THE Federal Government should be applauded for its amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta. The amnesty, however, needs more content to end the conflicts in the area.

Issues about the Niger Delta would always raise emotions. It is in the midst of those fiery exchanges that the points are massively missed.

What are the points? The Niger Delta needs to be developed quickly, before oil loses relevance. Laws that discriminate against the people in terms of their economic and social engagements must be dismantled.

Some of these laws are even constitutional, like Section 44 (3) of the Constitution which abrogates their rights to their land and other natural resources (without compensation), a right the same Constitution freely provides to other Nigerians.

The recent argument that militancy has made development impossible is a facade. Before militancy, why was the area neglected?

Amnesty for the militants is a good idea. However, the Federal Government must have the political will to muster resources for development of the area. Government so easily finds funds for peripheral matters on the Niger Delta and not the core issues.

Last April, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua said: “We have created the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to champion the overall holistic development of oil producing areas.

This administration has been fully releasing full funds to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).” What holistic development of the areas is not in the unfunded three-year-old NDDC masterplan? Does government’s responsibility to the Niger Delta end with partial release of funds?

“The government has released enough funds for the JTF to acquire the proper capacity to be able to enforce law and order in the Niger Delta,” Yar’Adua continued. What did the JTF’s full force achieve?

Since the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the highest release of its funds, in relation to the approved budget was 39.7 per cent in 2002 when its budget of N28.4 billion had only N11.2 billion released, a shortfall of N17.1 billion.

The 2006 and 2007 budget releases of N17.3 billion (N80.2 billion allocated) and N26.1 billion in place of the allocated N97 billion were made.

These resulted in a shortfall of N326.23 billion as only N110.31 billion out of a budget allocation of N436.54 billion got to NDDC since 2002. Were militants responsible for these partial releases?

Militancy is the poor excuse for not developing the area.  What would an amnesty offer kidnappers, who the police said, made $100 million as ransom in three years? Militancy is not the only problem in the Niger Delta. How will government ensure inhabitants of the area benefit from oil exploration, which has denied them other viable economic activity?

Government can do more about the Niger Delta. The release of Henry Okah, who was on trial and extension of the amnesty to other militants is a good first step.

The best amnesty is total development of the area and improvement of lives of its people.


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