MORE than 90 days after the amnesty package for militants in the Niger Delta came to a close, an air of uncertainty persist over the effectiveness of the initiative, especially against the backdrop of threats by the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to call off its cease-fire and reports that government has been busy acquiring fast attack helicopters and flat bed speed boats for a final showdown with militants.
In a bid to buy more time some militants including Government Ekpemupolo, Alias Tompolo and Ateke Tom have both called for an extension of the October 4th deadline, noting that more time was required to perfect and sustain the peace initiative.
However, responding on behalf of the Federal Government, Major General Godwin Abbe (rtd), Nigeria’s Minister of Defense insisted that the deadline would not be shifted, adding that after October 4th government would not negotiate with anybody carrying arms. There are also indications that the General’s approach to implementation of the amnesty initiative may have inadvertently undermined the process.
Also challenging is the government’s glaring failure to sustain the initiative of the previous administration regarding development of oil and gas acreage granted to companies following the 2005, 2006 and 2007 bid rounds in consideration for commitment to develop infrastructure leading to the inevitable creation of jobs in the Niger Delta.
Following the declaration of amnesty, the expectation in so many quarters was that the programme was well thought out to take care of real and imagined concerns. However, sometime last month, a little over two months after the initiative was declared, the threat by MEND to call off its unilateral cease-fire served notice that all was not well.
Fortunately, a day before the expiration of its unilateral ceasefire deadline, MEND announced it was extending it by another 30 days creating room for further parley between government representatives and militant leaders still holding out. In a statement the group released, MEND disclosed it is extending its unilateral cease-fire which expired mid-night, September 15, 2009 by another 30 days.
The group warned it would resume attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta if its grievances were not addressed
MEND declared a 60 day-day unilateral cease-fire in July in response to government unconditional release of Mr. Henry Okah who had been standing trial on charges of treason. At the time, there was also indication that government’s offer of amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta may have played a part in the unilateral cease-fire. However, MEND insists it does not recognise the amnesty offer which has not made provisions for any meaningful dialogue on the issues that gave birth to the Niger Delta unrest in the first place.
The group has waged an oil war targeting oil installations and the military deployed in the Niger Delta
But even before keen observers could heave a sigh of relief, news filtered in about government’s procurement of fast attacks helicopters and flat bed speed boats in preparation for a full-scale attack on militants who have refused to buy into the initiative.
Although Sweet Crude gathered that the Federal Government’s Committee on Amnesty and Disarmament has collected thousands of assorted arms and similar numbers in ammunitions.
However, news filtering in from states of the Niger Delta where militants have submitted weapons indicates that the number of arms and ammunitions turned in has been very low. For instance the coordinator of the presidential committee on amnesty in Akwa Ibom state reported the surrender of 15 militants and one AK-47 riffle.
The committee’s claims to big catches were recorded when Ebikabowei Ben Victor aka General Boyloaf and his boys surrendered their cache of arms and ammunitions to Governor Timipre Sylva in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa state capital and Kile Selky Torughedi aka ‘Young Shall Grow’ surrendered to the committee through Mr. Timi Alaibe, the presidential advisor on Niger Delta. Sweet Crude gathered that 74 automatic riffles, 21 machine guns, assorted weaponry over 80,000 rounds of ammunition and three gun boats were submitted. Similarly, when Commander Africa Ukprasia, Commander Joshua MacIver and Ezizi Ogunbos surrendered to the amnesty committee, 532 arms, 13 gunboats and over 100,000 rounds of ammunition were submitted.
But even as the supposed acceptance of government’s amnesty package by some of these MEND operatives is ongoing, it was gathered that in reaction to government’s acquisition of fast attack helicopters and flat bed speed boats for a supposed impending attack on militant positions, MEND is also busy acquiring more arms, fortifying their positions and preparing for an all out assault on the oil and gas industry. Checks further revealed that the volume of arms recovered so far is a fraction of the arsenal at the disposal of MEND.
MEND is a collection of several groups in the region – including those motivated by criminal intent, ideology and politics. Indications are that most of the militants who have willingly embraced the government amnesty package are those largely driven by criminal intent. Similarly, others whose identity have been compromised feel more inclined to accept the offer Checks revealed that militants driven by ideological persuasion continue to resist the amnesty package because it has failed to address the circumstances which led to the agitation for resources control and management taking a radical turn.
FG DECLINES EXTENSION OF AMNESTY DEADLINE:
While speaking at the graduation ceremony of reformed militants in Okehi, a suburb of Rivers State, General Abbe who led a federal government delegation to the event said his delegation was there to learn how to go about the federal government programme for reformed militants in the region, further underscoring the poor planning of the amnesty initiative.
Indications are that if after three months, the amnesty committee is till learning how to go about rehabilitation and re-integration of militants who have accepted amnesty, there is little chance of inspiring confidence in those still holding out.
Abbe also ruled out extension of the October 4 deadline for the submission of arms by militants in the Niger Delta region just as he urged those yet to key into the presidential amnesty declared for militants in the region since June 25 to do so. He blamed the birth and growth of militancy in the area on the failure of past administrations to tackle challenges in the area. It is interesting to note that General Abbe was governor of Rivers State in the early 1990s and had a veritable opportunity to impact the wellbeing of the Niger delta.
Sweet Crude checks also revealed that despite serial acts of grand standing on the part of the operatives of the federal government amnesty initiative, there is no properly articulated programme in place. The initiative has no role for state governors, governments and local governments in the Niger Delta, no role for multinational and service industry operators in the Niger Delta especially regarding job creation, the camps for militants remains virtually empty and the amnesty committee remains blanks on what to do after the expiration of the deadline.
