DR. Brown Ogbeifun, is both a former President of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and Deputy President-General of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), who arguably, is one of the skilful mediators that labour movement has produced in recent times.
In this interview with Swee
t Crude’s Correspondent, Victor Ahiuma-Young, Dr. Ogbeifun, examines the Federal Government’s amnesty deal to the Niger Delta militants and among other issues, gives insight into why some militant leaders are asking for the extension of the amnesty’s deadline.
What is your impression of the government amnesty offer to Niger Delta Militants?
Nigeria had reached a catastrophic level of insecurity, in which all criminalities were ascribed to the Niger Delta militants. Investors were divesting from economic interests in the region. Attack on oil installations was on the increase.
The region was becoming poorer by the day and lives were being lost to senseless rifts that could have been resolved with dialogue. If that had continued, it would have taken Nigeria to the next phase, which would have been terrorism where all sorts of groups across the nation would have spontaneously risen to attack our commonwealth. So government needed to halt that slide, bring stakeholders to dialogue, and restore confidence in Nigerians that the democratic experience will work.
At that point, anything that would help us achieve a halt to the devastation of our economy and human losses was welcomed. Perhaps a President with a military background will not have toed this path. To this end, the amnesty deal is a welcome development and the President must be given the credit for not being egocentric on this.
What do you make out of the recent protest by some repentant militants who alleged that they were not paid the promised allowance after surrendering arms?
I am not surprised because it is a reflection of the character of our fire brigade approach system to issues as a nation. It is vivid that the amnesty process did not take all necessary precautions to reduce the pre, intra and post amnesty agitations. However, it should be noted that even if everything was done right, the amnesty process will still face some challenges.
This is because of the complex nature of the whole exercise and human nature. All parties need some level of patience to overcome the teething challenges
Some have argued that amnesty deal has been hijacked by politicians scheming for 2011 election. What is your take on this?I may not totally say yes or no to this, because I know some persons in that committee that I worked closely with while in the services of PENGASSAN who are committed to the good of Nigeria. Secondly, I believe the government assembled those who can easily reach out to the boys and girls in the creek. Don’t forget that it is not easy to bring them out of the creeks.
They need those they can relate with So, those that sealed the deal should be credited rather than knocks. However, the pre amnesty stage would have been better handled using professional third_party mediators that have no vested interests in what is happening now in the Niger Delta and not politicians that want to latch on this opportunity to position themselves for 2011.Â The Institute of mediators and Conciliators of Nigeria (ICMC) can boast of a reservoir of credible and professional mediators that would have been engaged to do a proper pre, intra and post mediation sessions with all the stakeholders.
There are other neutral professional bodies that would have also been used. This would have to a great extent, remove any cynicism and suspicion from several quarters. While this is on-going, government would have busied itself with structures needed to receive the militants. This is not late; these people can still be engaged to complement the work of the committee.
Some known militant leaders are yet to embrace the amnesty deal few days to the October 4 dead line and in fact, are asking for extension. Do you think the government would have achieved a total demilitarization of the region by October 4 and should government grant the extension?
I am not convinced that the implementation process of the amnesty the way it is currently will lead to a total demilitarization of the region by October 4. There is still so much mistrust, suspicion and lack of confidence in some of the political gladiators parading themselves as mediators. Other reasons may include: (1)Previous agreements reached with various groups in time past that were not honoured by previous governments. (2) Those that have not surrendered may be encumbered by several factors.
They need to holistically carry all their ranks along.Â Some of them who have seen huge sums of money in foreign currencies may not like to give up their comfort zone for the stipend of government. They will prefer greater roles in oil and gas commercial activities. They would want to negotiate something that will give them comfortable livelihood and conditions that will make them to re_channel their energies to more productive activities, which on the long run will benefit them, their backers and followers. (3) Arresting and prosecuting leaders of such groups in the past.
The experience of Asari Dokubo who was lured out of the creek, arrested, detained and prosecuted and Henry Okah are readily flashed as examples as reasons to be cautious. (4) The fear for the lives of the militant leaders. This may not just be a government thing. Remember they have godfathers, and sponsors who bankrolled their operations; and lieutenants who fed fat on the leaders’ exploits. I think they are asking for time to do proper disarming and consultations so that the extreme radicals won’t be used by those who benefited from the largesse to break their ranks, and turn the heat on them the leaders.
