Niger Delta region are addressed, in the form of a sincere dialogue, this programme will only continue to remain a mere cesspool of corruption.”

Similarly, the Joint Revolutionary Council spokesperson, Cynthia Whyte, announced the declaration by an alliance of key agitating groups in the Niger Delta of the intention of more than 4, 315 former combatants to renege on the terms of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and return to full-scale armed struggle over allegation of continued appointment of ill-equipped and ill-prepared retired military officers to run the affairs of the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme.

The central leadership command of the JRC, Whyte stressed, believes that yet again, this represents a renewed attempt by unpopular, disgruntled and divisive politicians from the Niger Delta, who have never supported the PAP to hijack it and undermine a legacy of the agitating people of the Niger Delta.

Whyte warned that if this happens, the relative peace enjoyed across the Niger Delta and the reported increase in daily barrels of oil produced in the region may be disrupted with dire consequences for the polity.

“For the past two years, billions of naira have been spent on the amnesty programme with nothing to show for it. Not even fresh ideas. For more than two years, the Buhari government has done nothing new in the Niger Delta largely because those who represent the Niger Delta in the cabinet do not have what it takes to represent either our interests or us.
 
“We therefore call on the President of the Nigerian State, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) to begin series of strong engagements across the Niger Delta with a view to selecting and recruiting capable, and tested trusted hands, who will be acceptable to our people, useful to the Presidency, and capable of making new friends for the president in the region,” said Whyte.

The chairman of the technical committee on Niger Delta, Ledum Mitee, who was among those that conceptualised  the amnesty programme, told The Guardian that the programme was  not supposed to run in perpetuity .

According to him, one of the major pitfalls of the programme is the non-existence of any exit strategy.

Nine years after the amnesty programme commenced, while oil production has reached its peak, the people of the Niger Delta are still appealing to the Federal Government to address the developmental challenges that necessitated the conflict.

The region’s leaders under the aegis of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), during one of their meetings with President Buhari, explained that when President Yar Adua, proclaimed the Presidential Amnesty Programme to end hostilities in the Niger Delta, it was also intended to facilitate stabilisation of the security conditions and pave way for sustainable development of the region.

PANDEF pointed out that the post-amnesty programme conceived at the end of the disarmament and retrieval of weapons from the ex-militants, had five components, namely: the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) of former militant agitators; critical infrastructural and economic development in the Niger Delta; environmental remediation; implementation of modalities for the involvement of host communities in the ownership of petroleum assets; establishment of framework for oil and gas assets protection and pipeline surveillance. 

“ Issues such as the Ogoni cleanup and environmental remediation; 30-year old Maritime Academy of Nigeria in Oron, Akwa Ibom State; key regional critical infrastructure such as completion of the existing East-West Road; resumption of work on the abandoned Bodo-Bonny Road project; implementation of the proposed East-West Coastal Road project, which stretches 704 km along the Atlantic coastline, from Odukpani Junction in Cross River State, connecting over 1,000 communities, to Ibeju on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos State; removal of bottlenecks militating against the full activation and utilisation of existing ports in the Niger Delta including Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar; commence the dredging of the Escravos bar-mouth, which will open up Burutu, Koko, Sapele, Warri and Gelegele, are some of the issues that are yet to be resolved.

Other nagging issues like the relocation of administrative and operational headquarters of international oil companies to the Niger Delta; power supply; economic development and empowerment; inclusive participation in oil industry and ownership of oil blocs; restructuring and funding of the NDDC, and strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry; the Bakassi question and fiscal federalism have continued to fester and will continue to provide excuse for emergence of other militant groups such as the Niger Delta Avengers.

 

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