Prominent Niger Delta leaders and civil society activists are agitated. The reason for their unease is the lull in the implementation of the post-amnesty programme for repentant militants. They, like most other Nigerians are worried that three months after the ex-militants in the region surrendered their weapons and embraced peace at the expiration of the October 4, 2009 deadline set by the Federal Government, the amnesty deal appears rooted in the starting bloc.
The general apprehension appears to be fuelled by security reports that the exmilitants, numbering about 15,000 were getting restive and may resume hostilities if things do not change for the better. The Federal Government had promised a post amnesty programme that ought to have taken the militants who surrendered their arms through demobilisation, rehabilitation and re-integration processes to make them useful to themselves and the larger society.
The concerned stakeholders, met recently in Abuja at the National Roundtable for Good Governance organised by the Faculty of The Initiatives, a group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives.
They warned that the continued delay in implementing the post-amnesty programme as captured in the supplementary budget could have serious national security implications because the repentant militants could interpret the inaction to mean that the government had abandoned the amnesty programme, stressing that such perception could trigger off another round of hostilities in the oil- rich region. They observed that though the 2009 Supplementary Appropriation, which primarily targeted specific projects in the post-amnesty agenda has been passed by the National Assembly, it cannot be implemented because President Umaru Musa Yar Adua has not signed it into law.
Things would have been different if the President had properly handed over to his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the Vice President, before travelling to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. That is precisely the grouse of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, which claimed that it attacked a major crude oil delivery pipeline in the creeks of Abonnema, Rivers State on December 19, 2009. MEND said it carried out the attack to protest the prolonged absence of ailing President Yar’Adua from the country, adding that the slow pace of implementation of the postamnesty programme was unacceptable to them.
Although the oil companies have denied that any of their installations was attacked, the news has certainly reminded us all that the nation is sitting on the keg of gunpowder over the Niger Delta crises. Any further dilly-dallying on the post-amnesty deal puts the nation at the risk of returning to the ugly pre-amnesty era Perhaps, to avert this possibility, the Vice President, promptly inaugurated one committee and four sub-committees to fast track the government’s efforts at consolidating the gains of the amnesty process. Dr. Jonathan said that the action was part of the efforts to revive the amnesty programme, which had been slowed down for some time now.
The Minister of Defence and Chairman of the Federal Government Amnesty Committee, Major General Godwin Abbe (rtd), also weighed in to douse the fears that the Federal government was losing control of the situation in the Niger Delta. He said that contrary to insinuations that the amnesty programme has gone awry, the government was on top of the situation.
Obviously, the Defence Minister was only being defensive. His counterpart in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Ufot Ekaette came out clean to admit that all is not well with the plans to urgently develop the Niger Delta.
In order to consolidate the recent gains, build confidence and prevent a relapse into violence, the President needs to beef up the ongoing process of returning former fighters to the society as productive and responsible citizens. He should also vigorously implement his plans to address the underlying economic and social problems that triggered militancy in the area.
The re-orientation programme should have taken a cue from the Non-Violence Training Scheme initiated by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2008 to assist in reforming the youths who would have resorted to anti-social activities as a result of joblessness.
Then, the commission sponsored 600 militant youths from the Niger Delta for training in non-violence agitation. The training programme was organised by the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN), a non-governmental organisation. The youths were trained both in Lagos and South Africa.
In addition to changing the mindset of the youths, it is also important to find a sustainable way of engaging them in a gainful economic activity such as agriculture.
It is common knowledge that over 80 per cent of Niger Deltans were farmers and fishermen before crude oil came into the picture.
It is only logical, therefore, to reactivate the hitherto mainstay of the Niger Delta economy – farming and fishing. This time around, however, it should be with a touch of modernity to take advantage of the new techniques of the computer age. The youths should be encouraged to form cooperatives at the end of their training and should be carefully mentored to eventually stand on their own.
To guard against the resurgence of hostility in the region, the Federal Government should immediately come out with a comprehensive timetable for its post-amnesty plans and follow it up with concrete actions that will convince even the sceptics that the Yar’Adua administration truly means business.
Agbu is editor’s guest.