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What amnesty means, by Uduaghan

Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan
ASABA — Since the President announced on June 25th the federal government amnesty to armed youths in the Niger Delta, alot of reaction has trailed his decision.

I am not going to condemn the contrary opinion of some people, which to my mind, is a complete misunderstanding of the intention and objectives of the amnesty. For instance, the posture that the federal government was pressured into announcing the amnesty is not correct.

That is because the amnesty is one item in a series of initiatives of the federal government to resolve the challenges of bringing peace to the region.

From left: Environment Minister, John Odey; Minister of State for Petroleum, Odein Ajumogobia (SAN); Minister of State, FCT, Chuka Odom; Interior Affairs Minister, Godwin Abbe and Minister of State, Niger Delta Development, Godsday Orubebe at the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council presided over by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, at the Council Chambers, State House, Abuja, yesterday. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.
From left: Environment Minister, John Odey; Minister of State for Petroleum, Odein Ajumogobia (SAN); Minister of State, FCT, Chuka Odom; Interior Affairs Minister, Godwin Abbe and Minister of State, Niger Delta Development, Godsday Orubebe at the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council presided over by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, at the Council Chambers, State House, Abuja, yesterday. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.

The point that may have escaped some people is that, even if all issues on the table are settled in a manner some canvasses them to be—fiscal federalism, environmental pollution and devastation, marginalization of local communities by International Oil Companies (IOC’s) in terms of jobs and other developmental issues and nothing is done to bring back the armed youths in the creeks to normal society, there is no guarantee of what they would become.

In fact, if that were to be the case today, these armed youths will have to answer to the laws of the nation or remain fugitive of the law. So, what the amnesty has done is to say, it does not matter what has been done to draw attention to the Niger Delta issues, let’s end the violence and bring dialogue into a situation that should not have risen in the first place.

What Amnesty means therefore is an end to economic sabotage or violent action in pursuing legitimate aims of the Niger Delta struggle. It means allowing the leadership of the zone an opportunity to engage Nigeria on the way forward.

It means allowing for other steps that constitute part of the critical stages in resolving the Niger Delta marginalization and disempowerment to mature into fruition, through such structures like Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); the Niger Delta Ministry; the implementation of the Niger Delta technical report, otherwise known as Ledum Mitee report, and with the various state governments playing its role.

When the President announced the creation of Niger Delta Ministry on September 10 2008, my initial reaction then was that important as it was; his decision was only a critical first step, which has to be followed by several others.

Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, Governor of  Delta State.
Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, Governor of Delta State.

My posture is that resolving 50 years of neglect that has deeply become complicated and near-insoluble would require a sustained and sincere effort by the government to show that it wants to win back people’s confidence and support by following through on government’s own various reports and pronouncements about how to reverse the negative trend of things in the region.

Overtime the President as we have seen has shown himself committed to ending the troubles in the region and bring back normalcy. Nine months after creating the Ministry of Niger Delta we have amnesty for our boys. Clearly, there is an urgency to win people’s confidence and a sign of sincerity on the part of Mr. President to resolve an issue he in no way played a part in starting in the first place.

The argument that announcing armistice was a better terminology or policy that best captures the situation is not entirely valid. In a narrow technical sense the point can be made that those receiving amnesty has not been convicted, but if you wait until they are apprehended, tried and granted amnesty would that just not be prolonging matters?

Furthermore, the proponents of armistice say if one is declared, then the two sides would stand down continued violent conflict and allow for a reasonable period of time for negotiation during which time the good faith of the government can be fully demonstrated and the terms of peace worked out.

I beg to differ with this proposition. My reason: the federal government has long declared that it is not at war with anybody, section or group.

To that extent there is no basis for an armistice. What has happened is that based on a regime of good faith now inaugurated by the present administration, the amnesty is intended to allow young elements who adopted violence against their own country to resume their full rights unhindered by laws which they may have breached as a result of their own actions.

The fact remains, despite all claims, that these boys in the creeks are Nigerians and have no other country but this one.

And one finally point about the armistice proposal is that it conveys the impression the government is incapable and weak. That is not correct.

Therefore, what the amnesty cannot accommodate is a continued vandalisation and attack of the country’s economic asset. A spirally in hostage taking and a regime of fear and insecurity—these are criminal activities, it is intolerable and no government can sleep on its responsibilities. There must be a return to law and order.

I am passionate about ending violence because it has become counterproductive. It does not help the people, it does not help the society and it does not help the country.

Since assuming office, I have made ending marginalization of all types including infrastructure decay in the rural communities a cardinal policy of our government. We have as a sign of our firm determination invested heavily through the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) by giving them the onerous tasks of developing the oil producing and oil impacted areas. Our initiative has worked.

So it has not all been negative, there are green shoots of hope everywhere and this is what I want to see us consolidate with the amnesty.

My consultation across board with elders and other people of our zone show there is an overwhelming support for the amnesty and an end to violence.

Not one person has desired a continuation of conflict. So the question is: if everyone wants a return to dialogue, why do we still see persistence in economic sabotage? It cannot be that some persons have superior stake in Niger Delta zone and others do not.

The federal government has said the amnesty is without any condition and is prepared to rehabilitate those who renounce violence and give up their arms. We in Delta state has also promised to assist in the process of resettlement and rehabilitation.

So, in whichever way it is looked at the benefit of amnesty is immense and remains an important landmark decision of the federal government that should be supported.

•Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, author of this article, is Governor of  Delta State


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