By Okey Ndiribe, Ise-Oluwa Ige & Dapo Akinrefon
THE proposal of a whopping N50 billion by the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants in the Niger Delta to make peace in the region has polarized the Nigerian legal community into two opposing camps.

Prominent lawyers and members of the inner bar yesterday disagreed with one another on the proposal with majority of them cautioning the Federal Government over the move.

According to them, it is a dangerous step that ought to be dropped with immediacy.

Tackle the problems, don’t give palliatives —  Professor Itse Sagay, Constitutional lawyer

I have not seen the analysis or break down of that package. I don’t know what they want to do with it. But I have always said that the major problem that instigated the crises is what the Federal Government should tackle, not palliatives.

Late Ken Saro-Wiwa, Died for Niger Delta struggle
Late Ken Saro-Wiwa, Died for Niger Delta struggle

In other words, getting jobs for a few people and then, taking their rifles from them. That will not resolve the underlying problems which is neglect and under development. So, unless that problem is included, then, it may be a short term solution.

I have not heard anything on the development of the Niger Delta or the issues of derivation, pollution, and  gas flaring. From what you have said now, the major problems have not been torched, so I don’t see how that package can have a long lasting effect.

Government has power to grant amnesty

The government has the power, it depends on the word you use. Government is the one that prosecutes anybody for a perceived offence; if the government says whatever offence you have committed, we are not going to prosecute you, you can call it amnesty. So, I don’t see why there should be a debate about that.

Without a state action, nobody can be prosecuted for any offence; but if the state is saying they are not going to prosecute someone, and anyone they have accused of committing an offence before, can come out and walk free and they cal it amnesty, there is nothing wrong with that.

Speaking on the matter yesterday were an Abuja based member of the inner bar, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), an Ibadan_based silk, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), a Lagos_based lawyer, Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) and another Abuja_based legal practitioner, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), amongst others.

Apart from Chief Awomolo (SAN), all other lawyers who spoke with Vanguard yesterday said that the money proposed to make peace in the region should be invested into the region.

According to Awomolo, there was nothing wrong in giving any amount of monies to the militants if it is with the genuine intention of making peace in the volatile region.

He said Mr President and all those that peopled the committee which made the proposal are no fools.

He said they must have considered the pros and cons before making the proposal.

His words: “the people of Nigeria elected Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as the President and Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria .

“He deserves a great deal of respect when it comes to decision making. I believe that since he is the president, he deserves to be trusted. His judgment and ability to manage the affairs of this country must also be respected. “If he says he wants peace in the country by buying back the arms of the militant, I think we should trust him. After all, we are no longer in the era of an eye for an eye. We are now in the era of constitutionalism and anything that will promote the constitution, we should try to encourage.

The militants are not criminals. They are mere agitators and I believe that they have a genuine grievance.

“Besides, we are operating a presidential system of government.

“The government has the duty to promote equity, justice and fairness. If the buyback of the arms is part of the process of enthroning democracy, equity and justice, no amount of money is too much to bring peace into our land.
“Secondly, the Niger Delta problems have been with us for over fifty years. And I have always believed that it has to be handled pragmatically and with a great deal of wisdom. We are not to look at the criminality of it but the consequence of it.

“And if we look at the consequence, we have lost several billions of dollars and naira as a result of this unrest in Niger Delta region. For me, if it is a genuine desire of government to solve the problem, it is okay and if giving that money is part of that process, so be it.

“The only thing is that justice should not be limited to the region of Niger Delta. It should be given to all constituents of the country called Nigeria .
“The Federal Government should also think of other problems that are ravaging our country so that there will be peace all over,” he said.

But Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) though agreed that the government should look for a way of disarming the militants, said giving them monies to disarm them might be counter_productive.

“You know, there are so many issues involved. If you are saying: surrender your arms, we should remember that somebody bought it for them. The person who probably bought it for them would probably ask for a refund.

“But I would have preferred if such monies being allegedly proposed to buy back their arms are channeled into development and provision of infrastructure.
“If government gives monies to individual militants, I bet it, there will be no substantial success in bringing peace to the region. This is because, it will be possible for people to buy more guns if they know that once they surrender, they get more monies. By and large, I say that the monies should have been channeled into the provision of amenities to them,” he said.

