LAST November, barely a month after theÂ Federal Government rounded off its amnesty programme, complaints began about the programme.
â€œWe are tired of attending these meetings. The way and manner we have been attending meetings, I am aware that from 2007 till date, we have exhausted whatever is needed to be said and we are beginning to wonder why we accepted having this meeting,â€ said Dr. Chris Ekiyor, President of the Ijaw Youth Council.
â€œThirty days after our people surrendered our arms we have not seen any progress. We are tired of having these meetings. Today you call this group, tomorrow you call another group and nothing is being said.â€
His complaints are not much different from the same reasons that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, gave when it called off its ceasefire on January 30. MEND had stopped fighting against government forces and sabotaging oil installations since last October 25. In an elaborate statement, MEND complained about the slow pace of development of the Niger Delta and governmentâ€™s interest that rests more in securing enough oil and gas resources to keep the economy humming.
Impatience of the leaders of the Niger Delta is understandable. The amnesty programme has not translated to the fast development programme of their dreams. Complaints but the speed of the development abound. Government can definitely do more for the region.
There can be explanations for these, among them the absence of the President. The amnesty was concluded four months ago, the President has been away for two of those months. The critical decisions about the Niger Delta could have also suffered from the ailing President.
MEND has, however, raised new issues with derivation and the new definition of oil producing states. MEND objects to the inclusion of states through which pipelines for evacuating crude or refined products as beneficiaries of funds for oil producing communities.
Government since the cessation of sabotage of oil and gas facilities late last year has earned better revenue from oil and gas. MEND had expected the amnesty would have meant that promises made to the oil producing communities would have been met with the improved revenue.
Doubts are creeping in again about the willingness of government to keep its words. MEND does not believe government will. Similar fears have been expressed by other groups that complained about the paucity of allocations to projects in the region.
We appeal to MEND to adopt a peaceful approach to pressing its demands for improvements in infrastructure that would make the Niger Delta more suitable for habitation. The issues MEND raised are tenable, but war cannot be the best way to address them.
MEND should aid a deepening of the gains of the amnesty through collaboration with other groups seeking peaceful solutions to the issues. Another round of hostilities would only set the region further back.