FOR some Nigerians in theÂ Niger Delta, the presidential amnesty to militants in the region is a mere effort by the federal government to rebrand Nigeria before the international community.
They maintained that so far,Â the government has not exercised appreciable political will to address the challenges of underdevelopment in the region that led to the conflict and security problems created by militancy. And until government comes up with genuine blue print to tackle these challenges, the amnesty and other strategies of the governmentÂ aimed at addressing the root cause of the problem would be seen as a way to keep the region busy and awayÂ from focusing onÂ the problems of underdevelopment.
In spite of this ,the majority view in the region is thatÂ amnesty should be encouraged to succeed. This probably accounts for why within a month the federal government came up with the package, about twenty three militants have embraced it.
This was confirmed by the Inspector General of Police Mr. Mike Okiro.Â The Police boss expressed the hope that more would turn in before the project expires on October 4 this year.
Osama Bin Laden was the first reformed militantÂ to be part of the amnesty project in Rivers state.Â Osama whose real names are Solomon Ndigbara was in charge of militant operations in Ogoni area of the state. Before his repentance, there were several cases of abduction recorded in the area.
Though he did not say if he was responsible for all,Â it would beÂ necessary to note that the Ogoni area has had its own dose of abductions and cult related crisis. One of the victims of kidnap in the area was the Vice Chancellor of the state University of Science and Technology. He was picked in a village in Ogoni and released after some days in the custody of the militants.
Osama as he was widely known gave up militancy at a programme attended by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Okiro in Yeghe, Gokana local government area, a day after President Umar Yar Adua granted the amnesty to the militants.Â Other top officers of the security sector were also in attendance.
Weapons handed over at the eventÂ includedÂ three AK47 rifles, three Self Loading Rifles, three Pump Action Rifles, one P-Beretta and 1000 rounds of live ammunition and 13 cartridges.â€
Osama at the brief ceremony that was witnessed by his community folks pleaded with the federal government to keep faith with its promise on the amnesty. â€œThe federal government should do whatever they have said they will do and we will keep to our own side of the bargain so that this thing will not come backâ€.
An elated Okiro later assured that the government was resolute on the issue. He called on other militants in the region to take advantage of the amnesty to surrender and turn a new leaf in the region.
Also to key into the project was another militant leader in the state, Mr. Chukwudi Onwuchekwa. He told the Saturday Vanguard thatÂ he was first granted pardon by the state government after he appeared before the defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the Amaechi government to bring about lasting peace in the state, adding that the presidential amnesty capped it all.
Three days after the presidential pronouncement on amnesty, his Elelenwo community came together to welcome the repentant militant leader back to their fold.
In his interaction with Saturday Vanguard, Chukwudi pleaded with other allied characters toÂ make good use of the amnesty offer by the federal government.Â He said he had surrendered two pump actions to the state government.
Continuing, he said he was now a very happy man as he was no longer on the trail of security operatives in the country. He also urged both the Rivers state and the federal governmentÂ to come up with meaningful empowerment programmes to productively engage youths in the region, addingÂ also the urgentÂ need for the federal government to tackle the challenges of underdevelopment in the region.
â€œÃ can confidently inform you now that I am one of the beneficiaries of the state government amnesty which has just been crowned by the President of the federal republic of Nigeria , Alhaji Shehu Musa Yar Adu. Therefore, I advise all the aggrieved cultists and militants to put off their grievances and embrace peace for meaningful development to thrive in this our oil rich region.
Please, please, please, the youths and people of Niger Delta, lets put away our grievances and forget the past as we work together in evangelizing peace and harmony among ourselves.
â€œI seize this opportunity to urge the government to come up with meaningful development programme and provide basic social amenities to the people of this oil rich region as we and even the government know that the region has been seriously marginalized.â€
Onwuchekwa said that as aÂ repentant militant, he would need support from the government to run his family of three. â€œOn my part as a repentant militant with a wife and three children, I want the government to give me maximum support by offering me a sustainable empowerment.â€
The reformed militant recalled in an address he read at the welcome back ceremony, how he led other youths to kidnap two expatriates. And they held the hostages for about ten hours before the state police command acting on tip off came to rescue the hostages.
The traditional ruler of his community, Eze capt P.W. Chikwas Agu Saga Eli 1 of Oropotoma in Evo Kingdom told Saturday Vanguard that the community was elated with their son who had realized the need to live a decent and responsible life. He pleaded with the youths in the region to key into the amnesty project.
From all indications, the amnesty project is enjoying support from the region. Nevertheless, itÂ is still faced with some challenges, one of which centers on the sincerity of the government towards it, an issue the federal government has continually reassured the militants on.
For instance, at a meeting between stakeholders and the presidential committee on amnesty in Port Harcourt,Â founding president of the Ijaw Youth Council, Dr Felix Tuodolor expressed dissatisfaction with the composition of the committee which he said did not have more of Niger Deltans.
He also said there were fears in the circle of youths in the region that the committee had more of security operatives. He said the youths from the region were ready to ensure the success of the amnesty but the government should come up with confidence- building process which should include the release of Henry Okah and other militants languishing in various JTF detention camps in the region.
Meanwhile, president, Association for Non Violence and Peace Education, Mr. Frankly George, in a chat with the Saturday Vanguard on how youth violence could be discouraged in the region and the country suggested the infusion of non violence education in the nationâ€™s education curricula.
According to him, there were already too many violent movements in the nationâ€™s tertiary institutions andÂ so, there was need to reorientate the minds of students away from the path of violence. He also blamed failures in the past to disarm youths in the region on the lack of provision of starter packs that should go to participants at the end of skill acquisition programmes.
Chairperson, Ijaw Mothers, Doris Mac Daniels told the Saturday Vanguard that one way to engage youths in the riverine parts of the region was for government to train them on marine related projects. She saidÂ this is one way more of them could become more useful to society. She also appealed that more lands should be reclaimed in these areas for expansion sake.
â€œAs it stands nowâ€, according to her â€œthere are few land spaces for development in the riverine areas.â€ Above all, she said critical efforts should be made to address the challenges of underdevelopment that gave rise to the myriads of conflicts in the region.