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Our fears for the amnesty deal- Oil workers

By Victor Ahiuma-Young
CONTROVERSY has been trailing the implementation of the Federal Government offer to the Niger Delta militants and there has been accusations and counter accusations against the various militant groups as well as against those saddled with the responsibilities to implement the amnesty deal.

 This has raised a lot of questions among many who honestly desire peace in the Niger Delta region. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), whose members alongside their Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), are among the leading victims, Comrade Peter Akpatason, put into perspectives the fears of the oil workers and what should be done for the amnesty deal to succeed.Excerpts:

Since the commencement of the amnesty deal, Nigerians have been following the reports of arms surrender by Niger Delta Militants. As a leader of those who were also at receiving end of the crisis, what is your assessment of the process so far?

Peter Akpatason, NUPENG President
Peter Akpatason, NUPENG President

Well as a union, our impression is not different from the concern of other Nigerians both in the industry and outside. We had expressed optimism at the beginning hoping that within few days, would be seeing massive acceptance of the amnesty deal, and the militants, genuinely coming out to surrender their arms and government on its part carrying out their promises.

But contrary to that, what we are seeing is shaky implementation of the amnesty deal. On the part of government, we still believe it is a good thing that they offer the amnesty, but we believe that they should also listen to the concerns of the militants or the freedom fighters.

From our investigations and understanding, the worry of the militants is that, if they surrender all their arms and ammunition in the end, if there is no evidence of development in their communities, they would have problems with their people.

If after surrendering their arms, the government did not fulfil its own promise of developing the communities, providing jobs for the people and infrastructures to the various communities and so on, then their people will turn against them on the ground that they have been deceived.

The first major militant leader that came out to surrender arms and accept the amnesty, made a point, which we think the government should pay serious attention to.

We believe that his position represents the thinking and position of most of them, the militants and their leaders out there. The position is that they would be disappointed if in the end, after accepting the amnesty, government fails to effect the development of the communities.

What we are saying therefore, is that, there is the need for government to effect practical development, and put projects in place because you and I know that the amnesty itself does not solve the problem.

It only creates the enabling environment for the militants to surrender their arms and for the government to sincerely develop the communities and address the real issues that led to the crisis in the first place.

When you create the environment and development action does not follow immediately, it creates doubt in the mind of people. When you have a situation of doubt, it becomes difficult for the militants to come out and say we are fully embracing the amnesty offer.

We believe this is what is going on from the look of things and from what we are seeing on the pages of newspapers and televisions. We will advise that the militants should not be discouraged.

They should as much as possible be made and encouraged to embrace the amnesty offer, while at the same time, we are advising the government to ensure that they follow amnesty deal with infrastructural development, implementation of master plans and the reports that have been done and accepted by Nigerian people.

We understand that some of the militants are saying that during this crisis, a lot of their people were displaced. For instance, the Gbaramatu people, the Odi people and a host of others and up till now, those people have not been re-settled.

A situation where the community people that were displaced during the crisis are not re-settled, and therefore not comfortable with what is going on, you discover that it will be difficult for them to encourage their children to accept the amnesty offer. Even if the militants do not want to accept the amnesty deal, if they have pressures from their people, they would accept it.

Who are the people to put that pressure on them or encourage them to accept the amnesty offer? The same people who have been dislocated, the same people who cannot find their ways back to their homes. So, we think the government should do more than just waiting to see people who will come and surrender arms.

The government should go into the communities and see what should be done urgently to boost the morale of the people and to give them the necessary assurance that the amnesty offer is not a decoy to get the militants out of their hide-outs and then hound them into prisons and continue the policy of no development in the area that necessitated the crisis in the first place. We think it is the responsibility of the government to assure the people through immediate developmental action.

There is also the fear of no concrete plan by the government to rehabilitate the repentant militants?

It is just like the issue of not re-settling those who were displaced. If by now those who have submitted their arms have been left on their own and have not been taken care off, if the promise of giving money and other things to them, have not been implemented by now, how do you think the remaining ones still in the creeks and in their hide-outs will find that encouragement to come out and embrace the amnesty deal? We think government has to immediately look into the issue.

People have argued against the issue of offering money in exchange to surrendering of arms. Does the option of giving money solve the problem of joblessness, and idle hands which they say is the devil workshop? How much money and how long will such money last to take care of them?

We did not advocate the giving of money, it was government. But what we are saying is that there was a promise to do so. We think it is not totally wrong anyway because these people have been living an unconventional life and they are coming into the conventional world to live a normal life where they need to have a regular source of income and if the government had already promise to offer them money as a means of encouraging them to be able to get integrated into the normal life, we believe it is not wrong. The government should live up to such promise. But they should not look at it as the solution to the problem. It should be a temporary measure after which, they must find the people a means of livelihood. Let them be engaged. You do not give people money continuously. They have to work for their money and we think and know they are ready and prepared to work for their money. So, they should be engaged and you have to create jobs to engage such people. Therefore, we are of the opinion that delay is dangerous because you do not create jobs over night.

You have to start these things early enough. So, what needed to be done in the immediate should be done and sincerely, the process should have started even before the amnesty offer. You do not have to wait till end or last minute to start something. You have to start doing it right now.

What is the feeling among your colleagues and members working in the volatile areas, and in the creeks on the amnesty deal ?

Well, there is a cease fire for sure and it has actually reduced the insecurity concerns in the oil and gas industry. However, there is apprehension among oil workers that the cease fire might not last, because the level of acceptance of amnesty offer is so low. We had thought that by now, there would be greater acceptance than what we are seeing.

This creates fears in the mind of our colleagues and members in the industry that something needs to be done to ginger and boost a greater acceptance of the amnesty offer.


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