(5.) Apprehension about the ability of government to sustain the monthly stipends to the militants in a country where regular salary earners like teachers, civil servants and pensioners are owed backlog of salaries for months. The rent economy the country runs, where all the manna flows from the Federal Government only makes implementation of policies difficult. Except the barons, corporate citizens, well meaning Nigerians and the country’s money looters assist in this wise, I am afraid for its sustenance especially with the country’s dwindling economic fortunes.( 6). The belief that those parading themselves as mediators are politicians that have a hidden motive for future elections and therefore, not in a position to objectively and genuinely handle some of the complexities of the amnesty process. The politicians used some of them to rig previous elections and dumped them after achieving their ambitions.
So, it will be a wait and see attitude for a while.(7) The perception is that some of those that feasted on the actions of the militants are now the ones set to midwife the amnesty process. ( 8) The militants want assurances and concrete evidence of the quick wins and the sincerity of government’s sincere resolve towards the implementation of both the medium and long term recommendations as proffered by the Niger Delta Technical Committee (NDTC).
It is hoped that if the above is done, it will achieve the followings: Restoration to a people friendly and quality environment through massive cleanup of the degraded land and water. Improvement in their quality of life. The African Charter, WHO; ILO and international laws make it mandatory for governments to ensure that citizens should have unrestrained and equal access to the basic necessities of life like food, water, health, education and employment. Return the people to their natural occupation of farming and fishing.
Re-mediate those whose rights were violated during the face off between the militants and the government security agencies.Â Â Â Communication strategies that will enable the people have adequate information at all times on on_going efforts to restore quality of life to the region.
This will go a long way to improve the disconnection between the government and the people, and also enable the people consult constructively. Based on all the above and possible favourable security reports, the government should take a second look at the deadline. What we all need is a lasting solution to this intractable problem. There is no use rushing over it and then come back to the starting block sometime in future. On the part of the militants, the elasticity of the process cannot be forever because further plans are needed to be put in place in order to accommodate all interests.
There is this argument that government has not make adequate and concrete plans for rehabilitating repentant militants and that is a potential threat for return to creeks and violence. What is your view?
I am not too sure the government expected the kind of human traffic that have turned up at the centres and therefore not likely to have put structures in place to accommodate them. I believe it is a learning process and we need to confront it. We cannot jettison the process because of some identified flaws. What should be done now is to use situational approaches, collaboration, and more dialogue by the strategic stake holders to mitigate the collateral damages and move on. The disarmament, rehabilitation and reintegration process is not a tea party.
It will be inconveniencing for a while but the dividends will be massive if all the social partners fulfill their own side of the bargain. One of the dividends of this amnesty is sifting the chaff from the wheat by the exposure of kidnappers who hitherto would have been taken for Niger Delta militants.
The battle has shifted from the Niger Delta to the high hills of the northern parts of the nation. So, it is no longer a Niger Delta thing.Â The kidnappers have gone into the heart of governance to kidnap a sitting State Secretary to the government of a whole state (Kaduna).Â Every Nigerian should be concerned and offer to help to ensure that the process of amnesty achieves its objectives.
The National Assembly (NASS) has a role to play to ensure that the Petroleum Industry Bill takes into cognizance the issue of managing the communities’ interest in the Niger Delta region. NASS should also review the Nigerian constitution with a view to encourage the development of minerals and agriculture by substantially increasing the derivation element from its present 13% and institute the ideal practice of fiscal federalism.
The Federal government should evolve a way of repatriating all the stolen funds from the region and tie them to specific projects. Every State Governor and Local Government Chairman must practice transparency and accountability in governance. There should be a synergy between the NDDC and Niger Delta Ministry to avoid duplication of efforts. Government should Curb oil theft, and identify economic terrorists for sanctions. Crude theft should be treated as terrorism against the state. There should be co-operation and collaboration between Nigeria and the international community.