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Amnesty as casualty of Yar ‘Adua’s absence

By George Onah

Port Harcourt – President Umaru Yar’Adua was the   pillar and architect of the amnesty programme. He is generally seen as the very first Nigerian leader to show genuine commitment to the cause of not just the Niger Delta region but that of the down trodden of the area.

Largely, the agitators, albeit war wary kids saw light in the horizon and harkened to his voice to lay down their weapons.  He had promised rehabilitation and resettlement for the militants, and they took him by his words and sheath their swords.

In truth, everything was being done as promised by the government to the effect that rehabilitation camps were set up across the region. Money was budgeted and expended while the camps were funded. The boys were paid some allowances, good enough to keep their hearts off bunkering, robbery and petty thievery. There were pockets of complaints here and there no doubt but the entire exercise was on course before the President sailed out the shores of the country to Saudi Arabia.

It has to be mentioned that while the amnesty arrangement was on, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, made it clear that it did not believe in it, that it did not trust the government in the entire thing. However, reason prevailed, particularly as the major leaders of the groups such as Tom Polo, Ateke Tom, Farah Dagogo, Soboma George, etc.  were tired of fighting and ready to leave the swamps.

But about 75 days after Yar’Adua’s trip the party seems to be over in the camps because many things seem to have gone wrong. The authoritative signature of the president is missing to actualise some of the promises he made. In fact the main problem in the camps is not because money or allowances are not being availed to the ex-combatants but because there have not been further moves in the implementation of promises made in the amnesty programme.

As it seems, no one possesses the power or authority to sign any document that would take the programme to the next level and this appears to be the crux of the matter. Had Mr. President been at his desk, some files on the growth of the amnesty matter would have been signed and not left to gather dust which has eventually polluted the ranks of the aggrieved Niger Delta people.

Looking deeper, the refusal by the power brokers in Abuja to delegate powers of Acting President to the Vice President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is a major source of the fresh trouble in the region. Right now, about 50 militant groups are alleged to have met and signed an oath to cause brigandage in the region. The anger may be traceable to the slow pace or non-implementation of the amnesty programme but what then is responsible for the non-implementation of the items, it is because YarÁdua is ill, so why don’t you ask Jonathan to carry on.

The people reasoning in this direction are equally saying that if the oil of the region is good enough for the country why is a son of the region not good enough to head the country or at least in acting capacity.

Before the sudden resurgence of threatening hostilities in the region, the unregulated militancy and undue brigandage appeared to have fizzled out in Rivers State and environs, courtesy of the amnesty deal. Joyfully so, the erstwhile gunmen have accepted to be caged in various taming and grooming centres. Although the former combatants have not thoroughly embraced civility as a way of life, they are being encouraged on how not to parade themselves as another ‘army’ in the land.

Before long, they would acquire the knowledge of how not to rape students or hold travellers to ransom on the East/West Road along Choba in Rivers State or Yenagoa in Bayelsa State. In truth, some of them have started picking up the pieces from the debris of their failure, thereby opening the window of hope in their lives. The fresh threat is causing hearts of parents and guardians to ache.

The grouse of MEND speaks but there is more to it. The threat by the group says:“After careful consideration and extensive consultation, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) today, Saturday, January 30, 2010, has decided to call off a unilateral ceasefire ordered on Sunday, October 25, 2009.

“This ceasefire was ordered in the hope that the government of Nigeria would consider true dialogue founded on a sincere desire to bring justice to the people of the Niger Delta, and true peace to Nigeria.

“Acting like a victor over a conquered people, the government rolled out a list of its plans for the Delta which it assumed would end decades of agitation, promising at the same time to deal with all who remained dissatisfied with its lame effort to re-dress the injustice in the Niger Delta.

“It is sufficiently clear at this point in time that the government of Nigeria has no intentions of considering the demands made by this group for the control of the resources and land of the Niger Delta to be reverted to the rightful owners, the people of the Niger Delta.

“The government and oil companies believe the spirit of agitation in the Niger Delta has been blown away with the bribing of a few thugs it has labeled stakeholders. They assume giving alms to the youth of the Delta will secure installations.

“Concessions” suggested by the government in its bid to “address” the injustice in the Niger Delta include ceding10% of its stake in the joint venture partnerships to oil producing communities and 9% to other interested Nigerians. This suggestion is preposterous!

“The same government that is unable to maintain or repair the death traps called roads or the archaic rail facilities in Nigeria, is promising to build super highways and modern rail lines through the Niger Delta using funds it hopes to realise from divesting 19% of its shares in the joint ventures partnerships.

Which is an oil producing community to the government of Nigeria? The Nigerian government in all its wisdom defines an oil producing community as one where oil installations are sited; where oil is drilled or where flow stations and other facilities relevant to the continued bleeding of the Niger Delta and exportation of its mineral resources are found. Does this government not realise that all surrounding communities are sitting atop the same oil deposits and would be producers if their communities were drilled as well?

“By this crude definition, the government will consider Kaduna state and other Northern states where pipelines pass through to the refinery in Kaduna, oil producing states. What gives this government the right to share the resources of the Niger Delta between its cronies in ceding this suggested 19 percent? The Nigerian government claims ownership of the Niger Delta where it dares not do so in the North.

The land in the North belongs to Northerners while the Niger Delta belongs to the North as well. Communities in the Niger Delta without installations suffer the effects of gas flaring, spillages amongst others so why does the Nigerian government not consider these communities in all its planning?

“The answer is simple. This government is hoping it can divide the people of the Delta in order to govern and plunder the Niger Delta. The government and oil companies are hopeful communities with oil installations, designated oil producing communities and rewarded for having these facilities on their soil, will safeguard such installations. Fortunately for the people of the Niger Delta, no one will be able to safeguard any installation from attack by our fighters. All who have misled the government and oil companies into such inanity will be put to shame.

“All companies related to the oil industry in the Niger Delta should prepare for an all-out onslaught against their installations and personnel. Nothing will be spared. In this phase, we will extend attacks to oil service companies which have experienced a boom as a result of the misfortunes of oil producing companies, repairing pipelines destroyed in attacks.

“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta warns all oil companies to halt operations as any operational installation attacked will be burnt to the ground. Oil companies are responsble for the safety and welfare of their workers and will bear the guilt should any harm come upon their staff in the event of an attack. By now they should know the military Joint Task Force (JTF) cannot protect their installations or staff in the event of an attack.

“We thank all patriotic and justice loving citizens of the Niger Delta and Nigeria for their unwavering support, overtly and covertly. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta will not capitulate until the actualization of our dream; the emancipation of the Niger Delta from the clutches of the Nigerian government and collaborating oil companies”.


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