By Okey Ndiribe, Assistant Political Editor
Ledum Mitee,lawyer, intellectual and human rights activist needs little or no introduction in the Niger Delta. He came into limelight when he was elected as the Vice-President of the Movement for  the Survival of the Ogoni People ( MOSOP) while the late Ken Saro-Wiwa was President. He was charged along with Saro-Wiwa and the other eight Ogoni leaders who were hanged by the military junta headed by the late Gen. Sani Abacha in November 1995. Only Mitee among the whole lot  was spared the hangman’s noose after the controversial verdict of the Justice Auta led Tribunal. Undaunted even after he survived the Abacha gulag, he forged ahead with the agitation of the Ogonis for environmental justice.

He later emerged as President of MOSOP. When President Umar Yar’Ádua’s nomination of Ambasador Ibrahim Gambari to head the Technical Committee on  the Niger Delta was roundly  rejected by the people of  Niger Delta, it was his replacement with Mitee that cooled frayed nerves. The MOSOP leader  piloted the affairs of TCND  in spite of all odds and submitted a report to the Federal Government last December. It is widely believed that President Yar’Adua’s offer of amnesty to the militants of the region was a quiet way of  implementing  some parts  the report. He spoke to Vanguard. Excerpts:

How would you evaluate the Federal Government’s offer of amnesty to militants in Niger Delta?

Ledum Mitee
Ledum Mitee

I would commend it as an important bold step in the process. Most commentators and my Committee made recommendations for amnesty. Although I am not yet aware of all the details, but the impression one gets from the press reports tends to suggest that amnesty is being offered as a stand alone step. I would be very worried if that is so. It is obvious that militancy feeds on the sentiments of injustice and under-development of the region. Amnesty as stand alone that fails to accompany some attempt to address the issues could be counter- productive.

Available information also appears to indicate that some N50 billion would be spent on this-basically on skills acquisition and empowerment. First, I am not sure that absence of skills is the main problem. I have seen doctors, lawyers and engineers looking for jobs. These are not people without skills. What most young people need here is placements, jobs! That is why Technical Committee on Niger Delta (TCND) recommended a direct labour youth employment scheme that will employ at least 2,000 youths in community work in each Local government in  the region.

Secondly, we do not need to create the impression that it is only those who carry arms that qualify for jobs, or skills acquisition or empowerment. That would be rewarding only violence which can lead to a situation where unemployed youths would create camps or become militant in order to get these benefits. I have said repeatedly that international best practices on amnesty would suggest that even in such skills acquisition or empowerment centres, you do not just make it for only militants. They have to be for youths generally and you can deliberately send ex-militants and non militants there. After all, not all those involved in  militancy would want to be so identified publicly.

Importantly, we need to define, who is a militant for the purposes of the amnesty. Would someone who killed one’s mother, or kidnapped kids, raped an old woman or even robbed a bank be a militant by so claiming or because he took refuge in any of the militant camps?

So  you don’t consider the offer alone as a panacea to the crisis?

Definitely not. The Niger Delta crisis predates the so-called militancy and does not need to be confused with it. Indeed, militancy has to some extent beclouded the issues which people like us have fought  for years. It is the deaf ears to our non-violent agitations for these fundamental issues of justice and non development that have created the fertile ground for militancy.

Dealing with militancy alone might be dealing with the symptoms of the problem. Indeed, dealing boldly with the fundamentals isolates the militants and removes the rugs from under their feet. I have consistently advocated the separation of genuine community agitations from criminality and dealing with them as such. What one has seen over the years is to ignore the genuine community agitations and even using the militancy as excuse for further inaction. That has created the situation where the community even though not necessarily in support of criminality, become passive or even in some cases feel sympathy for it for being able to stand up to  their oppressors.

That means the offer is in line with the recommendations of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta (TCND)?

As I have said, I do not have the full details, but from what I have read, although the grant of amnesty is in line with the recommendations of the Technical Committee that I was privileged to head, it is less encompassing than ours. We took the view that amnesty be taken as one item in a whole DDR (Disarmament, Decommissioning and Reintegration) process that begins with a confidence building measures on all sides including cease fire and pull back of forces, open trial and bail to Okah, setting up of a DDR Commission and a negotiated undertaking with militant groups to stop hostage taking and attacks on oil installations.

