By Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist’…. Mrs. Indira Gandhi

Dear Fellow Nigerians,
At a recently concluded socio-cultural event in Odi, Bayelsa State, Dr Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, who is one of the most trusted, most seasoned and most professional federal civil servants, and who is also a member of the Federal Government Committee on Amnesty and Rehabilitation, was quoted as saying: ‘It is time now for those who have carried arms for whatever reason to drop them and embrace peace, so that real peace and development can come in for our people.

We have had enough of violence. This is the time for peace.’ Koripamo-Agary comments emphasised that the government is sincere with the general pardon being floated by President Yar’Adua.

After the amnesty
Well said, but what’s next after the amnesty? Really, what’s next after the amnesty gala? Where do we go from there?

What concession is the Nigerian government willing to make? How is this administration different from previous regimes that have been, in so many ways, duplicitous and indifferent to the plight and anguish of the Ijaw and other oil-producing communities? In any case, what does the government mean by peace?

Moreover, what does the administration mean when it speaks of development? We need to know. We need to know what the government is talking about and we need to know its aims and intentions vis-à-vis the Niger Delta imbroglio.

And so we ask: First, what manner of peace is Dr Koripamo-Agary talking about? What is peace and at what price is the Yar’Adua government seeking it? Second, is the government ready to be sincere and upfront in its dealings with the Ijaw and other oil-producing communities? Third, why is the government so bent on the amnesty deal now?

Why the haste? Why hurry a process no one is really sure about? And finally, why is the government so determined to shove the amnesty down everyone’s throat? If not properly done, and if there are whiffs of ulterior motives, what the government may get, in the end, will be a bad and useless peace. If Abuja wants to know what a bad and useless peace is, they should ask Tel Aviv or Tehran.

All in the name of peace?

As one-sided and as unpalatable as the proposed amnesty deal is, we see that the Yar’Adua government is (a) playing one Niger Delta governor against another; (b) pitting one militant leader against another; (c) using one justice-seeking group against another; (d) encouraging politicians to engage in private and public spats; (f) throwing millions of dollars on the table, knowing full well that political prostitutes will sell their birth rights for dollars and cents; and (g) threatening those who refuse to obey or collaborate with the government with awe-inspiring threats. All these in the name of peace?

Peace cannot be dictated, it has to be a natural born child of a just and humane environment. In this case, there can be no peace and security when people feel cheated, used and abused. Military might or not, international condemnation or not, there will be no durable peace if there is no political and economic righteousness in our country. What is fair is fair and fairness is what the Ijaw and the oil-producing communities have been asking for. It is all they ever wanted.

‘What’s next’ is the question virtually everyone concerned with the Niger Delta crisis and the hyped amnesty seems not to know the answer to or to understand. To my knowledge at least, no one has publicly articulated the concerns, questions and challenges that are likely to trail the amnesty deal.

And in fact, none of the major participants of the complex and seemingly complicated entanglement – militants, politicians, profiteers, and double-dealing sycophants – has cleverly communicated the how and what should be done for the Ijaw and the region a day before and a day after the fanfare.

For now, however, President Yar’Adua and his underlings simply wants the low intensity conflict to stop; and also, for the various justice-seeking assemblages to stop harassing the oil companies and the multitude of domestic and international oil bunkerers that have seen their operations take a hit. Other than the monetary cost to the Nigerian government and the oil companies, the Nigerian military an intelligence services are also feeling the pain. They are bleeding.

Dangerous dimensions
In my estimation, the proposed amnesty is a stop-gap measure, a band aid on a festering wound close to the heart of a sluggish, wounded, and sleepy elephant. For several years, the government has simply talked its way out of problems, or, in most cases, allowed very simple problems to assume dangerous dimensions.

When not being lackadaisical or allowing the ballooning of problems, she has, in some cases, simply used hammers on those she consider houseflies. But this crisis is unlike any this or any other government has ever faced. This has the potential to undo Nigeria: Solve it or dissolve.

The history of this crisis can be traced to (a) how the country was put together; (b) the unequal relationship between the 355 or so ethnic groups; (c) how political power and resources are being shared; and (d) the pervasive believe that the Hausa/Fulani hegemony controls and runs Nigeria.

These are the kinds of questions the proposed National Sovereign Conference would have addressed. But it was not to be. For now, however, what the Ijaw ethnic nationality is asking for is simple, and is in concurrence with the demands of the larger Niger Delta community:
1) Creation of more stand alone Ijaw states;
2) Provision of federal infrastructures and institutions;
3) The availability of basic needs;

4) To elect their political leaders freely as opposed to being forced on them by Abuja;
5) Fair distribution of revenues and an eventual control of their resources;
6) The economic ownership of oil wells;
7) Socially responsible behavior by the oil companies;

8) Respect for their ecology;
9) The restructuring of the federal system of government; and
10) The need to convene a Sovereign National Conference to address age_old questions.

The Ijaw will never be fairly treated
As to what comes next after the much hyped amnesty, well, one does not need the services of an oracle to know. I alluded to it earlier: There will be a bad and useless peace a day after the amnesty is concluded.

Essentially, there will be no lasting peace, no authentic security, and there certainly will be no sense of freedom and satisfaction.

None. Nothing. None and nothing because of the way the State is structured, and because of the manner in which several groups within the federation has been conducting political and economic business. Under the current arrangement, the Ijaw for instance, will never be fairly treated. Never. And they know it.

As to the fundamental question of what’s next after the amnesty, in the short term, I foresee a setting in which (a) a more determined and more lethal MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) materialises; (b) the emergence of a splintered MEND that gives birth to octopuses, spiders and mambas; or (c) a weakened MEND that hobbles into the sunset.

From all indications, however, the first and second scenarios are more likely. Their target will remain the federal government and the multinational oil companies. But beyond that, we are likely to see the formation and rise of other groups.

Also, there is a great likelihood that a Palestine-type situation will emerge: A situation whereby the dominant figures in the militant groups betray one another, and/or assassinations becoming pervasive. Furthermore, when private individuals are bold and strong enough to challenge the authority of the state, then such individuals may not think twice before challenging the power and legitimacy of other institutions within the state.

Such individuals may become monsters and beyond the dictates of commonsense, decency and the rule of law. They may even go on to raise private armies and engage in extralegal activities.

Under such conditions, people may act on primordial suspicions and sentiments; anarchy becomes the common currency; and before you know it, calamity spreads to other parts of the country. The aforesaid is the second half of the likely scenario. There are five other likely scenarios, but for now, these will do.

In the period leading to and after the amnesty, the goal of the federal government and those with vested interests in the country should be durable peace: Efforts and genuine commitments that are geared toward justice and fairness and which prevent or dissuade the reoccurrence of hostility and low intensity conflict.

The root cause of the conflict has to be genuinely addressed through institution rebuilding as well as through economic rearrangement and political transformation of the political space and landscape.

Unfortunately, this has not been done; and is not likely to be done anytime soon because the various powerhouses in the country prefer the status quo: Feeding off revenue from oil; maintaining a stranglehold on power; feeding off of myriad crises; and feeding off the people’s suffering and misfortune. When is this gluttony and inanity going to stop?

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