The N50Billion Amnesty

Up to10, 000 militants in the troubled Niger Delta could benefit from the amnesty at N65, 000 monthly. So if you are a militant, better go and register now. If you are not, why not try to be one? But which is ultimately more effective, more practical and cheaper in the long run; addressing the issues in the Niger Delta- resource control, equity derivation, and tackling environmental degradation, or trying to bribe militants out of the struggle – curing the symptoms and leaving the disease?



The N50Billion Amnesty 


The stage is set for President Yar’Adua to implement an N50Billin amnesty award offered by the federal government aimed at ending the crisis in the region, which has almost crippled the oil industry now that Henry Okah, the MEND leader is released and the militants have declared a 60 day ceasefire.

Up to10, 000 militants in the troubled Niger Delta could benefit from the amnesty at N65, 000 monthly. So if you are not a militant, better go and register now. If you are not a militant, why not try to be one?

The chief coordinator of the Amnesty Implemen-tation Committee, Air Vice Marshal Lucky Ararile, announced that the federal government has budgeted N200 million to feed the targeted 10,000 militants that will turn up to lay down their arms at the 50 to 60 camps spread across the six Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Rivers.

Each militant will receive an allowance of N20, 000 per month in addition to N1, 500 per day for food while at a reintegration centre, translating to N65,000 a month. 

But since the major dramatis personae have rejected the amnesty and the militants have even backed their rejection with continued bombing of oil facilities inckuding the Atlas Jetty, we ask; who are the real beneficiaries of this amnesty? Who benefits from this N50 Billion award?

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said that the amnesty is not directed at freedom fighters which MEND is a part of. “The proclamation of amnesty seems to be directed at criminals such as armed robbers, rapists, kidnappers seeking for ransom etc” MEND said.

“Since criminals exist all over Nigeria, it is not fair to direct such a magnanimous offer to their counterparts in the Niger Delta region alone” they added.

They continued;  If the proclamation was directed at freedom fighters with a cause, it would have addressed the root issues such as true federalism, federal character in political appointments, investigations of JTF extra-judicial killings, troop withdrawal time table, displaced civilians, reconstruction of their sacked villages and their rehabilitation.

Henry Okah, MEND leader, when freed by the Federal Government, declared that his release from detention will not change the situation in Niger Delta unless the Federal Government addressed the root cause of the crisis in the region.

Ijaw elders, including former Federal Information Commissioner, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, Chairman of the Bayelsa State Elders Forum, Chief Francis Doukpola, Chief Thompson Okorotie, said though the federal government offer of amnesty is one of the rule of disarmament, the offer should have been preceded by the implementation of the recommendations of the report submitted by the Technical committee on the Niger Delta.

The elders and leaders, at the end of a consultative meeting held at Kiagbodo in Delta State , said: “We hope the acceptance of amnesty will not put the technical report in the dilemma of lack of political will to implement like previous reports,” they lamented.

The elders and leaders further reiterated their earlier position that the continued presence of the military in the Niger Delta region serves more of their personal (military) interests and a direct effect on the increased illegal bunkering activities and called on President Umaru Yar’Adua to make public the alleged list of those perpetrating illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta region.

The forum noted that the demilitarization of the region is critical and essential to allow for meaningful intervention by the elders and leaders to create an atmosphere congenial for flourishing economic activities for sustainable development of the region.

According to the forum, the genuine protagonists of the struggle for economic freedom and resource control and management were only constrained to express their dissatisfaction with the Nigerian state through the employ of unorthodox means.

The forum noted with sadness that seven months after the submission of the Report of the Technical Committee on Niger Delta, the Federal Government has taken no concrete step to implement any of its recommendation which had the prospects of ushering in the much needed peace for sustainable development of region.

The issue goes beyond money

Dr Joe Odumakin , National Coordinator, CD said the issues in the Niger Delta go beyond just throwing money. There are real issues like environmental degradation, resource control and reputable resource formula. It has come to a time when the Federal Government should not see the whole of the Niger Delta as oil wells. People have lost everything; it’s just a question of voting money that will solve this whole problem.

“And why is it that with the money that has been voted into the Niger Delta Ministry has not been able to solve the problems. We still have more and more problems springing up, the N50 billion is just to make oil flow again, without really addressing the fundamental issue and that’s just like abandoning leprosy to look for the cure for eczema. Not until you cure the whole thing, the disease will eat up everyone”, he said.

