A LITTLE over one year after the amnesty programme of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua went into effect, with hundreds of ex-militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, surrendering their weapons to the federal authorities, the nation seems to be sliding to square one.
This should be a source of worry to anyone, who relished the prospects of peace in the region and the possibilities it held for developing the area that is still largely neglected, not minding the words governments apply to soot the pains of the destructive consequences of unregulated oil and gas exploration.
After a period of relative calm spiked by only few harmless incidents, the nation was jolted awake once again when a hitherto unknown group of militants based in Foropa, a creek community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, attacked an oil infrastructure.
This attracted the attention of the Joint Military Task Force, JTF, which dislodged the attackers. It was later learnt that the new group, led by Keiti Sese, alias Commander Nomukeme (madman) had developed a camp in that community similar to bases former militants operated before they accepted the amnesty programme.
More worrisome was the fact that documents recovered from the site included identity cards of some ex-militants, who participated in the amnesty programme. It could mean some of those, who undertook the rehabilitation programme may have started drifting back to the creeks.
Just as that was going down, a more daring and telling attack was mounted against an oil facility off the shores of Akwa Ibom State. This one was more deliberate and indicative of the well-known procedure of MEND. Some oil workers were abducted and taken to unknown destinations. A statement released online by the faceless Jomo Gbomo claimed MEND will carry out a number of such attacks across the Niger Delta to cripple the nation’s oil facilities.
While the Keiti Sese group said its rivals among the repentant ex-militants had tipped off the JTF to come after it, allegedly in order to continue their oil bunkering activities in the area, the Akwa Ibom attack made no bones about the fact that it was a resumption of MEND’s anti-Nigeria campaign, more so as it called the attention of the international community to the JTF’s warning on oil producing communities harbouring the rebels to relocate to avoid collateral damage, when the military strikes.
Since the announcement of the amnesty programme, a lot has happened in terms of the political and economic concessions that the Nigerian state has made to the Niger Delta within one year. The region has, for the first time in the nation’s history, produced the President of Nigeria.
Also within this period, the region has produced a large number of highly visible national officers and ministers, heads of the security agencies and federal departments. These, and other concessions, are indications that Nigeria has recognised the fact that this region has paid its dues to the nation and should be reckoned with appropriately.
It can also be argued that the concessions were belated and mere returning of opportunities that were due to the area long ago, but were denied under one guise or the other.
Anyone, who is genuinely interested in the development of the Niger Delta and its upgrading politically, socially and economically would agree that this period calls for the cooperation of all Niger Deltans to ensure the peace required to develop the area.
Interestingly, amnesty has not brought development to the Niger Delta. The people had been led into believing militancy was responsible for the non-development of the zone. The political appointments and career advancements of the past few months are individual attainments that profit only a few. They cannot be substitutes for massive development of the region, which would benefit more people.
The programmes that were supposed to make the amnesty package more impactful have been shoddily handled. The rehabilitation exercise has not been accompanied with post-rehabilitation agenda to absorb its participants into gainful employment. Also, recommendations in the Ledum Mitee Committee masterplan have not been given the right attention, as projects in the oil-producing areas have been painfully slow.
The masterplan the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, produced has been forgotten or lost in the political compromises that people push as they strive for more notches on the power ladder.
These produce genuine fears that the Niger Delta will become a vast wasteland once the oil wells dry up or oil loses relevance as an energy source. The logic is simple — if the Niger Delta cannot be developed with the resources it produces, where will government find resources to develop it without oil?
Resumption of militancy in the Niger Delta, and criminality which many militant groups confuse with freedom fighting are not solutions. The point about the state of the Niger Delta has long been made.
Governments too should not think the challenges in the Niger Delta will disappear, they require solutions along lines that various masterplans have captured. The delays are annoying. The excuses for not developing the region are more annoying.
Governments have run out of excuses for not developing the Niger Delta, it should stop inventing new ones.
Embracing peace is not an option. More military action in the Niger Delta places the lives of innocent people at risk. Both governments and militants should consider this before engaging in fights that will produce losers on all sides.
Development of the Niger Delta is imperative for its future and the environmental sanctity of places that seem far off from the theatre of war government created in refusing to develop the area.