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Amnesty approach to N-Delta crisis

By Moyibi Amoda
LAGOS — THIS piece is an appreciation of the amnesty approach to the Niger Delta Crisis. An amnesty approach to security, politics and conflicts is a legal approach. An amnesty is a general pardon of offence by government, a deliberate overlooking of offenses against a government.

To pardon is to release the criminally-culpable from the just punishment of the law; it is to cancel or not to exact punishment due for an offence. Thus, the relationship assumed by government between it and the Niger Delta militants is juridical; the militants are pardoned instead of being punished.

But what exactly is the offence of the militants? Their offence is that they declared and waged war against the Federal Government.

The war is, by the majority of the militants, characterised as a resource control war, or a liberation war; or a protest war waged for effecting remedies for the exploitation of the Niger Delta indigenes resulting in the ruinous condition of their society and the peoples’ subsistence economy.

Amnesty thus defined is not the making of peace between warring parties. Peace made by warring parties brings to an end the relation of war between warring parties. Peace made establishes the end of war or civil strife.

Peace is negotiating resolution of differences that led to war. Peace is an agreement to end the war resulting in a relationship of harmony between parties hitherto in open armed conflict; in the place of conflict carried on by force of arms between hostile parties, there is an agreement for cessation of all hostilities and resumption of relation based on the reconciliation of differences that led to war.

Indeed, amnesty is premised upon the Government denial of a relation of war between the Niger Delta militants and Government. Amnesty is therefore not a peace agreement. It cannot lead to peace agreement except both parties, the Government and the militants, were to acknowledge that the Niger Delta Region had been a zone of war waged by the militants against the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Therefore it is important to recognise the difference between:
•   Amnesty as a strategy of conflict resolution and
• Peace as an agreement to bring to an end a state of war between the warring parties.

To criminalise the act of war is a standard procedure government everywhere employs to assert their exclusive authority and ability to contain rebellion organised either in protest or for the overthrow of governments.

But no government confuses crime with war. A crime is an act committed in violation of a law prohibiting it or omitted in violation of a law ordering it; crimes are variously punishable by death, imprisonment, or the imposition of certain fines or restrictions.

A crime regime assumes the viability and integrity of government and of its capacity and willingness to enforce the punishment legislated for offense against its laws.

An act designed to overthrow the rule of a government in a part or in the totality of the society has ceased to be a crime, it is an insurrection. A crime regime is thus implicitly in force in situations manageable by the police.

It is evident however in the Niger Delta that the crime regime of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had become unenforceable in the Niger Delta; hence the necessary mission of the Joint Task Force of the Nigerian Armed Forces in the Niger Delta.

Now that the Federal Government has implemented its amnesty programme and is presently engaged in its post-amnesty consultation, the entire approach can now be appraised in terms of its national security assumption. Niger Delta militants have been engaged in insurgency.

Militias have been organised and utilised in war, however limited the war aims. The question that has to be answered is what is the relationship between the voluntary demobilisation and ‘dis-arming’ by the militants and their warring organisation?

Is their capacity to wage war and to resume their operation of war been impacted by their surrendering of arms and their volunteering for rehabilitation?

The issues to be addressed pertain to the nature of insurgency. Amnesty is only a tactic of peacemaking not the transformation of insurgency into a crime.

Insurgents aim at establishing de facto government over territories they hold and which they seek to expand in the course of their insurgency. An amnesty approach to insurgency does not address the fact that militants have organised insurgent governments over areas they held in the creeks and can still control.

And amnesty makes sense if it is a strategy for enlisting the help of militants in the liquidation of their insurgency capacity. Under what terms will it make sense for militants to cooperate with the Federal Government in the latter’s interest in the eradication of Niger Delta insurgency?

Amnesty will advance a win-win peace between the Federal Government and the Niger Delta Militants (NDM) if it entails a plan for transforming NDMs into a state power political interest groups.

In stalemated civil wars mediated by third parties, peace settlements often involved the merger of the fighting forces of the warring parties into a New Peace Building Armed Force, and the transformation of insurgent leadership into electoral parties.

These two options are presently improbable in the Nigerian Post-Amnesty Peace Consultations.

By what means can the insurgency capability of the NDMs be converted into political capital within the constitutional federal set up of Nigeria? Can another Marshall Plan addressing this challenge be envisaged? What role will militants play in such an option?

Who will represent the militants in its post-amnesty negotiation with the Federal Government? What are the possibilities that can be envisaged by the Ministry of Defence and Interior? Within what constitutional contexts are these challenges to be addressed?

These questions are definitions of statecraft challenges that cannot be ignored; especially by the JTF that must now be reconfigured for a post-amnesty function in the Niger Delta.

•Prof John Moyibi Amoda is Dean of Diplomacy and International Security Studies, Igbinedion University, Okada


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