By Kenneth Ehigiator
IN less than forty-eight hours, the nation will be celebrating two years of successful implementation of the amnesty programme declared for militants in the Niger Delta by the federal government on October 4, 2009.
It should be recalled that on the expiration of the deadline set for submission of weapons by militants in the region, who fought persistently for self-determination of the region, no fewer than 20,192 former arms bearer submitted their weapons, while another set of about 6,338 were to follow later to set the stage for non-violence training at the Obubra, Cross Rivers State’s camp opened by the government for the purpose.
As had been observed by experts in non-violence training, the Nigerian episode has turned out to be one of the best Disarmament, De-mobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme ever organised in the world, especially as no single shot was fired, neither was any life lost during the period.
In similar programmes organised by the United Nations in different parts of the world, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo Brazzaville and Sri Lanka, amongst others, not only were several persons killed during the disarmament and de-mobilisation stages, some of the programmes failed to yield the desired results. Consequently, the Nigerian example has become a source of study for countries and organisations across the globe, including the UN.
Penultimate weekend, Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, said the disarmament and demobilisation of all 20,192 ex-militants in the first phase of the amnesty programme had been completed, adding that those of 6338 others would follow subsequently.
Even while the first two stages of disarmament and de-mobilisation were on, the process of re-integrating those already weaned of violent attributes set off with the posting of the ex-militants to training centres at home and abroad.
At present, no fewer than 2,000 had been sent overseas for academic and skills acquisition training in countries such as the United States, Russia, Poland, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Ghana, amongst others. This is exclusive of thousands of others undergoing similar training at centres across the country.
Since government’s desire is to ensure that the army of ex-militants took control of oil and gas resources in future, Kuku said that informed the reason government decided to focus more on their training in relevant fields as pipeline welding, deep sea diving, under water welding and piloting of helicopters, especially as most of the oil companies in the Niger Delta rely on use of helicopters for their operations. Consequently, no fewer than 40 of the ex-militants had undergone aviation training in South Africa.
One major mileage the country has garnered since the amnesty programme took off in October 2009 is the upping of its oil production capacity from about 700,000 barrels per day during the troubled days to well over 2.4 million at present. This made it possible for Nigeria to retain its pre-eminent position in oil production in Africa from Angola which took advantage of the crisis in the Niger Delta to upstage the country.
Besides, the relative peace that had been restored in the region has restored investors’ confidence in the region and country, to the extent that oil and gas firms that relocated from the country in the aftermath of the restiveness in the Niger Delta are gradually returning to the area.
Aside from the peace the amnesty programme has restored to the country, the disarmament and de-mobilisation of the ex-militants appear to be yielding fruits, in efforts to turn the erstwhile creek warlords into useful members of the society. A story was last week told of an ex-militant who had just passed out of the Obubra training camp and contested an election in one of the Niger Delta states and lost, but received results of the election with equanimity. This couldn’t have been possible had he not been weaned of his violent approach to life under the amnesty programme at Obubra.
Although a few of the ex-militants sent on training overseas had misbehaved in their countries of posting, a great majority of them have vowed to take full advantage of the opportunity to become useful members of the society and contribute to the development of the Niger Delta and country after their training.
Even countries that had earlier treated Nigeria as a pariah state are now collaborating with the federal government to ensure the success of the amnesty programme. Their conviction, it was learnt, is borne out of the success made of the programme by the government.
There are cases of ambassadors and high commissioners representing their countries in Nigeria personally approving visas for the ex-militants just to ensure nothing stood in their way to actualise themselves. In fact, some ambassadors have personally graced the pre-departure briefings organised to send off the ex-militants to their countries to give them pep talks on what was expected of them.
The amnesty programme has also afforded the federal government the opportunity to develop more skill acquisition centres in the country and raise them to the level obtainable elsewhere in the world. According to Kingsley Kuku, the upgrade of the centres will assist government to cut down on overseas training and save money that would have been sent sending the ex-militants abroad.
Kuku told newsmen penultimate week that while 60 percent of training of the ex-militants was currently being done overseas against 40 percent for local training, 70 percent of Amnesty Office’s budget for next and subsequent years would be devoted to local training, against offshore training’s 40 percent. He said government was making efforts to develop existing training centres and develop new ones.
From the observations of such critical minds as Mr. Femi Falana, Joseph Evah, Asari Dokubo, Ann Kio Briggs, Senator David Brigidi, Tony Uranta, former Bayelsa State governor, Diepriye Alamieyeiseigha and many others, there is no doubt that the success of the amnesty programme thus far had exceeded the expectation of critics. Dokubo, for instance, said though he had issues with the programme, he was , however, shocked at the level of success it had attained.
However, while many believe that the programme is achieving the purpose it was declared, they have also been quick to warn that unless some drastic measures were put in place to address the acute unemployment problem facing young graduates in the region, the country may just be thrown into another round of violent agitation that might upset the applecart once more.