Beyond Amnesty Programme: Sustaining Peace In

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The Niger Delta

NIGERIA @ 55;

Chris B.N. Ogbogbo

Athough there appears to be calm in the Niger Delta since the implementation of the 2009 Amnesty program by the administration of President Yaradua / Jonathan, inherent in this calm is a highly combustible situation that could shatter the existing fragile peace which currently exists in the region. Indeed, the history of the region indicates that the peoples have since the colonial period agitated against a number of grievances, the mishandling of which, resulted in the armed conflicts that engulfed the region from1999 to 2009. The situation in the Niger Delta that necessitated these conflicts have not, since the implementation of the Amnesty programme, changed remarkably.

Historicizing the road to the Amnesty Programme

The history of conflicts in the Niger Delta region indicates that major sources of tension between the peoples of the region and the government began in the colonial era. During this period, the Niger Delta complained to the colonial administration about the lack of infrastructural facilities and their political marginalization. The response of the colonial administration to the demand for the development of the Niger Delta was simply that “the Eastern Region is naturally the poorest of the three” and it is in this region that the bulk of the Niger Delta is located. Arguably, this position of the Eastern Region in the colonial era was a reflection of the waned economic stature of the Niger Delta region. This lack of economic muscles, it is believed, partly explains the Federal and Regional government’s lackadaisical attitude towards the plight of the Niger Delta people.

The region lacked roads, pipe-borne water, hospitals, schools, electricity etc. Simply put, there was no significant government presence in the area. Government’s treatment of these requirements with levity and in most cases outright neglect created in the people of the region a feeling of alienation and marginalisation by the state. However, apart from the identified dwindled economic fortunes, the difficulties posed by their environment and the utter government neglect of the Niger Delta area, soon bred in the people of the region, separatist agitations.

It was partly the agitations that led to the setting up of the Sir Henry Willink’s Commission in 1957 to look into their grievances and those of other minority groups in Nigeria. What is instructive is that even before the Commission was set up, the colonial administration’s attitude towards the region were simply that since not much was gotten from the area, there were no funds to finance the huge investments required to develop this mass of swampy area.

This was the situation when the black gold (crude Oil) was discovered in the region in 1956. The discovery of oil in commercial quantity in the Niger Delta was followed with further exploration and exploitation activities across the entire region. These activities have continued up till the present day. Overtime, the negative environmental consequences of these activities became more and more manifest. There were significant oil spillages, which began with the Bomu oil spills of 1970. Since then, there has been thousands of oil spills due to the activities of the oil companies in the region. It is estimated that there were over 7,000 cases of oil spills in the Niger Delta between 1970 and 2000.  Transparency International puts the total number of barrels of oil spilled during this period to about 9 million barrels of crude oil spilled into the Niger Delta environment. It is this quantum of oil spillages in the region that has led to the stigmatization of the Niger Delta as an ‘ecological nightmare’.

In addition, the flaring of gas associated with crude oil production became a major feature of the skyline in the region. These two major sources of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta have resulted in many protests by the inhabitants of the area. These protests have been followed up with several court cases and ultimately militant agitations. It is worthy of note at this juncture that the discovery, exploration and exploitation of crude oil in the Niger Delta have complexified the reasons for discontent in the region.

In the post-colonial period, this degradation of the environment became the dominant reason for their agitation against the activities of the oil companies operating in the region and the Federal Government of Nigeria. Apart from an increase in the reasons for discontent, there was the inclusion of oil companies as parties to the emerging dispute. The failure of government to satisfactorily address the peoples grievances, coupled with the highhandedness with which the various military Joint Task Forces, meted out on the people, resulted in open conflagration. The cannons boomed. The demand for resource control became the mantra of their struggle as from the 1990s.

The severity of these militant activities as from the 1990s especially with the emergence of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People {MOSOP} and much later, the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force {NDPVF} and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta {MEND} among the Ijo, not only threatened the oil industry {and by implication, Nigeria’s major source of revenue}, but also the unity and corporate existence of Nigeria. It was in realization of the grave danger of what the militant insurgency in the Niger Delta portends for Nigeria, which informed the 2009 Amnesty Program of President Yar’Ardua / Jonathan administration. This initiative was to address the fast degenerating crisis in the Niger Delta. The program was in the main, meant to curb the militant activities in the area, which would invariably provide an enabling environment to address the infrastructural complaints of the peoples in the region.

The Amnesty Programme

The Amnesty program was structured into three main parts. The first part had to deal with the issue of disarmament. The second focused on the demobilization of the militants, which entailed the transition from a militarized to a civilian life. The last component of the Amnesty program is the re-integration of the militants. Reintegration was targeted at the absorption of disarmed and demobilized militants into productive economic life.

While the first step of the Amnesty program has been largely successful and efforts are on-going with regards to demobilization and reintegration, the indications so far are that reintegration continues to pose significant challenges. There have been several and on-going efforts at training the ex-combatants in various vocations within and outside the country. While this is welcomed, the skills acquired have not been able to stem the tide of joblessness in the already saturated Nigerian labor market. Indeed, most Amnesty sponsored graduates from the vocational training institutions have not been matched with jobs. As a consequence, there still exist in the region an army of unemployed youths and a good number of them are ex-militants. Even the few who collect stipends from the government are known to have variously demonstrated over the irregular manner of payment and its inadequacy. They desire to earn their livelihood and build a career in the process. It is therefore not surprising that there is an upsurge in oil bunkering in the region some of which are perpetuated by these ex-militants.

