TODAYâ€™s gathering in Warri marks another of the many efforts to search for sustainable peace in the Niger Delta, a region that suffers from rampaging poverty ironically fuelled by the oil and gas exploration that oils the nationâ€™s economy.
When Vanguard organised the South South Summit in September 2008, the issues that informed the gathering were mostly to articulate positions that could be canvassed at various fora for the authorities to contemplate serious development plans to empower the economy of the region.
The meeting bore results, with some of the commendations included in governmentâ€™s decisions that among other things resulted in the Ministry of Niger Delta, for instance.
A lot of work remains to be done, especially after the youth of the Niger Delta co-operated with government by accepting the 2009 amnesty. It marked new gains in the search for peace in the region.
There are many criticisms of the amnesty. They mostly centre on the continued neglect of the Niger Delta. According to critics, the amnesty programme lacked content to cater for the urgent imperatives of developing the Niger Delta for sustainable peace.
Government has not proved these critics wrong. The issues around the development of the Niger Delta remain unattended. The grave leadership challenges just a month after the amnesty deal was rounded off have provided another cover for delays in effecting sustainable development that would minimise poverty in the Niger Delta.
The post amnesty dialogue has become imperative because all the stakeholders have grown different interpretations of the amnesty. Government was not fully prepared for the fall-outs of the amnesty.
Offers of skill acquisition training for militants have encountered two main obstacles â€“ some 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.
Other challenges have risen from non-provisions of the expected funding for development projects in the region. Some of the militants and residents of the region had thought once the arms were laid down, massive re-construction of the region for economic development would follow. This has not been the case.
Government has fallen into the usual practice of treating the Niger Delta as one of those issues that affect the country. In making promises that amnesty would be rewarded with the development of the region, government appeared avers to keeping its own words.
It made no plans to implement studies like the Niger Delta Master Plan, produced at great cost and which so far seems to have captured various development notches that could reverse the losses the region is suffering.
As the dialogue holds today, the next phase of amnesty should be meaningful development, to ensure inhabitants of the region are gainfully engaged.