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AHEAD VANGUARD’S post-Amnesty dialogue : The imperatives of sustainable development in Niger-Delta

By Hugo Odiogor, Deputy Political Editor

Watchers of the post amnesty programme truly heaved a sigh of relief when the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan told the nation that his administration was determined to give more than lip service to the programme that resulted in the cessation of hostilities between the Federal Government and the restive youths in the Niger Delta region. With President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua’s long medical vacation, some self-seeking politicians who were not willing to take responsibility for the Amnesty programme, had begun to hedge over its implementation.

The apprehension of Nigerians stemmed  from the fact that it is only a matter of time before the restive youths  return to the creeks.  The main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger- Delta, MEND, had  already declared  its intention to resume fighting and had actually begun attacks of oil installations in the region.

Although the disarmament phase was concluded on 4 October 2009, critics of the Amnesty programme argued that the Federal Government was embarking on a deceitful process of offering amnesty to the fighting youths without providing a concrete programme of action to address the issues of reconstruction of the communities devastated by the full scale war that broke out 23 May  2009, between the militants and soldiers involved in “Operation Restore Hope.” When the Federal Government announced the amnesty programme, it had left open what will be its next line of action in the event of the militants refusing to turn in their weapons.

The initial announcement did not provide a workable content for the amnesty. Worse still, the ailment of  President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua did not help matters as some politicians began to link the implementation of the  programme with the well-being of the president.

In the end, the over 20,000 young men who surrendered their arms began to embark on street protests in Bayelsa, Edo, and Rivers States. The protesters alleged that the managers of the amnesty programme  had short-changed them.

On their part, the Major-Gen.Godwin Abbe (rtd) led-Committee on Amnesty and Rehabilitation became very unpopular with the public owing to the arrogant disposition of its leadership. The committee was found to be at odds with the other arms of government that were charged with managing the programme. The issue of the N60 billion voted to handle the amnesty programme was politicized as the fund was not released.

It is against this background that the post amnesty dialogue was conceptualised. Notable dignitaries expected at the event include; Senate President, David Mark,  Speaker House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole, all Governors of the region, Professor Wole Soyinka, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Chief Edwin Clark, Federal Ministers and Law Makers from the nine states of the Niger Delta, leaders of Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo and Afenifere. It will be recalled that Vanguard, in collaboration with the six governors of South- South region organised the well-acknowledged legislative retreat which further gave impetus to the establishment of the Niger Delta Ministry.

Since the end of the first phase of the amnesty programme, the Niger Delta region has enjoyed relative peace, but whether the peace will endure depends on how the Federal Government and the stakeholders conduct themselves. Already we have seen some rumbling from the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND). We have also heard reports of protests from the former militants who were complaining of being short-changed; we have seen cases of kidnapping and  armed robbery which  were attributed to the former youths in arms.

Federal Government officials have been giving conflicting signals about their understanding of the amnesty programme. Some members of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, see the amnesty programme as that of  the Umar Musa Yar’ Adua as an individual.  They reason that the only man who is competent and qualified to treat all issues relating to the amnesty programme is Mr. President. This means that since the end of the first phase of the  programme, no action  has been taken to ensure that youths who   turned in their arms  did not return to the trenches.

While the Federal Government officials cite the absence of Mr. President as a plausible cause for delay of action on the reconstruction and rehabilitation stages, oil exploration has resumed and Nigeria has gradually regained its production status of 2.2 mbpd. The Amnesty Committee has faced several protests from over 25,000 militants at the various camps in Bayelsa, Edo, Delta States. The militants have  alleged that money earmarked for camping them   had been embezzled. Trouble began when some of them began to protest non-payment of their allowances.

However, as at today, leaders of the militants groups are quartered in government houses and some of the best hotels in Asaba, Warri, Port Harcourt, Uyo and Abuja. The greatest challenge facing the amnesty programme is not the long list of projects that the government has outlined to execute  in the Niger Delta region but the lack of confidence and credibility in the Amnesty Programme.

According to Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, the Federal Government is satisfied with the fact that the militants submitted their arms. “This has created an illusion of a conquered group, in the minds of the Federal Authorities”. Senator Henshaw told Vanguard that “the entire amnesty programme looks deceptive as the Federal Government has simply abandoned the entire exercise to the state governments”.

According to Senator Ewah, “violence seems to be the only language that the Federal Government seems to understand. Once there is peace, those in authorities at the federal level, relax and allow the problem to fester. Look at what is happening in Bakassi, because the people have not started making trouble no body wants to attend to them.”

Notable Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark shares the same view. For him, now, that there is no disruption to the flow of oil, every body has gone back to his comfort  zone; the day the boys will strike oil installations or kidnap people, then  you will see them running helter skelter. Some state governments are still facing the scourge of  militancy which they are working hard to keep out of public glare. The post amnesty dialogue became  necessary as the crucial issues that resulted in the youths taking to arms  against their fatherland  have not been resolved.


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