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Amnesty: How can it bring peace to Niger Delta?

By Jimitota Onayume
There does not seem to be a consensus among militants in the Niger Delta on the amnesty from the federal government.    While some fear it is a booby trap that    should be avoided with a long spoon others  think accepting the amnesty would amount to shutting them out of their sources of income. There is the third group that has indicated intention to embrace the amnesty. And they include Sobomabo Jackreece aka Egberipapa who is currently languishing in a JTF detention camp in the state.

A source close to Egberipapa said the militant who is known to be a protégé of Asari Dokubo is on his kneels praying that the amnesty thing should pull through. He probably wants the amnesty not because he is in detention but because he desired a change of life style. It would be recalled that he was arrested at the palace of the amanyanabo of Kalabari in Buguma where he had gone for a peace talk on how to end the mindless shooting and wanton destruction of lives in the Kalabari area of Rivers state.

Egberipapa is probably not alone in this line of thought according to the same militant community source Ateke Tom and Boy loaf want the amnesty to succeed.  These militant leaders according to the source really want to be reintegrated back into society.  But one major fear the source said they have at the moment revolved around the sincerity of the federal government on the issue.

If Egberipapa could be picked up when he turned up for a peace talk, Gbaramatu could be attacked at a time there was so much media hype on the issue of amnesty and Asari Dokubo could be picked up on arrival into the country two days to when government was to come up with details on the amnesty even though he was later released on the orders of the president, the whole development in their view cast some doubts on the commitment of the government to the peace process.

Another cog in the wheel of the peace process are those feeding fat from the militant leaders.  Those you can otherwise call their foot soldiers. They don’t really need the amnesty because their vicious activities and operations are only known to restricted areas. They can walk the streets as free men because they are not known to have links with the militant leaders.

This set of militants at the moment feel that their source of income would be threatened by the amnesty so they are determined to frustrate it. Militant sources told the Vanguard that they are the poisoning the minds of some militant leaders against the amnesty. Despite all the fears so far listed against the project the general prayer is that peace should return to the region. This growing culture of violence and bloodletting should come to an end. And massive development should be recorded in the region.

As usual, Vanguard got various opinions on the peace project, amnesty.   Dr Felix Tuodolor, founding president of the Ijaw Youth Council and pioneer head of contemporary youth agitation in the region was the first to speak. He tries to capture the fears of the militants whom he styled combatants.

Vanguard also spoke with leaders of some militant groups in the region.

FELIX TUODOLOR

THERE is so much hope being built in the region with this amnesty. Do you think it will bring about the desired peace?

Well the issue of amnesty is one of the preconditions we started on from the beginning of the year to bring about peace in the region. We proposed a programme it .We met with the IG, SSS, Niger Delta Minister, foreign embassies, governors of the region. We said there were conditions that should be met for the youths of the region to participate in the programme of the government. Amnesty is one of them. We also want the amnesty to be gazette, legalized through the national assembly. We want the international community to be part of it because it brings some level of confidence. Nigeria government has made promises in the past on the Niger Delta that were not met.

We believe that if something is not done now correctly and rightly, the next phase of agitation in the region could even be worst than this. I say this because the struggle was not as devastating as it is now. And nobody can tell what it will be like in the future if government does not take steps to stop it now

Do you really think amnesty can bring these boys out of the creeks and stop the conflict, kidnapping and shooting in the region?

To a large extent. But amnesty is not the entire solution. It is a part of the bigger package. Amnesty must be followed with several programmes. There are several attitudes to the struggle now. Some believe in the gun culture, there are others that believe in peaceful means etc. The need for reorientation, training etc must come in. These youths have aspirations. They should all be helped to succeed. They should be helped to realize their descent dreams.  So there is need for proper reintegration. And this will take about three years. And we believe if all these are addressed it will go a long way in solving the problem of hostage taking etc.

Let me say that most of the hostages taking in the region are not being carried out by youths from the region.  We believe this peace process is well driven camps will cease to exist. Most of the hostage takers and criminals will not have a hiding place to keep hostages.

