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Why Yar’Adua’s amnesty is not an olive branch

By Obi Nwaknma
PRESIDENT Umaru Yar Ardua has offered amnesty, within  a six-month time frame to the so-called militants of the Niger Delta. Various reactions have trailed the announcement. Many have hailed it as a welcome move towards settling the beef in the Niger delta that has led to insurrection.

Many see it as a futile gesture borne from a misreading of the situation. Other people see it as an elaborate game of wits in which the federal government has made an opening gambit.

Many others see a cynical twist in the president’s gesture. The poet and playwright, and Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka in fact, in the swell of the early reactions, accuses the Nigerian authorities who have proffered this amnesty of “amnesia,” meaning, they had quite conveniently forgotten to read the minutes of our last meeting in 1967, with the last civil war, whose end-game politics has led in more than a remote way, to the current situation.

At the core of that war was the federalism question and its locations of the power of the state and of the federating units of the union to act, each with its sovereign will. Within the meaning of that sovereign will was also the rights of the federating units to self-determination, including the rights to economic determinism, or what many now call “resource control.”

The unresolved questions of 1967 now haunt us. Even the other poet and playwright, Johnson Pepper-Clark, an Ijaw who stood solidly on the federal side of the old conflict seems now to have reversed himself and taken a thoroughly regionalist position regarding the rights of peoples to self determination and economic justice. In an essay

“Armistice First in the Niger Delta,” J.P. Clark says: “Since no Nigerian administration has ever cared, militants in the Niger Delta, as a matter of history, are only carrying on the struggle begun in the last century by political leaders like Dappa Biriye, Ernest Ikoli and Udo Udoma to win equal rights for their people in our unequal federation where majorities proudly accommodate themselves, while containing the minorities, handed over to them, without consent or consultation, by a retreating colonial power.

They are following the example of Adaka Boro, Amangala and Nyananyo who died in the Civil War, fighting to perfect the union. It is the spirit of their own Kaiama declaration inspiring them to seek justice for their own people in a land where all people should be free and equal to draw on their individual resources, while respecting the rights and claims of their neighbours. Regrettably, it has been government of the majority by the majority for the majority.”

The last statement of this excerpt, about majorities, is of course too worn out to be true. In any case, read between the lines, it is clear that J.P. Clark’s moral pillars of 1967 that saw the “federalist” and the fierce Nigerian nationalist in him seems in other words to have turned into pillars of salt seeing the increasing military devastation of Gbaramatu and other places in the Niger delta.

But let us for a moment look at the stock and quality of the olive branch, that is, the amnesty offered to the militants of the Niger delta by president Yar Ardua. It would seem that the president’s gesture amounts to a cynical use of rhetoric to douse an epic conflagration.

This is why Amnesty will not work: first, as the spokes persons of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the core movement leading the insurrection in the Niger delta have consistently reminded the Federal Government, the movement has not asked for amnesty.

They do not demand it as pre-condition for settlement.
They do not seek the federal government’s indemnity to crime because, in their position, they are not criminals or bandits; they are a movement of resistance that challenges the current status of nation.

Negotiations for disarmament

They remain entrenched, and their demands are in fact clear: they will not go into any negotiations for disarmament until the federal government meets the core of their demands: the release of Mr. Henry Okah, the withdrawal of the federal army from the Niger delta, and of course, the restoration of the 50 per cent derivation principle  which guarantees the rights of states to economic justice.

To press home its position, MEND has had to prove that it could act with enough force and freedom in spite of the military cordon in the Niger delta by willfully targeting and destroying the infrastructure of the multinational oil giants whom it sees as historically complicit with the Nigerian government in maintaining the unjust state of affairs.

In short, MEND’s demands seek plainly to revisit the national question, and this is the true olive branch that would provide grounds for disarmament. Let us, of course, not overlook the subtle threat behind the federal government’s offer of amnesty and the six-month window for disarmament.

Presumably, beyond the six-month, and failing which the militants are unable to heed the imperatives from what it considers its magnanimity, there would following a more devastating military incursion and operation in the Niger delta. The use of force will certainly be futile.

Besides, the Niger delta is a tough terrain to operate. Its phalanx of creeks is a natural coverage for the kind of guerrilla activity which the Niger delta militia or resistance has fully adopted. If anything, they have learnt one or two things from the mistakes of Biafra .

But more importantly, they are in vast protective zones of action, a fact which was obvious to the Americans in 1975.


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