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Vanguard holds Post Amnesty Dialogue

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Hugo Odiogor, Deputy Political Editor
LAGOS—A TWO-day post amnesty dialogue will hold in the oil city of Warri, Delta State from Monday, March 15 to 16, 2010. The event is organized by Vanguard Media Limited in collaboration with the nine governments in the restive Niger Delta region.

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to declare it open while dignitaries will be drawn from different parts of the country and other countries that have shown interest in the restoration of peace in the Niger Delta region.

The post amnesty dialogue was designed to develop deliverable content and action framework for the Amnesty programme announced on June 25, 2009, by ailing President Umar Yar’Adua to end hostilities between the Joint Military Task Force and militant groups in the region.

Although the disarmament phase was concluded on October 4, 2009, watchers of the Amnesty programme believe that the Federal Government embarked on a deceitful process of offering amnesty to the fighting youths without providing concrete programme of action to address the issues of reconstruction of the communities devastated by the war that broke out on May 23, 2009, between the militants and soldiers in “Operation Restore Hope.”

Also lacking is the programme for rehabilitation of the former fighters who surrendered their weapons and villagers displaced by the asymmetric war that crippled social and economic activities in the Niger Delta region.
Notable dignitaries expected at the event include the Senate President, David Mark, House Speaker, Hon. Dimeji Bankole, Chief Edwin Clarke, Dr. Fredrick Fasheun, ministers and legislators from the nine states, leaders of Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo and Afenifere.

It will be recalled that Vanguard Media Limited, in collaboration with the six governors of South-South region organized the well acknowledged Legislative retreat which further gave impetus to the establishment of the Niger Delta Ministry. The greatest challenge facing the amnesty programme is not the long list of projects that the government has outlined to accomplish in the Niger Delta region but the lack of confidence and credibility in it.

A cross session of Nigerians who spoke on the Amnesty programme announced by the Federal Government said that Yar’Adua has not demonstrated good faith in tackling the crisis in the Niger Delta.

A former local government boss, Ogbueshi John Efianya, said the N60 billion budgeted for the amnesty programme will not achieve much unless there is a clear developmental focus of how to develop human resources and infrastructure in the region.

The initiative by Vanguard Media and the Niger Delta governments will achieve the desired result if only it will draw the attention of the Federal Government that the 25,000 former militants should be included in the scheme of development instead of dishing out money to them. According to Senator Bassey Ewa_Henshaw, the Federal Government is satisfied with the haste with which 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 looked deceptive as the Federal Government has simply abandoned the entire exercise to state governments. The senator noted that violence is the only language that the Federal Government seems to understand.

Once there is peace, those in authority at the federal level, recap and allow the problem to fester. Look at what is happening in Bakassi, because the people have not started making trouble nobody wants to attend to them.

Disruption of flow of oil

Notable Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark shares similar views. He states that now that there is no disruption to the flow of oil, every body has gone back to their comfort, zone, adding that the day the boys will strike oil installations or kidnap people, then the governments would begin to run helter skelter.

The post amnesty necessary as the crucial issues that resulted in the youths taking father land have not been resolved. These include:

•Environmental degradation
•lack of infrastructure
•High level of poverty in the region
•Existence of obnoxious federal legislations that perpetuate economic deprivation, social marginalization and subjugation.
•Inequity in resource allocation and resource utilization
•Resolving these problems have been made more difficult by the overbearing attitude of the federal government which believers that the Niger Delta is a configured territory and its resources are spoils of war.

Since the closure of the first phase of the amnesty programme, which was disarming the militant youths, the Niger Delta region has enjoyed relative peace. But whether the peace will endear depends of how the Federal government and the stakeholders conduct themselves. Already we have seen some rumbling from the movement for the enumeration of Niger Delta (MEND) we have heard reports of protest from the former militants who were complaining of being short_changed, we have seen cases of kidnapping of armed robbery which are 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 the Musa Yar’ Adua. They reason that the only man who is competent and qualified to treat all issues relating to the amnesty programme is Mr. President. Meanwhile Yar’ Adua has been on medical vacation in Saudi Arabia for over 70 days. This means that since the end of the first phase of the amnesty programme, no contradiction has been taken to ensure that the people that turned in their arms are not given the opportunity to return to the trenches.

The prolonged years of neglect, degradation of the environment, economic deprivation and exclusion of the people of the region, had resulted in a situation where aggrieved youths from the area took up arms to demand for right that included resource control, land ownership, social and economic justice.

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