We also took the view that the process must also include improvement of operational integrity of security forces and the police in the region to a level that assures communities and businesses of safety without harassment and disruptions. We thought this should include the elimination of all forms of abuses by security forces and institution of proper programmes of reorientation, demilitarisation, retraining and accountability.

We took the view, in short, that the DDR be in line with international best practices. Some of my Committee’s recommendations among others  were that  the Federal Government should:  Establish a credible and authoritative institution including international negotiators to plan, implement, and oversee the DDR programmes at regional, state and local government levels; Provide for open trial and release on bail (with a view to eventual release) of Henry Okah and others involved in the struggle of the Region; Grant amnesty to all Niger Delta militants willing and ready to participate in the DDR programme;   address short term issues arising from amnesty to militants, by providing security for ex-militants and rebuilding of communities destroyed by military invasion; work out long-term strategies of human capacity development and reintegration for ex-militants.

Promote integrity amongst security groups and include them in defining clear guide lines of agreement to end hostilities on their part; Reflect on time-line with adequate funds for the DDR programme to take place; stop the illegal demands put on youths from the region and prosecute the suppliers of small arms and light weapons and also those involved in oil bunkering by identifying highly placed persons in and outside of 7920 government who are engaged in sponsoring violence for economic and political reasons; exclude amnesty for those militants not committed to the DDR process and unwilling to surrender their arms; cease fire on both sides, pull forces back to base and replace active military forces with civil forces to maintain peace and order; ensure that signatories to the DDR programme show clear accountability to the entire process; equip the security services especially the Navy to effectively monitor activities within our coastal waters to check illegal bunkering and trafficking of arms.

State Governments in the region were also urged to:  Assist in rebuilding communities destroyed by military invasion; establish youth development centres with counselling departments for reintegration and capacity building; establish community demobilization and reintegration committees, especially in areas most affected by conflict; establish development projects such as health centres and schools at former camps managed by militants.

On their own part the local governments and  communities were supposed to:  Discourage further establishment of new militant camps by organizing enlightenment campaigns to sensitize community people;  Commit themselves  to participate in the DDR process; Expose criminal elements and their sponsors within the communities.

Even the militants were given a role to play in our report. They were urged to : Support the DDR process by committing to enter and respect agreements reached;  Work with communities for genuine reconciliation to take root and demonstrate good faith in the DDR processes by giving up weapons in their possession and agreeing to fully re-integrate.

Were there special institutions you recommended for the realisation of this goal?

For the purposes of governance, we recommended that  the Federal Government should: establish the following institutions and mechanisms to support the implementation of this report. These include:  National Minorities Commission to deal with the special issues of Minorities and Micro-minorities;  A Special Niger Delta Infrastructure Intervention Development Fund to support the building of capita! projects and a Multi-Stakeholder Niger Delta Policy and Project Compliance Monitoring Agency to monitor implementation  of these recommendations and other programmes in the Niger Delta Region; dtw18 A Niger Delta Futures Trust Fund and community equivalent of the Trust Fund; Carry out comprehensive audit and correct the imbalance against the region in matters of allocation of oil blocks, oil Sifting contracts, and allocation of marginal fields; Retain the NDDC but review the Act setting it up to make it less bureaucratic and politically driven; Immediately stop all forms of plea bargains and secret negotiations with
those that have been indicted for looting the resources of the Niger Delta; undertake a Human Welfare and Human Misery Audit in every state of the Region as a means of capturing and redressing all incidences of violence, deprivation, killing, kidnapping, rape and injustice in the region.

Our report included a role for the National Assembly. We urged the law makers to urgently facilitate and ensure  review of the following laws which are widely believed to be opposed to the aspirations of the Niger Delta people.

Also on matters of constitutional importance, the Committee received widespread demands for the creation of new states and Local Government Areas and it believes that the immediate creation of some states in the Niger Delta will fast forward the peace and reconciliation process, enhance infra-structuraI development and correct historical neglect of certain areas.

Our Committee recommended  that the National Assembly should urgently act on  these requests and consider the creation of these states and local Government Areas as matters of urgent constitutional importance. This will correct historical neglect of these areas, break the circle of isolation and under-development, reduce ethnic tensions arising from feelings of official insensitivity and satisfy demands of the majority of communities and interests in these areas.

