By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South South
There was indication, last week, that some Nigerian government officials were beginning to think on collaborating with The Netherlands and other European countries , particularly in the area of amnesty programme for ex-militants.
Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta and Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Amnesty, Kingsley Kuku, is spearheading the move in partnership with a Nigerian-based organization in The Netherlands, Hope for Niger-Delta Campaign, HNDC, founded by Comrade Sunny Ofehe and Ben Television, United Kingdom, as it affects the amnesty programme for ex-militants.
The Special Adviser is actually going on the European mission with his heads high, as the amnesty programme, which was initially taken with a pinch of salt by some persons, is positively impacting on the ex-militants. One of the biggest critics of the amnesty programme, leader of the Niger-Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, NDPVF, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who made no pretence about his not accepting the Federal Government amnesty, admitted, last week, in Lagos, that the academic and skill acquisition training for ex-militants by the Presidency, were the best things to happen in the region in recent times.
He spoke against the backdrop of training and provision of jobs to 40 former militants after their training in Nigeria and South Africa, saying, he was enthralled by the willingness of ex-agitators to participate in the programme. His words, “I thank God, not because of the amnesty progamme but the desire of the youths to learn.”
Drumming int’l support
Head, Media and Communcation, Presidential Amnesty Committee Office, Abuja, Mr. Henry Ugbolue, told Saturday Vanguard, “The Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Hon. Kingsley Kuku will use the visit to secure more practical support from the international community for the Niger Delta Amnesty programme. Just like he did recently at Chatham House, London, Hon. Kuku will be urging EU countries, particularly the UK, to issue visas to ex-agitators to enable them travel to these countries where schools and vocational training centres have been secured for them by the Amnesty Office’s training partners”.
According to him, “The Amnesty Office emphasizes offshore training for programme’s beneficiaries because of the glaring lack of capacity in local training centres to speedily offer vocational training to the teeming population of Niger Delta ex-agitators (26,358 in all) enrolled in the Amnesty Programme. Also, the United Nations (UN) expects all DDR programmes to take former combatants away from their natural habitats for transformation and reintegration purposes. The Amnesty Office has since inception been complying strictly with this UN code.Hon. Kuku remains exceedingly grateful to countries that have consistently issued visas to Amnesty Programme’s trainees, particularly the United States of America, Russia, South Africa, Malaysia, India, Poland and the United Arabs Emirate (Dubai). He is urging EU countries especially the UK to give similar support to the Amnesty Programme”.
“In Netherlands, Hon. Kuku is generally expected to drum up support for the Amnesty Programme in the following areas: assistance in placement of ex-agitators in education and vocational training and internship for work experience; assistance in funding and provision of machinery, equipment and personnel to support entrepreneurial initiatives of the programme participants and the development of technology , business and agriculture villages; technical assistance in the community reintegration process and conflict resolution capacity building and justice issues; and provide ideas and information on best practice/ lessons learned from other DDR programmes.
His words, “The international community should prevail on oil and gas multinational corporations who have operations in the Niger Delta, to support the Federal Government efforts and initiatives to develop the Niger Delta region through economic empowerment and job creation for the people and well as facilitate immigration processes; particularly expedite travelling visa issuance for the participants that may be posted to education and vocational training centers in EU countries”.
Success/challenges of amnesty programme
Founder and president of HNDC, Comrade Ofehe in on online statement on the proposed visit said, “As part of HNDC’s determination to ensure the success of the ongoing Amnesty programme by the Nigeria government, HNDC in collaboration with BEN television UK, will be hosting Kuku in The Hague, The Netherlands and the European Union Headquarters’ in Brussels, Belgium.
“The five- day official visit will commence on Monday 19th September 2011 and end on Friday 23rd September 2011. In The Netherlands, the Presidential Adviser is expected to meet with senior Dutch government officials, representatives of civil society groups, corporate institutions, experts/consultants and a tour of strategic places of interest.
“An International Conference entitled, “Success and Challenges of Nigerian Government Amnesty Programme; Role of International Community” will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in The Hague on Tuesday 20th September 2011. In Brussels at the European Union Headquarters’, the Presidential Adviser will meet with senior European Union officials at the EU Parliament, the EU Commission and the EU Council”, he added.
