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After the amnesty

By Morenike Taire
A COUPLE of weeks back, news broke of how a number of young people were caught, who had connived to kidnap some ministers and others whom they thought had the ability to cough up the tens of  millions they had planned to take from stakeholders.

Some of the suspects were undergraduates of Nigerian universities.

It is no wonder the line has become more and more blurred between criminals, militants and loafers. They all seem to be about the same thing: Cash.

It might be what the President’s advisers were trying to capitalize on when they thought up the just concluded amnesty programme. Dangle some cash in front of their noses, and they will snap sooner or later.

The problems with the amnesty programme are clear and have been subjects of much public discussion. There has been talk of the whole amnesty idea being a detraction from the real issue, which remains one of social justice in the relationship between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the citizens of the oil producing states in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.

There has also been discussion of the likelihood of the amnesty programme to success, given on one hand the possibility of the so called militants laughing in the face of the offerers of the amnesty and rejecting it either outrightly or partly; and the one of either party not keeping to the terms of agreements on the other.

Indeed, several prominent spokespersons of the Niger Delta cause have suggested insincerity on the part of their own people. A well known female advocate was quoted to have said the money given to arms downers will be used to update the arms such that the older models will be exchanged for the latest ones.

The whole amnesty issue brings out a much deeper one: The proliferation of arms, legal and illegal, within our society. It is no longer news that the criminal elements in our society, within and without the Delta area, are in possession of arms so sophisticated and so expensive that it is impossible to compete with by legal means. This has two very important implications.

On a psychological basis, the perception of legal law enforcement being less empowered than criminals gives the citizenry less than complete confidence in the people whose job it is to constitutionally protect them.

This has different implications, including the need for individuals and small groups not constitutionally allowed top do so, to carry their own arms for their own protection. This, in turn, leads to the growth of the illegal arms dealing sector. On the more practical side of things, it is actually impossible for law enforcement in its various tiers, to stop criminalities, whether it is directed at the people or at government.

The end of the various African conflicts, particularly those in which ECOMOG was involved, led to disarming exercises. Rumour has it, and there is evidence to back these, that a good percentage of those arms ended up in Nigeria.

When these are added to arms supposedly sponsored by internationally terrorist groups in the past as well as those obtained by individual, powerful politicians, there must be, right now, far too many illegal arms circulating. Arms are only useful for one thing: conflict. The more arms that exist, the higher the likelihood of things degenerating into violent conflict situations.

The Federal Government must be praised for two things. First, it refused to back down on the amnesty deadline, which might have made nonsense of it all. This, despite much pressure on it and attempts to blackmail it. The other is that as much as possible in the circumstances, the amnesty programme was seen to be transparent to all intents and purposes.

These, however, does not make clearer the objectives of government for embarking on the programme. It promises a development programme for the Delta, but this could have been achieved-perhaps better so, considering there would have been more money- without the amnesty programme.

Possibly, it is an intelligence mission aimed towards the audit of arms possession by the Niger Delta militancy. It is unlikely that government itself expects sincerity on the part of the militants. It has failed, still, to say what will happen to militants who have not laid down their arms or, for that matter, the arms themselves.

All that has happened now is that arms have changed hands. No one knows how many arms remain. No one knows, either, how many arms are going to be procured on either side in the months to come.
Now, what?


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