We also proposed that in the short term between  2008-2010,  State Governments should: Create State Oil Producing Area Development Commissions through which 50% of the derivation revenue accruing to each state would be allocated to develop the Oil Producing and Impacted communities.

With regard to the local government system we especially considering their inability to deliver effective services to the people, limited accountability and disconnection from the people, we advocated that  the local government laws should be amended to: Create Village Governance Committees (VGC) which would become the fourth tier of Government to which local Government structures must be accountable;Institutionalize a community budgeting process that allows registered community associations and local public groups the opportunity to participate in planning their own development; Stipulate that Chairmen of Local Governments Area (LGA)should reside for a minimum of three years in their Local Government Area before presenting themselves for election and cessation of such residency after being elected should be an impeachable  offence.

Contain provisions that make traditional institutions more relevant to their communities and to promote peace-building and development from below; Provide that Local Governments are not to take loans, over-drafts or enter into any form of indebtedness without a public hearing in the LGA  as well as the approval by the State House Of Assembly; Set up structures for monitoring the utilization/deployment of monies allocated to the local governments: These include establishment of web-sites, Inter-party  Budget Monitoring Committees, and publication of annual budgets as well as statements of account; ensure that all Governors in the Region shall on a rotational basis, begin tohold monthly town-hall meetings in Local Government Areas; establish a forum for Governors of the Niger Delta States to meet every quarter to review developments, inter-state relations, regional projects, relations with the Federal Government, and pursue processes of democratic consolidation.

We also recommended that in the medium term between  2009-2013 States should pursue constitutional democracy by undertaking a process of state constitution making which will be people-centered and value-driven and this shall be without prejudice to the supremacy of the national constitution of Nigeria; encourage tertiary institutions in the Niger Delta States to establish centres of leadership and Public Policy to train new leaders and produce experts and specialists in policy development and ana lysis;Include in primary and secondary school curricula, political education and leadership training development and programmes that emphasize accountability, transparency, respect for rights of citizens, political discipline.

Was there a role for the local governments and communities in your  committee’s recommendations?

For the local governments our recommendations in the short  term was that they  should: Commit in every budget year, a monthly minimum of one million Naira to every political ward in the Region for the funding of small development projects which impact at the village level and is managed by Village Governance Committee (VGC);Set up structures for monitoring funds allocated to the VGC to ensure the realization of project goals; establish a comprehensive database of every community and traditional institutions within Local Government Areas and use the data base to facilitate equitable, integrated and holistic grassroots development in the communities.

In the medium term we recommended that the local governments should:  Utilize all possible community mechanisms to mobilize people to participate in the National Constitutional review process, with a view to building a bottom up support for State and Local Government creation and other issues of importance to the Region.

My Committee also made recommendations on fiscal  federalism as part of a total package  for  rebuilding our federalism in theory and practice. The fiscal dimension of federalism relates to the demand to rectify what is seen as a skewed pattern of resource generation, allocation, and management. This also involves how to manage the losses likely to be suffered by other stakeholders in the federation, balance incomes to other sectors and states, enhance income generation and productivity from resources other than oil, and ensure special support for resource deficient states.

Though this has generally focused on an increase from the current 13% to 25% in the immediate, based on the constitutional provision that says it should be at least 13%, the debate has continued to rage with a focus on how to cushion loss of revenue by other stakeholders in the federation.

It is clear that although past governments, since 1958  set up very high_powered committees to look into the problems of the Niger Delta and these Committees  submitted far_reaching and comprehensive reports, they have suffered the same fate of non-implementation. In cases where some of the recommendations have been considered at all, they  have been taken out of context and implemented piecemeal or without the required enthusiasm, consistency and monitoring.

Some of the reports were not even touched at all. No White Paper was issued, and no follow_up implementation and monitoring mechanisms were set up by government. This meant that the will and required enthusiasm to truly vision a developed, peaceful and progressive Niger Delta were absent.

