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The amnesty, then what?

By Tony Momoh
I DO not think there is anyone, including us  Niger Deltans, who would not be happy at the bold decision of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to grant amnesty “unconditionally” to those there in the creeks who have been protesting the inequities that have surfaced over the years in the exploration and exploitation of the resources located by God Almighty in the lands of their habitation.

Other pigheaded leaders would have been deceived into opting for war as the only way out. We have eaten the pudding and discovered that war is not the solution, has never been and will never be the solution.

Yes it can point out the strengths and weaknesses of the parties to it, and strengthen or weaken their resolves to stay put at their positions of claims; but that is where the kudos stop. You see, many in positions are understandably always affected by the limitations of those very close to them and to whom they listen.

The voices shouting and yelling outside are ignored, even derided as agents of forces of destabilization. If those there on the throne can listen, lots of harm would be prevented. \

Writers are more than town criers. They are reminders and have the advantage of looking back into the records in the bowels of time to tell you what they said when the come came to become (if we must revisit Mbadiwe’s memorable lines). On June 29, last year, I wrote a piece, The Niger Delta Swamp.

If someone had listened, we would not be going through this motion of declaring an amnesty after we have sent our troops to sweep across the Niger Delta and tame the militants, but have seen that no non-conventional war can be won through face-me-I-face-you approach.

To show that the amnesty, good and great a step as it is, is not the final answer, I will take us to what I said on June 29 last year, and was ignored.

After describing for you a swamp that the Niger Delta is, I told you, “… war is war, local or international, and it has never succeeded in proving that it pays in spite of the misleading advice that to ensure or secure peace, you must prepare for war.

If you prepare for war, you have sown the seeds of war and it is war that will come.  Those who want peace, they sow love, not bullets. Love begets love.  Bullets hurt, maim, kill, and leave memories of loss, never thoughts of gain.  The Niger Delta Swamp is no less a treacherous terrain, like Vietnam, even like Iraq.

The militants are not fighting to control territory.  They may well be overdoing their bid to draw attention to their plight, their travails.

With hundreds of creeks (which) they know more than any other, they can weave their way as they deem fit, strike at the occupation troops when they are not looking and melt away to prepare for another embarrassing attack.

They avoid encounters and direct confrontations, the first lessons guerrilla fighters learn, because they know they cannot face a regular army, like ours, and come out with medals.   To show their superior power, the army will record what the world will frown at – many more Odis and Zaki Biams.

And those who died fighting to maintain the territorial integrity of their country will not be mourned by the international community, but those who were hanged for treason…”

It is one year since I wrote what I just quoted. It was written before a technical committee was set up and given marching orders to produce a report fast, very fast.

They should look at what has been done since 1958 up to now. They should summarise all the recommendations.

They should say what should be done to achieve a permanent solution to the problems of the region.  The committee worked round the clock and gave government more than it asked for.

It gave us a comprehensive plan of growing the region and its people through programmes that any dissident would embrace.

That was late last year, and the technical committee’s report seems to have become yet another plan that will not be executed, just another outing that was meant to soothe fraying nerves. We seemed to have had a choice, as professional providers of scenarios often do.

The war option was there – just move into the creeks and deal with those criminals! So, instead of doing what the technical committee said, that is addressing in a wholistic manner the problems in the region, and funding the programmes, those who wanted the war option won the day.

We put the committee report aside and moved into the creeks with the federal might and added more communities to our testimonials of destructive approach to the solution of obvious problems of welfare for communities from which we earn 90 per cent of what sustains our greed today.

Now that we have discovered that we haven’t proved anything favourable in gobbling the pudding, we have chosen the shortsighted way out by offering carrots in the place of projects.

We thank the president for his boldness. But what the amnesty will achieve will be no more than paying some of the militants to hand over their weapons and choose the temporary path of living big.

With the people of the area still left in their squalor, their children will grow up to resist deprivation and denial, and many more Adaka Boros would emerge and continue the struggle which, predictably, will be more deadly and destructive.

Those who know will continue  to say that the human spirit does not know and cannot be forced into submission to slavery. It can pretend to accept defeat but deep down there, it never submits to oppression, not because of stubbornness for its own sake but because it is the nature of the human spirit not to submit to injustice.

Haven’t you heard that while Almighty God can forgive any indiscretion, the one that can never be condoned on judgment day is injustice?

What we are doing now, opting for in the short term, is the postponement of justice in a frenetic bid to secure peace. But our preoccupation should not stop at peace, if we want lasting solutions to our problems. Justice should anchor it.

We who are pointing to the manholes in the amnesty project can do no more, as writers.

We may be called names, be ignored.  But we must continue to warn, to tell, to say it as we know it.  Others have their banners, but the writer’s banner is the words he uses to tell you what is going on and what in his view you can do about it.

His armoury is the dictionary, not the physical weapons that protesters resort to when words can no longer count.


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