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Amnesty for Militants: Can this gesture prove critics wrong?

MIXED reactions have continued to trail the four billion naira amnesty package for militants. Some, especially from government circle have hailed it, while many still think it is a misplaced  priority. The misgivings on how well the pardon can help in calming the creeks, is harped on the fate of past reports on the region. Whereas the recent Ledum  Mitee technical report, was expected to be at some stage of implementation, given the much ado about it, but it has increased the number of such reports in governments archives. In the face of increasing doubts how can amnesty work, given the absence of public confidence on the government? Charles Kumolu reports.

DESPITE being seen as weak in all aspects of governance, critics cannot deny Nigeria’s President, Umar Musa Yar’Adua, his place among those good at making promises. This is one area where pollsters and analysts, may continuously experience inaccurate predictions. And it has been defeat after defeat, for those who think the President can fail in all areas.

This defeat however, will continuously stare many in the face, as promises keep emanating from the Presidency in the face of unfulfilled litany of pledges.

From the inspiring inaugural speech, to some humble promises of today, the tale remains identical.

In his inaugural speech, the President  presented himself as a humble man who would work hard to improve living conditions for the poor majority in a nation of 140 million plagued by joblessness, insecurity and absence of basic services.

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“I most humbly offer myself as a servant leader. I will be a good listener and a doer. I will serve this nation with honesty, transparency, accountability and absolute fear of God,” said Yar’Adua, who is a devout Muslim.

Most of the qualities in the above pledges, may have been practicable so far, but has the president been a good doer?

Conventional and professional wisdom, may provide no as an answer.
Reporting the alleged absence of focus of this administration, is no longer news, as it (non performance)  has been evident from pleas from top functionaries for patience.

In the face of what observers have described as another Second Republic, some have not ceased to love this snail speed style or ploy of governance.

But beneath this love(?), lies the discontent about the fate of most pledges made in this dispensation. Most Nigerians, have remained dumb, while expecting the promises to be made good. But the silence is getting noisy, with each new promise made.

This is why the amnesty for Niger Delta militants is seen as a final test on whether there will be a departure from the usual failed policies on the region.

The urgency in finding a solution to the unrest in the Niger Delta, also informed the prominence it had in the May 29, 2007 address.

“The crisis in the Niger Delta commands our urgent attention. Ending it is a matter of strategic importance to our country. I will use every resource available to me, with your help, to address this crisis in a spirit of fairness, justice, and cooperation.

“We have a good starting point because our predecessor already launched a master plan that can serve as a basis for a comprehensive examination of all the issues. We will involve all stakeholders in working out a solution.

“As part of this effort, we will move quickly to ensure security of life and property, and to make investments safe.

“In the meantime, I appeal to all aggrieved communities, groups and individuals to immediately suspend all violent activities, and respect the law. Let us allow the impending dialogue to take place in a conducive atmosphere. We are all in this together, and we will find a way to achieve peace and justice,” the president pledged about the troubled region.

Since then, there have been the setting up of a technical committee on the crisis and the creation of a ministry for the region. All  in a bid to calm the troubled creeks.  Nonetheless, the presidential pardon, which is the latest, is expected be a landmark in search for peace in the oil rich region.

The overall devastating effect of militancy and the security threat it constitutes to the bond that binds Nigeria together, informed the view that amnesty, may be a panacea. While some see it this way, many still believe it may end up as a farce.

In view of the fact, that what gave rise to militancy or why the youths should not have taken up arms against the State, is becoming overflogged, Vanguard Features, VF took a different style (focusing on how amnesty can work) in reporting the logjam.

And it paid off, as investigations revealed how amnesty can fail and succeed, in the face of doubts.

From the every day Nigerian politician, who commands little or no public sympathy, to experts on conflict resolution, the views appear the same: Amnesty should be guided by sincerity.

This however, is harped on two points.
First, is the  believe that the crisis is a by product of the corrupt system in Nigeria and also that the true militants are actually the politicians who loot the treasury thereby spreading poverty and causing restiveness among the youths.

“I agree with the amnesty but it has to come with opportunities, so that they will have a better way of life. They should also have the opportunity to carry people along and teach them better. I would also say that amnesty is not enough, it must go along with reconciliation, It must also go with sincerity, which will make the people believe that you are ready for peace,” Dr Bernard Lafayet.

The African American, who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, during the civil right days, however insisted that violence is not the answer to many questions about the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta.

Going nostalgic on how racial segregation was defeated in the US, he revealed that some violent approaches can be applied to non-violence approach to conflict resolution.

Lafayet, who was in Nigeria for a non-violent training for some militants, said, “they feel that they can get what they want through arm struggle, but it is not fashionable. Now that they have taken up arms, our duty is to tell them how, Ghandi and King suppressed oppression by the establishment through non-violence.

“They showed that you can have power without fire power. That is what happened to us in the US, but we were faithful to peaceful approach.”

For, Barrister Allen Onyema, Chairman Foundation For Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, FEHN, both the Federal government and the youths, should make certain concessions to both sides adding that it may cover some alleged lapses on the terms of the amnesty.

“It should be a total package which should involve rehabilitation and reintegration. But after that, the government should be sincere with the developmental plans it has for the region. If what is due to the region is given to them, I don’t think there will be any noise about resource control. What is needed there is human and infrastructural development,” he noted.

Onyema, whose non governmental organisation in conjunction with Rhode Island University, specializes in rehabilitating and reintegrating people in a multicultural society towards nationalism as against ethnic nationalism, further threw his weight behind the pardon, even as he stated that it should be a victor vanquished situation.

“We should not create more problems in our bid to solve the problem. And in conflict management, you have to be able to put yourself in the position of the other person to be able to geta better result. It is not going to be a victor vanquished situation, it has to be a win-win situation. In that way, the both parties will benefit from the package.
If we are looking for reconciliation, then, it must be give and take,” Onyema added.

Apparently, deviating from total support for the amnesty, a Niger Deltan, Senator Levi Nwaokeafor, called for urgent implementation of past reports on the region.

Nwaokeafor, who declared that amnesty will address some questions on the crisis, called on the Federal government to embark on massive development of the creeks.

“We should not have a country in a country. To avoid this, the government must implement all good reports on how to develop the region.  That I believe will throw away attachments to Kaima declaration, Ogoni bill of rights and others. So I support the amnesty, but more need to be done,” he noted.


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