By Okey Ndiribe, Asst. Political Editor
The Federal Government inaugurated the Niger Delta Technical Committee, NDTC, 8 September 2008 with the following terms of reference:
*To collate, review and distil the various reports, suggestions and recommendations on the Niger Delta from the Willinks Commission Report (1958) to the present and give a summary of the recommendations necessary for government action
*To appraise the summary recommendations and present a detailed short, medium and long term suggestion for the challenges in the Niger Delta
*To make and present to government any other recommendations that will help the Federal Government achieve sustainable development, peace, human and environmental security in the Niger Delta region.
Due to the inability ofÂ governmentÂ to implement past reports on the Niger Delta region and the consequent erosion of trustÂ on the part of the people, theÂ Technical Committee proposed the adoption of a compact or agreement for all stakeholders in the region. The compact was supposed to be initiated by the Federal GovernmentÂ in order to commit all parties to support critical short term changes that are seen as necessary for stemming the decline ofÂ the region into a full-blown conflict zone.
According to the report, â€œ this short term compact will deliver on visible, measurable outputs which are expected toÂ produce material gains within an 18-month periodâ€¦.
â€œ This compact will be guided by a principle in which the Federal Government, other tiers of government and stakeholders report publicly on progress in implementation every three months. The reporting shall be to the country and particularly to the peoples of the Niger Delta region through public hearings, involving the National Assembly and facilitated by the Multi-Stakeholder Niger Delta Policy and Project Compliance Monitoring Committee.
The expectation of the Committee for proposingÂ this compact wasÂ that government and all parties will undertake to endorse and complete specific actions within a given time frame.
The report further stated : â€œ The compact aims to deliver the following within an 18- month period; immediately increase allocation accruing from oil and gas revenues to the Niger Delta to 25 percent ( i.e. additional 12 percent) within a framework in which the additional funds are dedicated largely to new infrastructure and sustainable development of the region.
â€œ Within six months complete initial steps that will support a disarming process for youths involved in militancy. The process would necessarily have to begin with some confidence-building measures on all sides.
These measures include cease-fire on both sides, pull-back of forces, open trial and bail ( with a view to an eventual negotiated release) of Henry Okah. Also credible conditions for amnesty, setting up a Demobilisation, Disarmament and Rehabilitation Commission and a negotiated undertaking by militant groups to stop all kidnappings, hostage taking and attacks on oil installations;
â€œImprove the operational integrity of security forces and police in the Niger Delta to a level that assures communities and business groupsÂ ofÂ safety from harassment and disruption. This will involve definite steps ( which will begin in the first quarter of 2009) to eliminate harassment and abusesÂ by security forces and institute proper programmes ofÂ reorientation, demilitarization, retraining and accountability, for all security operatives;
â€œ Establish by the middle of 2009, a direct labour Youth Employment Scheme in conjunction with states and local governments that will employ at least 2000 youths in community work in each local government of the states of the Niger Delta;
â€œComplete the East-West road dualisation from Calabar to Lagos by June 2010 with at least one link road to the coast-line in each state. This is in order to open up the riverine areas, improve economic activities and demonstrate new commitment to the people. A fully funded maintenance programme for the roads should be put in place;
â€œ Ensure at least dedicated allocation of 5,000 megawatts of power to the Niger Delta region by June 2010 to support employment and promote economic growth;
â€œEstablishÂ by 2010 regulations that compel oil companies to have insurance bonds, strengthen independent regulation of oil pollution and work towards an effective Environmental Impact Assessment mechanism (EIA), make the enforcement of critical environmental laws a national priority,Â expose fraudulent environmental cleanups of oilÂ spills and prosecute operators, end gas flaring by December 31st. 2008 as previously ordered by the Federal Government;
â€œRehabilitate all existing health-care facilitiesÂ and provide free medical care to the elderly of 65 years and above, children under five years and pregnant women as well as free drugs to all malaria patients in the region;
Rehabilitate and equip all existing public primary and secondaryÂ schools the region and staff them with well-trained teachers as a means of reversing by 50 percent the current rate of WAEC failures in the region.
The Committee further recommended thatÂ the: â€œ Federal Government should not later than December 2009 fully resettle all persons displaced from Bakassi and forestall on-going dispersion and the eventual extinction of the people as a collective entity.â€
In order to fast forward the process and gain momentum the CommitteeÂ alsoÂ recommendedÂ the creation of several mechanisms and institutionsÂ including; a National Minorities Commission; a Multi-Stakeholder Niger Delta Policy and Project Compliance Monitoring Committee; a Special Niger Delta Infrastructural Intervention Fund; a Niger Delta Futures Trust Fund;Â a Community Trust Fund for Oil Producing Communities.
For the purpose of realizing the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Re-integrationÂ (DDR) goal, the Technical CommitteeÂ proposed that the Federal, state and localÂ governmentsÂ shouldÂ playÂ define roles.
Some of the committeeâ€™sÂ recommendations are : â€œThat the Federal Government shouldÂ establish a credible and authoritative institution which should involve international negotiators to plan, implement, and oversee the DDR programmes at regional, state and local government levels; grant amnesty to all Niger Delta militants willing and ready to participate in the DDR programme; address short term issues arising from amnesty to militants by promoting security for ex-militants and rebuilding communities destroyed by military invasion; work out long term strategies forÂ human capacity development and re-integration of ex-militants; reflect on time-line with adequate funds for the DDR programme to take place; stop the illegal demands put on youths from the region and prosecute the suppliers of small arms and light weapons and also those involved in oil bunkering by identifying highly placed persons in and outside of government who are engaged in sponsoring violence for economic and political reasons; ensure that signatories to the DDR programme show clear accountability to the entire process; equip the security services especially the Navy to effectively monitor activities within our coastal waters to check illegal bunkering and trafficking of arms.
On the part of the state governments in the region the Technical Committee proposed that ; they should assist in rebuilding communities destroyed by militaryÂ invasion; establish youth development centres with counseling departments for re-integration and capacity building; establish community demobilization and re-integration committees especially in areas most affected by conflict; establish development projects such as health centres and schools at former camps managed by militants.
The roles assigned by the TechnicalÂ Committee to local governments include: To discourage further establishment of new militant camps by organizing enlightenment campaigns to sensitise community people; commit the localÂ people to participate in the DDR process; expose criminal elements and their sponsors within the communities.
The Committee also outlined a role for the militants. TheyÂ wereÂ expected to : Support the DDR process by committing to enter and respect agreements reached; work with communities for genuine reconciliation to take root and demonstrate good faith in the DDR processes by giving up weapons in their possession and agreeing to fully re-integrate.
However, even the committee completed its assignment and submitted its reportÂ in November of the same year, the Federal Government has till date kept mute on its recommendations. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that the Government decidedÂ toÂ resortÂ to only selective implementation of the report especially the aspect concerning granting ofÂ amnesty to militant youths of the region. This approach has attracted diverse reactions across the country; while many Nigerians have praised the Federal and various stateÂ Governments for their involvement in the programme, others have criticised it.