A traditional ruler who spoke at the Okehi graduation ceremony for reformed militants lamented General Abbe’s involvement in the implementation of the amnesty programme, noting ‘it is immoral to be pursuing peace while at the same time preparing for an all out war. Independent checks also revealed that owing to the regimented operating style of the General, the camps have been starved of funds making it impossible for militants willing to surrender their weapons to do so and get documented.
â€œThe situation is so bad that we even turn back some of the boys who have turned up with arms because we don’t get funding when we need it. If we accept them and do their documentation, then we have to pay them. But since we don’t have funding readily available, we have to turn them back,â€ a military personnel at one of the camps volunteered on condition of anonymity. The personnel admitted that the logistics put in place for implementation of the amnesty programme has not been effective enough and hoped that his superiors would extend the October 4th deadline and hand over implementation of the process to the ministry of Niger Delta.
Indications are that if the amnesty initiative must succeed, there has to be a well thought out approach to rehabilitation and re-integration of reformed militants. The amnesty committee must seek for ways and means of partnering the states and local governments, as well as multinationals and indigenous company operators towards jobs creation.
Checks revealed that the ministry of Niger Delta was initially saddled with the responsibility of superintending the amnesty programme and had articulated a well thought programme with the active collaboration of other arms of government, the multinational oil and gas companies among other organisations which made their services readily available. However, shortly after the declaration of amnesty, General Abbe hijacked the whole process under the pretext that the presidency was not comfortable with the budget put forward for implementation of the programme. Since then, the process has floundered on the brink of failure.
PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION’S APPROACH:
As part of its effort to attract development to the Niger Delta and the country, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration attached oil and gas blocks allocation to infrastructure development. This desire led the administration in 2005 to introduce the policy of linkage of allocation of oil blocks to commensurate investment in the downstream sector particularly refining, power, roads, petrochemical industry and agriculture.
Among the options introduced to facilitate this infrastructure development is the award of oil blocks and crude oil term contracts for companies that are willing to invest in the development of certain downstream projects infrastructural facilities as may be agreed upon in the Niger Delta (using what you have to get what you need). This was especially targeted at new investors from China, Korea and India, who were hungry for Nigerian oil, and were prepared to commit to huge infrastructural projects in return for access to upstream assets.
Sweet Crude learnt that the thinking back then was that the Asian companies would provide the much needed competition to the Western multinational companies, who have been present in the Niger Delta from the beginning but have resisted the push to invest downstream and in backbone infrastructural projects.
The upstream provides fewer numbers of jobs than the downstream and companies that seek to avoid being sucked into the domestic economy naturally avoid the downstream. A refinery project alone can generate up to 15000 direct employments and another 50,000 in indirect employment leading to the creation of new towns and associated economic and infrastructural activities compared to the upstream in which comparable level of investments can only create a few hundred jobs hidden in one corner of the Niger Delta.
The past administration employed the linkage of upstream oil block allocation to downstream infrastructural development as a strategic tool to develop the Niger Delta.
To this end, the Right of First Refusal was granted to companies that were willing to finance developmental projects such as refineries, gas pipeline, LNG, gas gathering plants, power plants and railway modernisation during the 2005 and 2006 bid rounds. Ten companies and consorts participated in the 2005 and 2006 Competitive Bid Rounds with commitments to undertake certain downstream projects and were awarded Oil Prospecting Licenses (OPLs) on a Production Sharing Contract with NNPC. The list of these companies and consorts, and the associated downstream projects is given in the table below.
Under this scheme over US$22 billion was committed by the companies to one infrastructural development or the other in the Niger Delta. A number of these companies have demonstrated commitment to such projects while others are yet to make any meaningful progress. However, indications are that realising these projects will bring immense benefits to the Niger Delta and the Nigerian economy at large.
Following the exit of the administration in May 2007, the oil and gas sector has undergone a period of uncertainty in nearly all policy initiatives.
The sector has been plunged into greater uncertainty with the reversal of the oil block allocation made to the Koreans and Chinese by the last administration and the various probes embarked upon by the government and the national assembly.
Linking infrastructural development with upstream allocation, which was a cardinal initiative of the last administration that committed the Koreans, Indians, Chinese and new western investors to over US$22 billion investment in railways, refineries, power, gas and Niger Delta development have been nearly completely reversed. It is doubtful that under the current climate any of these projects can be achieved.
Indications are that the Yar’Adua administration has also failed to see the issue of gas management as a catalyst for the development of the Niger Delta. The flaring elimination strategy has to be pursued to meet domestic demand and provide infrastructural development in the Niger Delta. The domestic obligations need to be enforced. Checks further revealed that the Gas Master Plan requires rework to ensure government investments in the infrastructure rather than expecting US$30 billion from the private sector.
Speaking on the basis of anonymity, an oil and gas industry operator noted that, it is retrogressive to abandon the positive initiatives of the last administration without articulating viable alternatives.
Reversal of Government policies in 2007 worsened the fortunes of upstream operators and the huge profits recorded from the higher oil prices were eroded in the second half of 2008 and 2009 due to global recession and over reliance on imports. A long term sector such as oil and gas requires steady policies whose disruptions can take equally long time to correct. Long term contracts, which are normal in the sector, can easily fall or are withheld when changes in policy are suspected. Winning investor confidence remains the key to future development of the sector and the development of the Niger Delta,â€ the operator said.