By Jasper Jumbo
THE Niger Delta crisis is a hydra headed monster. From the outset of the discovery of this Oil (black gold in commercial quantities) in Oloibiri in 1956 till now, the region has suffered from environmental degradation and untold neglect by the government and the oil multinational companies. Logically, the Niger Delta is supposed to be a model region in Nigeria in terms of socio-economic development, industry, youth empowerment, and employment. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case. Ironically, the region is one of the most neglected areas in Nigeria. Oil and gas pollution and years of abandonment of the people, have resulted in untold economic hardship and health hazards.
The cries of the people as well as several non governmental organisations for attention to the area were not only spurned, but were rebuffed with crackdown and repression from successive administrations in the country with the strong backing of the oil multinationals.
It is no longer news that Niger Delta youths generally experience poverty in the midst of plenty, thereby facing many social, political and economic challenges in their immediate environment.”Where do we belong in our common regional wealth?” they seem to be asking. Unfortunately, in their quest to bite a slice of the national cake, they seem to overreact, and took to self-help by bombing, kidnapping and abducting the expatriate and other categories of personnel of the oil majors in exchange for monetary ransom, since succesive Nigerian governments failed to give ear to the complaints of the youths with regard to improving on their living conditions and their environment.
The emerged militant and pressure groups such as the Egbesu Boys, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the Niger Delta People’s Voluteer Force (NDPVF), the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM), the Okoloma Ikpangi, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and recently, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have become a thorn in the flesh of the Federal Government. These groups generally appear to have a philosophy that seems to suggest that Nigeria as a country is unworkable.
This situation contributes to the nearly everyday cautionary words of “Report any suspicious movements around you to security agents” heard on television broadcasts indicating general damaging of pipelines, oil wells and mutilating of gas installations. Often times, they confront the Nigerian security agents, such as the army, the navy, the police, and the States Security Service (SSS), resulting in colossal loss of lives and property. Acts of violence, armed robbery and kidnapping for ramsom, have become ways of seeking redress and alternative empowerment.
The government not able to bear the embarassment from the youths of the region and the sharp decline in the daily oil production projections, coupled with the substantial loss of revenue, devised the Amnesty Programme in 2009 to stem the internationally-alarming tide of youth restiveness.
FG Amnesty programme in curbing the menace
The Amnesty, which was unveiled on 15th June, 2009 was initially scheduled to run between 6th August to 4th October, 2009 that is, a 600 day period. It was ‘predicated on the willingness and readiness of the militants to give up all illegal arms in their possession, completely renounce militancy in all its ramifications unconditionally, and depose to an undertaking to that effect.
Prospects and challenges facing the implementation of the Amnesty programme in Nigeria
Reports from the government indicate that following the relative peace ushered in by the Cease-fire as a result of the Amnesty Declaration, the country’s oil output had risen to 2.3 million barrels a day from 800,000 barrel per day (in the 2006-2008 period) as a result of the improvement in security in the oil region (Igwe, 2010). An increment of 1.5 million barrels per day indicates 120.45 million dollars of revenue to national coffers every day (Igwe, 2010). Some companies also took the opportunity to repair some of their damaged oil facilities.
Without doubt, the Amnesty programme is expected to improve the human capital development of the country which is presently low. Nigeria’s Human Development Index (HDI) Value (Comprising Home basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living) for 2011 stands at 0.459, positioning the country at 156 out of 187 countries and territories (UNIDO, 2011). If well implemented, the Amnesty programme in Nigeria could serve to negate the ‘resource curse’ theory that resource-rich economies such as Nigerian, Congo, Angola, etc. are more prone to mismanagement, underdevelopment, and violence. Examples of UK and Norway, both major oil exporting countries, reveals that resource curse is avoidable with functioning institutions and good governance in place.
Nevertheless, Amnesty would not provide a wholesome empowerment and reorientation of the youths. In the first place, it benefited only some youths who advanced themselves as having participated in the ‘fight’ for the survival of the Niger Delta people and who surrendered their guns to the security agents. The numerous other Niger Delta youths were neglected. The programme incidentially contained no benefits to the other youth cadres.
Notwithstanding the achievement of the programme, reports from the panel set up in January 2010 to review the rehabilitation aspect of the DDR revealed some inadequacies thus leading to calls by Elders in the Niger Delta region for the dissolution of the Presidential Amnesty Committee. Some of these include the fact that about 80 percent of the budget had gone on payments of consultants and contractors, with 20 percent committed on rehabilitation of the ex-militants; the over bloating of the numbers of registered ex-militants; the continued detention of several militants; some of the training centres falling short of acceptable standards and Operating with inadequate facilities Continuity on the flaws of the Amnesty programme, stated that; allowance unpaid or not paid regularly, huge disparities between payments made to foot soldiers and former militant commanders, limited access to rehabilitation training and allowances for those who surrendered weapons after the deadline, inappropriate training provision, limited employment prospects, the absence of a broader political settlement involving the broader Niger Delta population that has borne the costs of conflict, and the politically motivated staffing of bodies responsible for implementing and coordinating the Amnesty programme, are among the numerous flaws of the Amnesty’
Secondly, there was no assurance of an enduring hands-on or sustainable post training package for the few benefited graduands. Also, there was no sufficient moral component in the Amnesty deal to reorient the youths in their moral conduct.