WITH the amnesty period over yesterday, what does the Federal Government intend to do about the Niger Delta? The answers, if any, would be the strongest indication of the impact of the amnesty in the resolution of the challenges of the Niger Delta.
The amnesty was bold. It remains governmentâ€™s most stated move to combat restiveness in the region that bears the direct brunt of the destruction, and neglect associated with oil production.
During the 60-day amnesty period, militants bought into the governmentâ€™s peace process by submitting their weapons in exchange for a presidential pardon that forgave all the sins they committed while fighting government.
From a sluggish start, militants started dropping their guns and the programme gained more acceptance, especially towards the end of the amnesty period. The choice of peace over confrontation with government was a welcome development that has produced immediate results.
Kidnaps, disruption of oil and gas operations lessened as more militants accepted the amnesty. The general improvement in the region resulted in increased oil and gas production, better revenue for government.
There are critics of the amnesty. Their grouse is that it was governmentâ€™s ploy to secure the Niger Delta so that it can gain better access to oil and gas, without which governmentâ€™s revenues were in tatters. According to these critics, there was no content of the amnesty that dealt with the urgent imperatives of developing the Niger Delta for sustainable peace.
Government has to prove these critics wrong with what it does now that the amnesty has ended. The issues around the development of the Niger Delta remain unattended.
Offers of skill acquisition training for militants do not reckon with two main factors â€“ some of the militants do not have the basic education to acquire these skills and many of them came to the negotiation table with demands for their welfare (housing, money, immediate jobs).
Their understanding of amnesty was obviously different from governmentâ€™s, which insists it would not pay any money for weapons.
There are also fears that many weapons might not have been returned and that some groups that failed to join the process, may have programmes that are inimical to the peace process.
Government knows that the end of the amnesty does not mean the return of peace to the Niger Delta. The various parties to the disputes want more concrete evidence of developments in the region.
The relative peace in the region provides great opportunities for government to fulfil their promises of tackling poverty, unemployment and environmental matters in the region.
It is important government acts quickly to forestall breakdown of law and order from restless residents who after years of patient expectation have reasons to question governmentâ€™s sincerity.
Government officials also have to watch their utterances. Some of them are still threatening war against those who did not submit their weapons.
The next phase of amnesty is development, to ensure inhabitants of the region are gainfully engaged, including non-militants.