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Amnesty: ‘cost of peace can never be too much’- – Timipre Sylva

By Hector Igbikiowubo
CHIEF Timipre Sylva, the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State has been in the new lately over his efforts at stemming the crippling effects of militancy in the Niger Delta. In this interview he granted Hector Igbikiowubo, the Editor of Sweet Crude, he speaks about the president’s proclamation of amnesty to militants, urging all those still hold-up in their camps to accept the offer.


He also talks about the intrigues at play in his state regarding implementation of the programme as well as his government’s efforts at combining physical development with human capacity development, boosting electricity supply and job creation.
There have been some skirmishes in Yenagoa involving militants since the amnesty package was announced. Can you throw some light on this development?

Thanks for that question. I’ve always advocated that when you say amnesty has been accepted by militants, it is usually not a clinical operation. Usually there must be fall-outs, there must be issues. It’s not rocket science, so you would not expect that you will not have anything happening and that you will have total peace. You must put structures in place to take care of those problems and fall-outs from such an activity. And for me the joy is that as a government we have been able to anticipate most of these issues and we’ve been able to handle them as they occur.

That is to me the most important thing and not whether the skirmishes occur, but were the skirmishes contained. Skirmishes may occur because two people did not agree at the camp, they could fight and, the skirmish could occur because two people were served a plate of eba (local delicacy) when he wanted rice and this can cause trouble. All kinds of troubles can come up especially when you gather all kinds of people of different background. I don’t want to know what the cause of the trouble was, but was the trouble surmountable, were they contained?

The answer is yes and that is what should concern Nigerians. As Nigerians, I believe that we tend to always look too much at the negative side. If the president has declared amnesty, proclaimed it and people have accepted it, we must look at how this can be taken to conclusion and how it can succeed. Not every step of the way, you are being judged – watching to say this is how it is going to fail or this is how the cookies crumble. In this case, I believe that amnesty has gone quite far and in this case I believe that the cookies will not crumble.

Do you see some of this as the actions of mischief makers? Probably people trying to foment trouble for you?
Yes of course there are cases of mischief makers actually trying to interfere. There was a case of somebody, a very highly placed person going to disarm a militant and then taking him away with a helicopter and asking his boys to go to Yenagoa to collect money from the government and that we were sharing N10 million each.

It was a very dangerous thing and the militants actually came to Yenagoa and were expecting to be paid N10 million each which was non-existent. Of course such a person actually wanted to create problems for the government. But we anticipate things like this, that certain unscrupulous elements will take advantage of the amnesty to foment trouble. We are ready to handle them as they arise.

There have been call s for a possible extension for the deadline. Can you speak to that concern because those who have asked for this extension have complained that the amnesty committee is not adequately equipped to implement the process. What is your reaction to this?

Before you begin to point accusing fingers at the next person, we also must ask you yourself have done. That is always what I advocate. Nigerians have a way of always putting the blame on somebody else and that is a very defeatist way of assessing things. But once you have successfully dumped the cause of the problem at somebody’s door mouth, you believe that you are now absolved and completely free. That is a very un-progressive attitude which we have imbibed over the years. For instance, first you have to accept the amnesty and then you can be part of the process of actually formulating the post amnesty policy.

After all some of the militants who have accepted amnesty early enough are being consulted regularly to know their contributions on what they think would be best for themselves and their followers. So I urge those who have not accepted amnesty to do so, be part of the process. But if you are staying in your camp somewhere in the forest and you are expecting that federal government must play their role, what of you yourself, what role have you played? What have you done to progress amnesty?

So, you cannot stay somewhere in your camp and be trying to dictate how you expect amnesty to be. The president has been very clear from the very beginning, amnesty is unconditional. It is unconditional on the part of government; it is unconditional on the part of those who accept amnesty. We all agree, including the president that there have been some neglect and that there are issues that brought about the agitations and insecurity in the Niger Delta. But whether you like it or not, in trying to agitate, some crimes have been committed, nobody can controvert that. In some cases murder has committed, kidnap has been committed, even rape has been committed and so on.

But today, the president in his magnanimity has said no problem, whatever has been committed, we too accept that we are wrong, you too accept where you are wrong and let us move from this point and start all over again. And if we accept to, I think it behoves us a responsibility to give him a chance. After all the militants themselves admit that it is not this president that caused the problems and if he has shown indication that he wants to help to solve this problem, then why are we hesitating?

