ByÂ Dapo Akinrefon
As the Federal Government intensifies efforts to ensure success of its post-amnesty programme for ex-militants, former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, has expressed fears that the programme may be threatened unless the causes of the armed protests were dealt with.
Ibori, who spoke at an inaugural Independence Anniversary LectureÂ organised by Business Hallmark Newspapers, said the cost of developing the Niger Delta would be higher compared to other parts of the country because of environmental degradation of the region.
At the lecture, entitled, Niger Delta and the future of Nigeria, at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos, IboriÂ said the recent embrace of amnesty by militants in the region, was an â€œenthusiastic response by various groups of militants who embraced the deal and surrendered their arms.
ThisÂ is indicative of the popularity of the programme. The sheer spectacle of the process of surrendering the arms and some of the leaders being received by the President in Abuja demonstrates that our country has taken a decisive step in favour of peaceful resolution of the conflict.â€
Expressing worries over the challenges posed by post-amnesty, he stated that â€œone immediate concern is what to do with the thousands of youths that have embraced the amnesty. Media reports indicate that about 10,000 persons are to benefit from the rehabilitation process. It is yet to be ascertained what will be the fate of others who are not included in this projection. The arsenal of arms and ammunition exhibited by the various groups is an indication of how determined the revolting youths were.â€
While proffering ways by which post-amnesty could be better managed, he said â€œI have already drawn attention to some of the political and constitutional matters that should be tackled to create the atmosphere for sustainable peace.â€
â€œMore innovative strategies are called for by way of large-scale investment in the industry and education to absorb the surging energies of those who have come forward and millions of other who are equally aggrieved but have not taken up arms.â€
Aside, he expressed worries that the â€œnumber and sophistication of arms and ammunition displayed at various centres appear quite formidable and frightening, there is palpable fear that all there is to be surrendered has not been recovered. This is because some of the local conflicts and inter-community feuds in the Niger Delta are not directly related to the global crisis of agitation over oil and political alienation.â€
He further said that to ensure that arms and weapons are not deployed in future for nefarious use, â€œall groups and communities that still harbour them must surrender them completely. This will rid the region of the menace of lethal arms that could instigate violent conflicts during the post-amnesty period.â€
In his lecture, the former governor traced the crisis which had lingered in the Niger Delta region just as he called for all hands to be on deck if a solution is to be found.
He also said that resolving the crisis in the Niger Delta will bring about economic development in Nigeria just as he pointed out that there was need for all stakeholders from the region to join hands with President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to ensure that the post-amnesty programme remains a success.
According to him, â€œI assume that resolving the crisis in the Niger Delta is the key to Nigeriaâ€™s development and the future of the country. This point is underlined by the fact that the Niger Delta is perhaps the poorest oil-producing area in the world. The paradox of poverty in the midst of resource abundance is the major challenge that confronts the elite and political leadership of the country
While tracing the slow growth of the countryâ€™s economy over the years, he said â€œparadoxically, the Niger Delta has not been a prime beneficiary of these nationâ€™s assets. Although the region is about one-fourth of the countryâ€™s territory, the distribution of road infrastructure in the region is not commensurate with its size or quantum of contribution to the nationâ€™s revenue.â€
Ibori, who also identified political and legal issues which have contributed over the years to the underdevelopment in the Niger Delta region, called for a review of certain laws.
â€œThere are also political and policy issues that inhibit the enjoyment of opportunities of oil economy. Legal authorities and equity advocates regard these laws as inimical to the practice of fair and just federal system.â€
Highlighting ways by which development could come to the region, he said among others that â€œthere should be established a Niger Delta Marshall Plan which should incorporate the mandates of the NDDC, Regional Development Master Plan and the Ministry of the Niger Deltaâ€.
The former governor who advocated for the true federalism as well as constitutional amendment said, there is the â€œnecessity for a democratic and constitutional restructuring of our federal system and modernization and industrialization of the economyâ€.
Dignitaries present at the event include: Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, former governors of Akwa Ibom, Ekiti and Bayelsa States, Obong Victor Attah, Otunba Niyi Adebayo and DSP Alamesiegha.
Also present were former deputy governor of Delta State, Mr Benjamin Elue, wife of the deputy governor of Delta State, Mrs Otuama, former Minister of Finance, Dr Kali Idika Kalu, Senator Jubril Aminu; Speaker Delta State House of Assembly, Mr Martins Okonta; Messrs Halims Agoda, Ndidu Elumelu, Senator Fred Brume, Chief Willy Bozimo, traditional rulers amongst others.