Militants have become so rich that this amnesty in the thinking of some people will deny them their source of income. So do you see them genuinely willing to embrace it?

It is not true.  Yes they have made so much money. But they are not the only people into bunkering etc. politicians are into it. People have made money. These combatants want a peaceful environment to enjoy their money. They don’t want to be on the run all the time. So I don’t see them turning down the issue of amnesty. But if government is not sincere they will continue with what they are doing. And let me say they are gaining followership already. So effort must be taken to discourage this growing economy in the region.

When we started the struggle, we wanted development for our people. But now is not the same, things have gotten worst. The economy of the region is going, our people can’t even farm. This is bringing pain to our people. The struggle has been infiltrated, criminalized and basterdised. This can no longer be called the struggle

After amnesty what next?

If amnesty is not followed with a proper programme of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration it will be like the programme of 2005 where government granted amnesty in Rivers state, asked them to return guns. And it became business; people turned in dame guns for 250,000 and got better ones with the monies.

Government must go beyond amnesty to implement sustainable programe to promote the gains of amnesty, peace and security.

MEND is blowing up oil facilities in the region. What do you say?

I don’t know who is MEND. But I know what it means.

And what does it mean?

Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta.  Is a faceless group. But I will say that a struggle that does not benefit the people you are struggling for is not worth it. We must restrategise to make sure our struggle benefit our people. Blowing up of pipelines cause more pain to our people, destroys our environment, water etc. Make it difficult for fishermen and increase the level of diseases. It is not the kind of struggle we will advocate for. We want a struggle that will make us sit down on the way out of the log jam in the region.

Having said this, I must blame the government for not addressing issues of underdevelopment in the region that gave rise to these things. Right from Isaac Adaka Boro, Ken Sarowiwa, and government failed to address the issues. We came up with Kiama declaration, till today government has failed to do what it should do. Rather it is unilaterally shunning out programmes, committees they set up don’t lead anywhere. See the Mitee committee; nothing has been done about it. Government is responsible for what the faceless MEND is doing.

I tell you that once government agrees to dialogue and provide development for the region all these will stop. Government has failed to listen

Secretary, WATCH DOG OF NIGER DELTA, a militant body, Mr. Sam Ebiye

Erring militants should go for the amnesty. Amnesty is not a corrective factor for the problems of the region. If the problem still continues in the region it will still breed militancy. Meaningful development within the region can only be executed with credible leaders. The effort of the ministry of Niger Delta has not met the development need of the region. For instance since its creation all it has done is give rice to displaced people in the Delta. Amnesty should not mean repression, silence of the voice of the region. We condemn the blowing of pipelines in the region. It is not in the best interest of the region.

In the spirit of amnesty, this one the federal government is offering should mean well for the region.  Government should look at the Ministry of Niger Delta. Ministry of Niger Delta should be properly monitored.

If we keep on destroying pipeline, criminality continues in our region. Erring militants should lay down their arms. Governor Rotimi Amaechi should give support to Ateke Tom to repent. It was wrong for the governor to condemn Ateke’s

General Toru, of Grand Alliance of Niger Delta, another militant body

We support it and the government should be straightforward. Amnesty does not mean people should drop their arms and walk on the streets. Federal government should create an institution to take care of the boys. Government must know those they want to change. Genuine people should form the monitoring team. These are part of the amnesty process. Presidency should know that the blocks, grasses in the Niger delta are all militants

The boys should embrace peace. Today they call us miscreants. MEND should relax. Breaking pipeline has noting to do with our struggle. Fishermen are suffering from the oil spill. They should hold on

Meanwhile, a public conflict and crisis management consultant, Bar Anthony Richard said the government should complete its process of consensus building in the region by engaging various groups just as he enjoined the region to give the federal government a chance to realize its vision for the area. “As the federal government is looking at the issue of amnesty it should also look at the immediate release of projects to the region. This will make the people take the federal government serious”

The conflict management expert further hailed steps so far taken by the federal government in tackling challenges in the region.


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