An Abuja based lawyer, Chief Chris Uche (SAN) also toed the path of Chief Fagbemi (SAN).

But another lawyer, Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) who also did not believe in the amnesty package looked at the whole issue from another perspective.

“I don’t think I have a good opinion about it. The problem is that amnesty or pardon is for people that you have convicted in a trial. I don’t see why somebody who has not been charged let alone convicted should be given amnesty. In any event, I don’t think the amnesty and the money they are dangling will solve the problem. I believe that such monies should be used in giving them infrastructures. There are no schools, access roads to all those areas that produce oil. Improve their lives by establishing industries to create employment opportunities for them. When they submit their second_hand guns in exchange for monies, they will use that money to buy new guns. It has happened before during Odili’s tenure.

“It was at the Esho panel that all these came out. Giving money to people to surrender their arms will create bigger problems,” he said.

It ‘s damage limitation — Prof. Akin Oyebode —  Faculty of Law, University of Lagos

“LEGALLY, amnesty could be described as a reprieve from liability for a malfeasance. It is like the person granting the amnesty is saying to the person granted the amnesty ‘Go and sin no more.’  It is a privilege exercised  by the authority granting it to enable those who accept it to escape criminal prosecution.”

“However, it differs from  presidential pardon because that  only comes after conviction has taken place. Pardon is like prerogative of mercy which the President can also exercise after a sentence. The beneficiary must have been subjected to trial and sentence imposed on him or her.”

Prof Oyebode further explained that by offering amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta, “what   the Federal Government is doing is like damage limitation. A low intensity conflict is going on there and this  has resulted in a decline in production of crude oil and consequently a decline in revenue for the Government. Of course you know that crude oil earnings account for over 90 percent of the Federal Government’s revenue.”
He continued: “ So what the Federal Government has done is to cut its losses. However, the terms of the amnesty are not clear. The militants have not yet shown interest in the offer.  There is a need for the Federal Government to convince the militants that it is serious and committed to ensure a lasting peace in the region”

Ask militants what they want —  IBM Haruna, ACF chairman

Please ask the militants  what will pacify them and whether destruction and armed confrontation could  provide  peace and  creative development.?  However, we would support whatever the Federal Government deems fit to improve peace and security.

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF)  does not have a position on the offer because it is a socio-cultural organisation. We are not  really involved in the process.

“Government officials and security agents have a duty to follow the law and handle those who are breaking the law according to the law.”

The reason why troops were deployed in that region in the first place was because the situation was abnormal. The militants were killing people including soldiers and sabotaging the economy.

“I cannot pass judgement on government’s decision because I don’t speak for the government. I don’t know how the Government arrived at their decision.”

FG’s not getting it right— Yinka Odumakin, ublicity Secretary, Afenifere Renewal Group

The Federal Government is not getting it yet because it is the allegation mentality that has caused all the problems in the Niger Delta to think the best thing to do is to allocate money which will definitely not get to the end users.

The issue in the Niger Delta today is about proprietorship, it’s about the peoples’ fair share of their resources, of having a measure of control and having a fair derivation formula. When they have that, the people can now decide on their own how they want to use their money and resources and they should now be allowed to come up with electoral process that will  throw up leaders that truly represent them.

But if you stay in Abuja and say you want to vote N50bilion on this issue, it will not solve the problem , it’s just buying time.. Like we told the president recently military option will not solve the problem and it has not solved it. Everyday now, we are hearing of blow ups here and there. A deep rooted problem, cannot be solved with superficial thinking. It goes far greater than that.

The amnesty package will not work out. We are merely scratching the issue on the surface; what will work out is for us to allow true federalism. And this entails fiscal federalism with derivation principles as been central. Once you allow a few more resources to the area and you allow the people to have control, most of the people who are engaging in criminality now, will divert their energy to progressive activities. And even the derivation on its own, will not solve it per say.

It must be accompanied by the fact that there must be credible reforms that allows the people to truly choose who should lead them, who should represent them and who will owe them allegiance.

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