Ofehe stated, “The visit will be rounded up with an International Press Conference in The Hague where he is expected to address the Press Corp and take questions relating to the Amnesty program in the Niger Delta region”, adding, “HNDC is confident that such an international engagement has become inevitable in the face of the mounting challenges of the program on the Nigeria government and the need to involve the international community inter alia the European Union in supporting the program”.
What should occupy Kuku in Europe
With gas as the potential highest revenue earner in the world, what should be uppermost in the mind of the Special Adviser during his Europe trip should not just be how be improvement of amnesty programme for ex-militants alone, but the knowledge of how Nigeria can maximize its gas potentials. So far, the national gas master plan, has kick started with the approval for the establishment of gas central processing facilities in Delta, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom with some India and Saudi Arabia investors in Delta state recently for inspection of sites for the construction of 16 billion dollars petrochemical and fertilizer plants.
Borrowing a leaf
The story is told of Nigeria, which by 2011, is still trying to jump-start its gas industry, but 38 years ago, 1963 to be precise, the Dutch had the biggest public–private partnership to date, the N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie, between Esso (now ExxonMobil), Royal Dutch Shell and the Dutch government, which since 2005 is 100 per cent state owned. Since then, Holland’s destiny has been inextricably linked to the oil and gas industry. But Nigeria’s partnership with oil companies has always been skewed against the people.
Though, The Netherlands’s luck in the gas business , according to a research report, came at a price for the national economy, the revenues generated from the gas business were used by successive governments as current income, flooding public finances, overvaluing the national currency, and making exports in guilders far too expensive up until the emergence of the Euro in 2000. This vicious circle came to be known as the “Dutch Disease”. Many national manufacturing industries struggled to export while public investments and resources were lost in bureaucracy.
Things have changed for the better in the past decade, says the Minister of Economic Affairs, Maria Van der Hoeven, with revenues being used wisely for future prosperity. “In the last twenty years a considerable proportion of the oil and gas revenues have been used for investments to strengthen our economic position in the long term. Infrastructure projects were for a long time a top priority, but the last cabinet placed innovation and education as a national priority,” she explains. Van Mannekes is even more specific: “Today, about 5 per cent of the Dutch GDP comes from the revenues of the gas industry and the state profit share goes into funds partially for infrastructure development, roads, rails, and major R&D activities”. That is the magic.
On the 50th anniversary of the Groningen gas field the Netherlands has a lot to celebrate. Their expertise in the oil and gas business combined with the country’s strategic location at the door to Europe’s main markets have made the Netherlands a leader in oil and chemical refinery, as well as cutting–edge areas such as underground gas storage and seismic studies.
True to their merchant nature, the Dutch have been very good at selling not just their gas, oil and derivatives, but also their technology.
According to Mr. Hans de Boer, Managing Director of IRO, the Association of Dutch Suppliers in the Oil and Gas Industry, the Dutch industry is successfully exporting equipment as well as their skill in designing, constructing and operating offshore equipment for the wider natural gas value chain. “This is why IRO has a strong focus on exporting our members’ expertise to other markets worldwide. The upstream supply industry in the Netherlands had an estimated annual turnover of US$ 7 billion for 2009, of which 70 per cent is export–related”, he says.
All of this would not have been possible without the Port of Rotterdam. Known as the “Energy port of Europe”, it serves as a safe harbor for Western Europe’s refinery and maritime industries as they struggle to keep costs to a minimum. As Mr. Rob Nijst, Managing Director of VTTI, puts it, “Refineries in the hinterland are struggling with the increased competition from new refineries being built in the Middle East, India and China.
Thus, they have concentrated even more their regional activities around the Port of Rotterdam to gain in scale and international competitiveness”.
The Netherlands’ gas revolution since Groningen has not changed just the balance of its energy basket but also its relationship with its European neighbors. According to Mr. van de Leemput, the Managing Director of NAM (the joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, which explores the Groningen gas field and holds 54% of the Dutch gas assets), in only one generation almost 100% of the Dutch households have switched to gas for heating and 45 per cent of them use gas for electricity. The Netherlands also produces and exports 15 per cent of the gas consumed in the European Union. These are the kind of things Nigeria should strive for.