By Dayo Benson, Political Editor
Ahead of Sunday October 4 expiry date of federal governmentâ€™s amnesty offer to Niger Delta militants, there have been mixed feelings over its success or otherwise.
In the last 58 days, there have been surrendering of arms and ammunition by repentant militants who have opted to come out from the creek. Some of theirs leaders and commanders are also believed to have chosen the path of peace.
In demonstration of his sincerity over his amnesty offer, President Umoru Musa Yarâ€™ Adua, met with some of the militantsâ€™ commanders in Aso Rock.
On their part, some of the militant groups reciprocated the presidential gesture by announcing cease-fire.
Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, had often claimed responsibility for most attacks on oil installations. It was at the height of series of bombing of oil facilities and outright sabotage that the federal government decided to engageÂ the militants in dialogue.
Not a few lives and valuable assets have been lost to militants activities in Niger Delta. What started as threats from youths in the region has since snowballed into a huge crisis that yawns at national peace and security. The nationâ€™s unity is equally â€œthreatenedâ€.
It all started with serial kidnap of expatriate oil workers whose freedom were secured with huge ransom. Several flow-stations of major oil prospecting companies had equally been blow up. Some of the companies have since suspended operations and pulled out of the region in deference to militants orders.
Out of frustration, the militants graduated to raw guerilla warfare to draw attention to the under-development and despoliationÂ of the region. A recent military action by the federal government over killing of soldiers, like previous one, did not deter the armed youths. At a point, virtually the entire South-South was at the mercy of militants.
But the crisis was more pronounced in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States. In the heat of this, a leader of MEND, Henry Okah, was arrested in Angola over allegation of arms purchase. He was subsequently repatriated to Nigeria to face trial on the request of the federal government.
The trial of Okah for treason and illegal arms dealing rather than deter, hardened the militants. There had been reports of heavy casualties on the side of the militants and Joint Task Force, JTF deployed to enforce peace in the region.
As a condition for peace, the militants particularly MEND hd demanded withdrawal of JTF, release of Okah and development of the Niger Delta among other things.
In demonstration of good faith, the federal government early this year set up Ministry of Niger Delta to cater for the region.
Amid all these, stakeholders were calling the federal government to negotiate with the militants and release Okah. It was against this backdrop that the MEND leader was released and all charges against him dropped. As a follow-up in its pursuit of peace in the area, the federal government granted unconditional amnesty to the militants.
President Yarâ€™ Adua on June 25 proclaimed the amnesty offer. In making the proclamation, the president said:
â€œWhereas the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria acknowledges that the challenges of the Niger Delta arose mainly from the inadequacies of previous attempts at meeting the yearnings and aspiration of the people, and have set in motion machinery for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta States;
Whereas certain elements of the Niger Delta populace have resorted to unlawful means of agitation for the development of the region including militancy thereby threatening peace, security, order and good governance and jeopardising the economy of the nation;Â Whereas the Government realises that many of the militants are able-bodied youths whose energies could be harnessed for the development of the Niger Delta and the nation at large;Â Whereas the Government desires that all persons who have directly or indirectly participated in militancy in the Niger Delta should return to respect constituted authority; andÂ Whereas many persons who had so engaged in militancy now desire to apply for and obtain amnesty and pardon.
NOW THEREFORE, I, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, after due consultation with the Council of States and in exercise of the powers conferred upon me by the provisions of Section 175 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, make the following proclamation:
1. I hereby grant amnesty and unconditional pardon to all persons who have directly or indirectly participated in the commission of offences associated with militant activities in the Niger Delta;
2. The pardon shall take effect upon the surrender and handing over of all equipment, weapons, arms and ammunition and execution of the renunciation of Militancy Forms specified in the schedule hereto, by the affected persons at the nearest collection centre established for the purpose of Government in each of the Niger Delta States;
3. The unconditional pardon granted pursuant to this proclamation shall extend to all persons presently being prosecuted for offences associated with militant activities; and
4. This proclamation shall cease to have effect from Sunday, 4th October 2009.
In the next two days, the amnesty offer will expire but some militant leaders have been calling for extension of the period by 30 days. The argument is that the extension period will enable others who are still in the creeks to come out and embrace the offer. But the federal government has turned down the request. Minister of Defence, Major General Godwin Abbey (rtd), said the federal government would not go back on the date.
Beyond calls for its extension, how successful has the amnesty offer been? Have the militants embraced it wholeheartedly? What next in post-amnesty period? There are fears that not all have turned in their weapons and that some of them are still lurking in the creeks. With the tough talk of the Defence Minister amid militantsâ€™ calls for extension, what happens next?