By Emma Ujah , Abuja Bureau Chief
On June 25, last year, the late President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua declared an amnesty for all militants in the Niger Delta.Â The militantsÂ had taken up arms in the pursuit of their struggle for a better share of the nationâ€™s oil wealth, in order to make life more meaningful for the people in that region.Â The region produces about 70 per cent of the national wealth, yet the majority of its people basically live in abject poverty, deprivation and hopelessness.
Oil exploration started in the Niger Delta, then in the Eastern Region of Nigeria in the early 1950s.Â The first discovery was made on the 3rd of August, 1956 in commercial quantities in tertiary deposits at 12,000 feet below, in Oloibiri near Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital.Â The first batch of crude oil left the shores of the nation on February 17, 1958, thus placing Nigeria on the map of international oil producers.
Nigeria currently stands as worldâ€™s 7th largest exporter of crude oil with a proven reserves of about 40 billion barrels; and gas reserve of about 187 trillion cft.
The Oil fields are located in more than 1500 communities the Niger Delta. Several thousands of oil wells have been sunk, while oil is moved either to the refineries or terminals where for export crude is loaded in a pipeline crisscrossing more than 7000 kilometers.
But the area has remained largely undeveloped, provoking violence by communities and youths who demanded physical development of the Niger Delta and empowerment of its people.Â The violence has been more bloody in the last three years.
It first started with the kidnapping of expatriate oil companiesâ€™ workers, snowballed into the kidnapping of all foreigners in the region.Â Not long after, it spread beyond expatriates to all oil workers in the oil companies, including Nigerians.
Thereafter, the militants developed new strategies to hurt the economy as they went all out to sabotage the economy, specifically, by bombing oil facilities in the creeks, pipelines and even went as far as attacking flow stations.Â Oil bunkering thrived to the fullest in what became a reign of terror in the creeks.
At the peak of their activities, oil production nosedived to as low as about 700, 000 bpd; Port-Harcourt, the hitherto beautiful â€œGarden Cityâ€ became a battle ground â€“either between the militants and the security forces or between splinter groups.Â Cult groups war also took its toll on the oil business. The monetary loss to the nation within the period was in trillions of Naira, several thousands died in what became a real war in the creeks.Â It was obvious that the nation was drifting. Late Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s decision to grant amnesty to the militants was, therefore, to bring about an atmosphere of peace and to enable the federal, as well as, states and local governments address the demands of the people.Â These demands were basically more participation in the oil business by the local communities, provision of infrastructure and economic empowerment in order to raise the standard of living of those in the region.
Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s Amnesty Declaration
Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™sÂ amnesty proclamation, said to be one of the best approaches to the problem of the region was the outcome of a series of consultations with various stakeholders, including leaders of the region,Â National Council of States, oil firms and the international community.
However, not long after the October 4, 2009, deadline for the militants to turn in their weapons, despair set in among the youths as government did not immediately follow it promises with concrete actions.
There were riots in the camps of the ex-militants over unpaid allowances and what they described as â€œunacceptable conditions in the campsâ€ hundreds of militants staged street protests at nonpayment of promised pay outs in Edo State.
On March 26 President Goodluck Jonathan, then in acting capacity met with stakeholders from the Niger Delta where leaders of the militant groups said they were gradually losing patience over unkept amnesty promises, placing the deal at as they feared that the boys could return to the creeks for fresh attacks..
â€œThey promised a lot… employment, good living.Â â€œNobody is happy, but the youths are still waiting and hopingâ€. â€œGospel Tamouno aka JP, a former commander of a unit of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the most outspoken of all armed groups, had said.
â€œSome have patience but some might not have. The impatient ones are the ones forming the revolution,â€ said Tamouna in reference to a new armed group, the Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), which has recently laid claim to a wave of attacks on oil pipelines.
On Wednesday, last week, the Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe, briefed the press in Abuja on what, arguably, is the new blueprint for the post-amnesty programme which he promised would be implemented to the delight of all stakeholders in what he described as a win-win situation.
He said President Jonathan had domiciled the activities on the post-amnesty which includes Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) in his office, having made him the National coordinator of the programme.
According to him, â€œDisarmament is the collection, documentation, control and disposal of small arms, ammunition, explosives and light and heavy weapons of combatants and often also of civilian population. Disarmament also includes the development of responsible arms management programmes.
â€œ Demobilization refers to the formal and controlled discharge of active combatants from armed forces or other armed groups. Demobilization may extend from the processing of individual combatants in temporary centres to the massing of troops in camps designated for purpose (cantonment sites, encampments, assembly areas or barracks). It also encompasses the support package provided to the demobilized, which is called insertion.
â€œReintegration is the process by which ex-combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income. It is essentially a social and economic process with an open time-frame, primarily taking place in communities at the local level. Reintegration is part of the general development of a country and a nationalâ€
Mr Alaibe said that disarmament was which has taken place is much easier that demobilization and reintegration which phases would now come under focus in the programme implementation.
He explained why there was a lull in the programme, as according to him, â€œthe DDR of ex-combatants is a complex process, with political, military, security, humanitarian and socio-economic dimensions.
â€œIt aims to deal with the post-conflict security problem that arises when ex-combatants are left without livelihoods or support networks during the vital transition period from conflict to peace and developmentâ€.
He admitted too that the federal government could not pull through with the speed expected by the ex-militants in the implementation because there was no planned document on its implementation, before the declaration since the nation was in crisis.
The National coordinator who has been involved in non-violence training of many ex-militants since his days as the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), said the vision is to have aÂ Niger Delta Region populated with modern cities with leading edge environmental management practices, economic prosperity, skilled and healthy people and social harmony.
He is targeting 20,192 Ex – Militants in the first instance, as according to him, documentation was still going on in respect of others who voluntarily gave up their arms after the October 4, 2009 deadline. The call to camp for the first batch is scheduled for 1st week of June, 2010 andÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â each batch will have 2,000 ex-militants in camp.
Mr. Alaibe also said the Oil and Gas Industry Amnesty Committee has also proposed an initial budget of $30m which will establish Special Purpose Vehicles to manage the application of the funds to execute defined initiatives.Â One of the major initiatives is training and capacity building for 3,000 beneficiaries over a 6-48 months period.Â The areas of interests are: Re-orientation and leadership, marine, welding, entrepreneurial, as well as, employment/placement opportunities.
Modalities for the involvement of host communities in the ownership of petroleum assets in Nigeria, according to him include governmentâ€™s divestment of some of its equities (via NNPC) in respective Joint Ventures. In order to retain 41% equity position in the JVs, Govt. will release 14% in SPDC JV and 19% in other JVs respectively.
Equities given up by Government to be re-assigned as follows: 10% to the host communities; 9% to the generality of Nigerians who are willing to invest in the IJVs.
He said no single individual to acquire more than 0.1% of the shares of each IJV on the stock market, while the Government to provide guarantees to back the oil communities to fund their assigned 10% equity.
On infrastructure, he said theÂ East-West Road construction has since commenced, and thatÂ Coastal Road ;Â Â East-West Railway – standard gauge single trunk (budget: $4 billion) ; Phase 1: Calabar â€“ Uyo-PH-Yenagoa – Warri-Benin ;Â Â Â Â Â Phase 2: Benin-Lagos ; Inland waterways transportation infrastructure ; Land reclamation;Â Â Â Â Â New towns development have been mapped out, while, identification of polluted sites have commenced for environmental clean-up.
The National Coordinator said N10billion has been set aside for the ex-militants in this yearâ€™s budget but that he remains optimistic that more funding would be secured from other stakeholder, especially oil firms and development partners, given the level of interest the blueprint has so far generated.