In an effort to bring peace to the Niger Delta, Nigeria's federal government created an amnesty program. The program required militants to surrender their weapons and in return, they would receive a presidential pardon, education, training and access to a rehabilitation program. The amnesty offer was announced by President Yar'Adua in June and is set to end at midnight on October 4th. Since its announcement, militants have turned in many guns and across the Delta region, much of the tension and violence, which peaked earlier this summer in battles between the Joint Task Force and MEND militants, has seemingly ebbed. It now appears that many militants are participating in the amnesty program and that there might be some dividends.
DIVIDENDS OF AN AMNESTY PROGRAM
It seems that the participation of militants in the amnesty offer is producing some benefits for the Nigerian government. Recently, it was announced that oil production and output increased, a sharp contrast to the revelation that oil output dropped by at least half in the first quarter of 2009. Additionally, previously destroyed pipelines have now been fixed and will be operational in October 2009 and at least 5 illegal 'bunkering' vessels have been detained in the last 2 months. Arms accumulation by militants and others is reportedly on a decline in the region and MEND has even extended its ceasefire until October 15th.
BUT, THERE IS MUCH MORE TO DO
Despite these benefits from the amnesty program and the cooperation of certain militants, it would be foolhardy to assume that the years of violence and insecurity in the Delta and even other parts of the country, like Lagos which witnessed a MEND attack, are over. As Ojo Maduekwe stated at a recent UN event,
"The militants have accepted the amnesty and are surrendering...[N]ow we need to fulfill our commitment that they are rehabilitated... If we could forgive each other the brutalities of the civil war ... I do not see why we can not bring a closure to the unfortunate violent chapter that was basically a legitimate struggle on the part of the Niger Delta which got hijacked by criminality."In addition to the promised rehabilitation that Maduekwe mentioned, there remain many instrumental issues that must be addressed to create a lasting peace not just for the benefit of oil companies, or the nation's coffers, but most importantly, for Nigerian citizens. The militancy and violence of the Niger Delta did not originate out of thin air. These and other problems stemmed from clear deficiencies not the least of which is the fact that leaders like former Bayelsa Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, have consistently stolen directly from the coffers of their oil producing states. They have done so with the complicity of Presidents and other government and non government actors. And, till this day, none have been forced to publicly account for their theft and greed which have directly created a situation where those whose lands fuel the nations coffers (and the private bank accounts of the powerful) live in dire need of basic necessities. Not to speak of the national condition of poverty in a land of plenty, as the majority of Nigerians warn approximately $1 a day. In order to create a lasting peace, accountability, justice, education, health and other necessities will be necessary.
Considering the dire state of Nigeria's electricity sector and the millions that have been spent with no result as revealed in the 2008 power probe, the achievement of the 6000MW target this December will be an accomplishment for this administration. Currently, Nigerians reportedly spend N796 billion to fuel generators annually. Unfortunately, this target is well beyond what Nigeria needs now. According to Biodun Ogunleye, managing director of PowerCap Limited, the minimum Nigeria should be aiming for in the short term is 100,000MW. Being that many businesses have closed and moved to neighboring countries, some of whom Nigeria actually exports to and citizens are held hostage by the cost of diesel (and those who control that sector) or darkness, this 6000MW target, while an improvement from the current 1000-2000MW, cannot be a plateau upon which the federal government chooses to rest or hold up as a success. Much more power must be generated.
PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING
Recently, Yardy got a "vote of no confidence" from Nigerian students for failing to resolve crisis in educational sector. Many students have been at home due to teacher union strikes since June and during that time, the President has traveled repeatedly to Saudi Arabia, most recently, and ironically, going to commemorate the opening of a University named for the Saudi King. The sentiment of these students who were polled reflects a growing perception amongst Nigerians that the President is incapable or unwilling to address the nation's problems. The fact that this president has been absent the last few national incidents only buttresses this attitude - Yar'Adua was in Brazil during the Boko Haram violence that killed over 700 Nigerians, and was in Saudi Arabia at least twice while Nigerian students sit at home for months. These and many other instances give the impression that Yar'Adua has 'checked out' of his role as president - a non option for Nigeria and its people.
This reality puts in jeopardy the amnesty program and its potential dividends. Many militants are concerned that the President and federal government are not necessarily sincere in their offer of peace, and the government's refusal to extend the amnesty deadline, as has been requested by militants, the NDPDF and others also raises questions about the government's commitment to the region and peace. Reports that the administration is preparing to engage in a new military offensive in the region is far from comforting. The Petroleum Industry Bill being considered by the National Assembly also lacks an effective strategy for the environmental and other ownership concerns of the various peoples of the Delta region, further raising questions about the sincerity of this amnesty and this administration.
Furthermore, on this issue of perceptions, the federal government and particularly this President cannot ignore that this amnesty offer, for all its intentions and possible or actual results, punishes the millions who despite their circumstances, did not engage in armed militancy. Because militants are being promised jobs and even houses, this amnesty program acts to reward the bad eggs while leaving the good eggs to continue to suffer with little to nothing. As such, the promises made by this and previous administrations to improve the lots of Niger Delta residents and in actuality, all Nigerians, is one that cannot be reneged upon. If not, this amnesty will simply reinforce the common knowledge that one can be bad, and not just avoid justice, but be rewarded for it as well.
The positives being witnessed in the wake of the Niger Delta amnesty deal gives hope to those seeking and praying for a resolution to the violence that has spread across the nation from that oil-rich region. Unfortunately, it is too soon for anyone to become complacent and assume that things will end well. Between the need for the government to keep its promises to the militants, the Delta region and the entire nation, there remains issues of accountability, justice, ownership and basic needs that must be addressed to create a lasting peace in the region and across the country. On the eve of Nigeria's 49th independence anniversary, and given the realities of what it means to be Nigerian at this time, President Yar'Adua would do well to work on his domestic, and even international, reputation and goals. That could play a key role in determining whether this most recent of amnesty offers sticks around long enough to pay serious dividends.
From the Archives:
- Nigeria's Oil Expiration Date Draws Near
- MEND Attacks In Lagos
- Nigeria's Oil War - A Distraction?
- War In the Niger Delta
- No Longer King of African Crude?
- The Global Food Crises, Nigeria & MEND
- Port Harcourt & Nigeria Under Siege
- Is Nigeria A Breeding Ground for Terrorism?