Do you think there will be an extension on the deadline for militants to accept amnesty?
I do not think so because I think it goes against the grain of amnesty. Amnesty will only be driven by the president of this country because he is the only person that has the power by law to grant amnesty. Amnesty will not be driven from any militant’s camp in the creeks. It is a wish. You know I have a friend who says if you have a father who died and leaves a will, if it is sufficiently backed, it becomes a will. But if he dies and leaves a will that is not sufficiently backed economically, it becomes a wish.

Let us talk about funding the amnesty programme. I understand that in your state you had granted amnesty to these boys long before the federal government decided to adopt same measure. I understand that in line with this, you had put in place a social welfare scheme which is costing you some money. This gives you a fair idea of the funding requirements for the success of the scheme. In real terms, do you think the federal government has put in place a funding mechanism that can make amnesty work?

The cost of peace to me can never be too much. We are sitting in this place today because we have peace. The only constitutional responsibility is to protect lives and property. The constitution did not say that the governor must build houses or roads rather it is the governor’s constitutional responsibility to protect lives and property of the people.

As far as I am concerned, whatever we have to say, whatever we have to do to further peace in Bayelsa which I accepted as a constitutional duty, I will do it. The cost is actually very high and the federal government of course is well aware. But this is not just the federal government’s responsibility. Even the individual has his role, the state government has its role, the oil companies have their role and you have your role. The federal government has its role and the local government have their role and there is no way that together, all of us, collectively cannot solve this problem.

My question sir which you have helped underscore is the lack of synergy between the federal government through the committee and states and local governments, the multinationals, etc. do you see any synergy between these groups regarding the implementation of this programme?

I have met with the multinationals before and have spoken to do on the subject sufficiently and I see that they have latched unto the programme. Everybody has seen that this is a very good way out. Within a short while, we have seen what amnesty can bring to Nigeria . Already oil production has shot up and every body sees it, everybody knows that something has to be done.

But you must also agree with me that there wont be a consensus on how to do it and what to do until we sit down and discuss over time. These discussions have started, the federal government has been discussing with the state governments and the state governments including mine have been discussing with the multinational oil companies. I think there is growing synergy and I think that we will come together to solve this problem.

The last time we spoke in Yenagoa, you took us around the city and outlined your lavish plans for the growth and development of the metropolis. What is the state of development now, especially as it affects the hospital, electricity programme and a few other programmes out there?

One of the hospitals is finished, the smaller hospital is finished and I must say that the first phase of outstanding projects has been completed. Yesterday you saw one of those projects that was work in progress when you saw it the last time. Now it has been completed (reference to the new government house). The hospital we have completed is the 54 bed hospital. We have also advanced substantially with the big hospital.

We have commissioned the park, unfortunately you were not there with me. We have commissioned the judiciary building is finished and most of the first phase projects that I showed you are all finished too. We are now moving to the next level and the next level we are tying physical development to human capital development. We are going to be emphasising jobs that will be created.

For example we are going to be diversifying into agriculture so that at least what we are doing will have a clear impact on employment, so that people can be employed, also people can get opportunities to express themselves. Also we have taken a challenge of stabilising power, already the power is stable in Yenagoa, you were there and you can see for yourself. But what we are doing is that we are coming up with a deadline – we want to identify a date whereby we can say from this moment upwards, we can guarantee uninterrupted power supply and then we can flag off the campaign. We are also working towards starting up the central business district and these are all things that will create real opportunities for our people.

The next phase of our development ties physical development with human capital development because we feel that without tying this two up, we really cannot move. We will only make our people spectators in the economy – we can only build skyscrapers and the people don’t have any relationship with the skyscrapers. What we are trying to do is ensure that whatever we embark upon, the role of the people is already tied into it so that they can get benefit almost immediately.

Can you let our readers know in the short, medium and long run, what they are to expect in terms of job creation?
I am looking at in the next six months hopefully we would have created 3000 – 4000 jobs. But in the longer term, our aspiration is to create 10,000 jobs, that is in the next two years. And that for a state like Bayelsa would be massive employment, especially for our teeming youths.

There have been calls for increase in derivation, are you part of that call or campaign?
I have always been part of increased derivation because I believe that it is going to help the development of the area. The constitution was very clear on the issue, it says at least 13 per cent and that means there is room for improvement and we are looking forward to that improvement. After all, we have had 13 per cent for too long, it is now time to review it upwards. Since the constitution in 1999 said at least 13 per cent and we have operated 13 per cent for the last 10 years, we should now bring it up for review and I am looking at a good upward review.


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