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Amnesty and the Niger Delta

By Hessington Okolo

According to the Black’s Law Dictionary sixth edition, Amnesty  means ‘a sovereign act of forgiveness for past acts, granted by a government to all persons ( or to certain class of persons) who have been guilty of crime or delict, generally political offenses- treason, sedition, rebellion, draft evasion, and often conditioned upon their return to obedience and duty within a prescribed time.’

Recently, President Umar Yar’Adua announced a blanket amnesty for all Niger Delta Militants who are up in arms against the Nigerian Federation to call attention to the unwholesome activities of oil majors operating in the region and the deliberate developmental emasculation of the area by the Nigerian nation. The amnesty offer has been hailed by some persons as a sign of genuine commitment on the part of the Government to find solution to the crisis ravaging the Delta. But the question is, is the amnesty offer a cure to the ills ravaging the area?

This writer does not think so. A history of the Niger Delta reveals the nonchalant attitude of Nigeria towards the developmental needs of the region. It is glaring that the reason for the offer of amnesty is the failure of the Nigerian Military through the Joint MilitaryTask Force (JTF) to curtail and contain the sabotage of oil installations embarked upon by the militants, reducing the petro-dollars on which the Nigerian nation feeds fat.

If the Federal Government where interested in the people of the region as it wants us to believe, how come no arrangement has been made for the rehabilitation of the displaced victims of its ill advised onslaught on innocents in Gbaramatu Kingdom, and other areas where the JTF has left the indelible mark of sorrow, tears and blood?  How come the insane desire to repair the damaged oil pipelines and other sabotaged installations while the people suffer?

The amnesty offer in the opinion of this writer is nothing but a continuation of the tokenism that has characterized Government response to issues of Niger Delta development. Even before the Niger Delta crude became the life wire of the Nigerian nation, there have been agitations for a planned, balanced and systematic development of the region. From the time of the Willink’s Commission to the present day armed struggle, the cry has been for development, not amnesty.

To solve the Niger delta problem we must tackle the root causes. Insincerity, poverty, joblessness etc must be effectively tackled.

Firstly, it has been established that politicians in their unbridled lust for power, arm these youths as private armies against their real and perceived enemies making all sorts of promises to secure their loyalty but immediately their aim is achieved they abandon them forgetting that they still hold the arms. The youths unemployed and angry must as a matter of necessity employ the guns to some use.

Good a thing most of the Militants have accepted amnesty, they should be encouraged to reveal names of these politicians who armed them, and such people must be prosecuted as deterrents. Secondly, we have to ask, what MEND and other militant groups and even the non-violent groups are fighting for? It is only against the backdrop of an understanding of the reason for the current armed struggle that a proper solution can emerge.

In a nutshell the people of the Niger Delta are asking for development which has been denied them, nobody is asking for amnesty. Amnesty presupposes that one has been found guilty of an offence. While it is not debatable that the President has the right to grant amnesty to a felon, this offer presupposes that all militants have been found guilty of such offences for which amnesty is necessary, but can we say that the Government and oil majors are blameless? Let me give an apt example with my area.

The Ndokwa nation in Delta State, a major oil and gas producing ethnic nationality is home to the second largest gas reserves in Africa and plays host to some oil majors prominent of which is the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC). Ndokwa is about the most peaceful oil and gas producing ethnic nationality and home to the Nigerian Agip Oil Company’s (NAOC) Okpai IPP which currently generates 458 megawatts of electricity to the national grid, yet she wallows in total darkness.

Several attempts have been made by our people to get NAOC to step down electricity for us, but NAOC has turned deaf ears to legitimate demands. The Delta State Government and the NNPC through the General Manger NAPIMS has severally attempted to bring NAOC and the Ndokwa people to the round table but NAOC has refused to honor any invitation. Now please tell me if that is not a deliberate provocation of the highest order.

Government and the oil companies must as a matter of urgency and necessity fast track infrastructural and economic development of the region, it is only then that the amnesty will really be useful, otherwise we only postpone the evil day.

* Hessington Okolo, is the National President, Ndokwa Youth Congress


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