It will not be out of place to state categorically that the current quagmire in which we find ourselves in the region and country today which has  culminated in violence, kidnappings, oil theft, illegal bunkering, political uncertainty, economic dislocation, divestment, and inter and intra_community suspicion and conflicts are the result of non_implementation of the recommendations of various past reports on the Niger Delta.

This situation of creeping insensitivity, neglect and at times, marginalization of already powerless and devastated communities has made it possible for political opportunists, bad leaders, corruption, waste, institutional decay and inefficiency to thrive.

What do you think is responsible for the continued aggression of the militants despite the offer of amnesty?

It would appear that as  well intentioned as the gesture undoubtedly is, there is a lot of distrust in the process. It would appear that there was little effort at negotiation. Appeasements of even only the leadership might not be enough without some transparent conversation.

Is it correct then to say that the  implementation of the offer have to wait until August instead of immediately?

I think the gap between now and August is to allow some conversation or negotiation which should have preceded the exercise to take place in order to build trust.

Do you believe that wholesale adoption of the TCND report can restore peace to the Niger Delta?

If I never thought so, I would not have appended my signature under the document.

Can you comment on MEND leader Henry Okah’s request for foreign medical attention while still in detention?

Henry Okah, until proved guilty is presumed innocent by law and I see no reason why he can’t be accorded requisite medical attention.

What is your view concerning doubts expressed by the militants over  the Federal Government’s sincerity with regard to the amnesty offer?

Indeed,  the offer has been described as a trap by some of them who  compared it to the type of amnesty that was offered by the administration of  former President Olusegun Obasanjo to Asari Dokubo, which he accepted and subsequently came out of hiding,  but was later arrested and detained for about two years.

Such fears are the outcome of distrust which I mentioned earlier. Again, the composition of the panel should also, in my view,  have been made sensitive to the perception of the intended beneficiaries of the amnesty. The proliferation of security men might not necessarily excite the confidence of the militants, I should guess. But I think it might be well to advise that they give it a try, because we all need the peace.

What advice do you have for President Yar’Adua on how to implement the offer?

My advise would be in line with the views I have canvassed earlier and the report of my committee. To ensure that the process succeeds, we need to tinker with it in a manner that assures confidence on all sides as well as speak on  the fundamentals of the Niger Delta issues. All hands need to be on deck here. It should not be seen just as the matter for men and women of the  security forces. Religious leaders, community leaders and those of the civil society should be involved. I would be surprised if the committee believes it could do all these without the co-operation and active involvement of the ethnic associations, for instance. We recognised this and engaged the Arewa group, Afenifere, OPC, Ohaneze Ndigbo and the groups in the Niger delta.

What is your reaction to the $15 million compensation by Shell to the families of the Ogoni nine?

We have long issued a statement welcoming it as a victory for nonviolence against corporate irresponsibility and hoped that this should be an important first step towards the resolution of the main Ogoni issue.

What is your reaction to the threat of relatives of four to go to court  over the Shell compensation?

Beyond the snippets of what I read, I have no details to be able to make an intelligent contribution.

What is your comment on the view expressed by relatives of the Ogoni four that they were unduly relegated to the background?

For us in MOSOP and most Ogonis, we have since passed the era of Ogoni four versus Ogoni nine.  We only have Ogoni 13 and we are committed to any process that promotes the current reality.

Has the crisis in MOSOP been resolved?

I am not aware of a MOSOP crisis. We need to appreciate the nature of MOSOP. It is a grassroots democratic movement, first of its kind in this part of the world. Although every Ogoni believes he is a stakeholder in MOSOP, after the crisis that engulfed our leaders, MOSOP emerged from it to decide that you have to register as member of the constituent associations that make MOSOP to qualify for membership, for we cannot be held accountable for acts of those not registered. Often, there are attempts to divert attention from our cause but we remain focused.

What is your relationship with the Diigbo-led MOSOP?

Is he a registered member of MOSOP? The sad aspect of recent history of MOSOP is that sometimes, some of us, whom the people perceive as beneficiaries of the struggle in the sense of our exile abroad, returned with our frustrations to foment trouble at home. To us the world stood still since we left, even though we have made little or no contributions since we left home. Be that as it may, a musician can call himself ‘President’ and I do not think Mr. President should be particularly worried in so far as he does not come to Aso Rock to disturb his performance of his duties as President.

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