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Post-amnesty confusion

By Ochereome Nnanna
AS  the deadline for President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s amnesty offer neared, the nation was vastly relieved at the rush by the various militant groups across the Niger Delta to surrender their arms.

The imminence of tackling the rebellion in the creeks through an all-out war with its pregnant implications for human and environmental disaster was averted. While the nation watched with awe on television every news night the amount of sophisticated arms and ammunition that were being given up, a shadow of doubt lurked at the corner of my mind.

I wondered if Nigeria was ready for the great post-amnesty challenges ahead. One of my editors in my early years in this journalism trade, the illustrious Ely Obasi (God rest his soul) was fond of saying that the greatest guy is not the person who organised the logistics for a ballroom party. It is the person who cleaned up afterwards.

When I heard that the Federal government was opening up camps to quarter the ex-militants for a period before demobilising them into new life as civilised and useful members of society, I saw the military thinking in it. The same thing was done with former Biafran soldiers after the war ended.

Those of them who presented themselves before the federal authorities were camped somewhere near Port Harcourt where they were debriefed.

They were interviewed to ascertain their reason for choosing to take up arms the nation, and to assess their readiness to return to Nigeria as loyal and peace-loving citizens. Some of them who were members of the Nigerian armed forces before the war were later considered for re-absorption, even though they had to drop a couple of ranks below their contemporaries who fought on the federal side.

A few weeks after the ex-militants reported to camp, it became obvious that Nigeria would always be Nigeria, even when the most serious issues that threaten the survival of Nigeria is involved.

Today’s Nigeria is a place where governmental institutions have lost all capacity for governance and management of human and fiscal resources.

It is a place where government officers, once given funds to do some work, devise clever ways in which to divert the money into their private pockets. It is a place where public officers and those entrusted with public positions of responsibility are only interested in the pursuit of corrupt selfish interests.

The first sign that the post-amnesty period was heading towards the rocks was the series of public protests staged by the ex-militants in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State about a week after the close of the amnesty deadline. On television, we heard some of the boys complaining that they were simply dumped in hotels with little said about how they were fed.

They alleged that the stipend promised them was not forthcoming. A couple of weeks later, the boys (and girls) camped near the University of Port Harcourt went on rampage, vandalising property, molesting innocent members of the public and raping female students. It got so bad that the University was forced to close down until the militants were relocated.

Some television propagandists who purport to defend the interests of the Niger Delta were on the screen earlier this week, alleging that the people who perpetrated this crime came from outside the camp!

How probable is it that people from outside would invade the den of ex-fighters who lived in the creeks, some for years? These television noisemakers must be seen for what they are – attention seekers. However, there is no smoke without fire.

There are complaints that the money set aside for the care and pocket money of the repented militants is being stolen by officials. Even though anybody who has engaged in armed struggle is liable to be unpredictable and violence-prone, deprivation must have driven them to burst out.

The greatest post-amnesty challenge is not the long list of infrastructural projects listed by General Godwin Abbe, the Minister of Defence and his Information and Communications counterpart, Professor Dora  Akunyili before senior journalists at the Lagos Sheraton in November.

After all, it will take years and dedicated implementation and funding to bring them on board. The most pressing need of the moment is to usher the ex-militants back into their normal human element and prepare them for a future of usefulness to themselves and society at large.

The camping process should have involved far more than just dumping them there, stealing their money and creating the trigger to bring out the beast in them. The camp should be swarming with specialists in human behaviour, such as psychologists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrist, teachers, motivational speakers, comedians and recreational experts, all of whom would fit into an overall non-stop programme that would leave no dull moment in camp.

There should be healthy competitions and frequent interactions with members of the public to gradually bring them back to humanity. It requires a corps of dedicated specialists being put to work and properly funded, not just by the Federal government but also the various interest groups that have started enjoying the great benefits of peace in the Niger Delta.

The very fact that Nigeria earned about 200 billion naira in November more than October when the amnesty offer came to a close ought to impel the nation towards doing whatever is decently possible to help the ex-militants find their bearing and look forward to life more abundant rather than looking back with nostalgia the moment when they were able to live as they wished in the creeks.

The amnesty programme is President Yar’ Adua’s greatest achievement so far. As he lies on his sick bed and as we pray for his speedy recovery, his officers should please eschew corruption and ineptitude. The post-amnesty confusion must end. It is in our nation’s interest that it does.


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