The point being made is that it is not enough to train these ex-militants. Critical to their reintegration is the need to equip them with relevant skills, which would enable them, earn a living. There is some disconnect between the skills acquired and their relevance to the existing market forces in the Nigerian economy. While the Amnesty program has succeeded in substantially disarming the militant youths in the Niger Delta, it is becoming increasingly clear that the training and post-training programs targeted at the youths in the zone is not sufficient to guarantee a sustained peace in the region. Apart from the fact that a good number of the militants who have been trained under the Amnesty program still grapple with the challenge of unemployment, a more substantial number of youths in the area have not benefited from the training provided by the Amnesty program. They form a ready pool of unemployed youths waiting to be drafted into another phase of armed struggle, should the situation arise. The critical question would therefore be: – how can Nigeria prevent this possible flare up?

Given the limited success of the Amnesty program, the gaping lack of social infrastructure and the continuing degradation of the Niger Delta environment, it is hard to be optimistic about a lasting peace. This is because the infrastructural and environmental challenges that triggered off militant insurgency in the region remain largely unaddressed. The Amnesty program may have succeeded in buying time to enable the Federal Government, the oil companies and other stakeholders to redress the parlous state of affairs in the region; but the initial underlying problems have remained unattended.  Suffice it to say that while the implementation of the Amnesty program has created some semblance of peace in the region, the relative neglect of the primary push-factors of environmental degradation and paucity of infrastructural amenities {which had culminated in the agitation for resource control} still remains a very potent source of a future militant uprising in the Niger Delta.

While it could be argued that the Federal Government of Nigeria through its agencies {such as the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Ministry of Niger Delta} may be addressing the infrastructural challenge of the region, a concerted effort at the restoration of the already and continuing degraded environment remains largely unattended.  The United Nations Report on Ogoniland is very instructive in this respect. This 2011 report, after a thorough assessment of the Ogoni environment, asserts that it will take an estimated period of 30years to clean up the environmental damages arising from oil production activities in the area. Ogoniland, an area of about 1000 square kilometer out of the 70,000 square kilometer expanse of the Niger Delta was the first to experience oil spillage in 1970.  Since then, there have been thousands of oil spillages into the Niger Delta environment and most of these have unfortunately not received the desired attention. There is, therefore very little and concerted effort at restoring the damaged environment.

The deleterious effects of these spillages are well documented. It will suffice to state as reported in the 2011 United Nations Environment Programme {UNEP} Environment Assessment of Ogoniland Report that there is a substantial contamination of land, groundwater and surface water. Also, it notes that the mangrove vegetation has been severely damaged and there is serious destruction of fish habitat, wetlands are degraded, well water is contaminated, and the entire scenario depicts an “environmental nightmare”.

Towards a Sustainable Peace

The challenges posed by the Niger Delta environment are many, but the most urgent are how to halt the persistent oil spillages and restore the much-damaged environment. In addressing these challenges, it is proposed that a critical sector of the Niger Delta population will need to be engaged in the effort towards regenerating their environment.

Furthermore, the point need be made that there is a nexus between the state of the environment and the militant activities in the Niger Delta. The disempowerment of the inhabitants that results from environmental degradation ultimately provides a pool for displaced jobless persons who become willing militants in the struggle to curtail the activities of the oil companies. It is therefore argued that a restoration programme of the environment will empower the Niger Delta peoples at two levels: it will drastically reduce the rate of unemployment in the region and it will reduce the army of idle youths available for militancy in the Niger Delta.

From the above analysis, it is proposed that in the search for the elusive and sustained peace, there is a need to establish an Environmental Restorers Corps. Those to be recruited will be trained in the skill of restoring and protecting the environment. Although the initial catchment area for the proposed environmental restoration skill acquisition training program would be the disarmed militant youths of the Niger Delta, this would eventually be expanded to cover other none militant youths in the region.

It is envisaged that being able to achieve the above will have two major effects. First, It will empower the youths economically through skill acquisition for a job description that already exist across the Niger Delta. They can consequently build a career based on the skills acquired and become responsible members of the community. Indeed a good number of them will eventually be engaged beyond the confines of the Niger Delta and the country. Second, a successful restoration of the Niger Delta environment will enhance the economic potentialities of the region. Extensive agricultural and fishing activities can be revived and this will have the multiplier effect of engaging an even larger population of the region that have been severed from their hitherto known agricultural occupation since the pre-colonial times.

Being able to achieve the above will substantially engage the youth population in the region and concomitantly reduce the pool of unemployed youths available for recruitment into militant activities. This will therefore help in nipping militancy in the Niger Delta in the bud and will inevitably contribute to a lasting peace and conducive atmosphere for the development of the Niger Delta.

It remains to add that although there have been improvement in the provision of infrastructural facilities in the region; especially as it pertains to the construction of roads, much more infrastructural amenities still need to be provided. This will address the age long demand of the peoples of the region. With the regards to the initial cry of marginalisation, this can no longer be sustained. The election of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the President of the country and the visible Federal government positions occupied by sons and daughters of the region stifles any further cry of political marginalisation.  What is therefore needed is a tweaking of the revenue allocation formula and the creation of an Environmental Restorers Corp if the Niger Delta to become the desired Eldorado.

C.B.N. Ogbogbo, B.A. (Hons), M.A., LLB, LLM, Ph.D., B.L. Lawyer, Professor of History & Head of Department of History, University of Ibadan, National President, Historical Society of Nigeria,   is a widely travelled and published scholar, who has won several academic laurels and grants. In his kitty are the Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA) grant 2005, MacArthur Foundation grant 2006, and the University of Ibadan Senate Research grant 2007. He was a Visiting Scholar to Northwestern University, Evanston and Dartmouth College, (both in the USA), St. Augustine University of Tanzania, Mwanza and the University of Benin in Nigeria. Only recently, he was appointed a Visiting Professor of African History in Kennesaw State University in Atlanta Georgia. Ogbogbo has written copiously on the Niger Delta and the challenges of nation buildings. He is a Fellow of the Historical Society of Nigeria.