On his own part, Otunba Gani Adams, National Coordinator, OPC said that bribing the militants out of the struggle will not work.

My question is this: which is more effective and more practical; addressing the issues in the Niger Delta- resource control, equity derivation, and tackling environmental degradation, or trying to bribe militants out of the struggle – curing the symptoms and leaving the disease?

Will this N50 billion go towards providing money for the boys or will it go towards resettling the thousands of young children and their mothers, even their grandparents displaced by the war?

Even if they are given this N50billion, this would be expended within the space of three to four months. When the money would have been expended, would they turn and go back to the struggle?Seeing that the struggle is now a lucrative business, will more groups emerge?

My suggestion to the Federal Government is therefore that the issue of resource control, derivation principle, the issue of sovereign national conference should be addressed instead of bribing these people out of the struggle for a permanent solution to the Niger Delta crisis.

Meanwhile Read, ‘Nigeria Peace Remain Elusive’ by Dulue Mbachu of BLOOMBERG

Nigeria’s release of rebel leader Henry Okah and his movement’s announcement of a 60-day cease-fire may not be enough to end the insurgency that has cut crude supply from Africa’s top oil exporter by a fifth.

President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration dropped charges of treason and gun-running against Okah, 44, releasing him on July 13 from more than a year in jail, as part of an amnesty for rebels announced last month.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, responded by calling a temporary cease-fire and saying it will seek talks with the government. Okah himself isn’t sure he’ll be able to stop the violence.

“I’ll have to go into the creeks and meet the commanders,” Okah said in a telephone interview from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, yesterday. “I’ve been away for 23 months and it’s only after I have had time to talk to those involved that I can say anything.”

Armed attacks targeting oil infrastructure in the southern Niger River delta, home to Nigeria’s oil industry, have shut plants operated by Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp. and Eni SpA, curbing production of the light, sweet variety of oil favored by U.S. refiners. Lost oil exports from Nigeria, the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports, has contributed to crude’s 37 percent rally this year to more than $61 a barrel.

Respite in Fighting

The truce, if it holds, may provide an opportunity for Yar’Adua to start to address grievances in the delta region, particularly the widespread demand for more local control of oil, said Antony Goldman, a London-based analyst specializing in West African countries.

“The most you can get is a respite,” Nnamdi Obasi, West Africa analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said yesterday by phone from Abuja. “Then after a while both sides will go back to the trenches.”

Demands for distributing more wealth locally have proved difficult for the authorities in Abuja to accept, since Nigeria’s government depends on oil exports for more than 80 percent of its revenue and 95 percent of foreign income, according to the Petroleum Ministry.

MEND is calling for a system of “fiscal federalism,” in which states in the delta region should receive 100 percent of the earnings from the oil industry and then pay a tax to the federal government.

Revenue Sharing

A panel appointed by the government last September, known as the Niger Delta Technical Committee, recommended changing the current revenue-sharing system so that the share of states in the Niger delta would rise to 25 percent, from 13 percent now.

“It’s now eight months since the government received that report and it’s doubtful it wants to address that issue,” said Obasi of Crisis Group. “Addressing it and dealing with issues of mass poverty and infrastructure needs in the region is the only way there can be lasting peace.”

Communities in the Niger Delta, a maze of creeks and rivers feeding into one of the world’s biggest remaining areas of mangroves, are among Nigeria’s poorest, a Shell-funded report on the area said in 2004. It cited studies showing per-capita income in the region to be below the national average of $260 a year. Unemployment exceeds 90 percent in some areas. Nigerian oil production averaged 1.79 million barrels a day in June, according to Bloomberg estimates.

Fragile Truce

The truce remains fragile. Only hours after declaring it, MEND said the Nigerian military had dispatched troops to one of its camps. If attacked, MEND said it would call off the cease- fire. Colonel Rabe Abubakar, a spokesman for the government’s Joint Task Force in charge of security, denied any such raid was planned.

The day before Okah’s release, the most significant gesture of the government’s amnesty program so far, the rebel group brought its campaign from the delta to Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city, in an attack on Atlas Cove, the main fuel receiving jetty.

“Okah’s release happening propitiously” just after “MEND extended its attacks to Lagos does not bode well for the government’s amnesty plan,” said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, West Africa analyst for Eurasia Group.

Command Structure

Armed groups in the delta have “no single unifying leader or command structure,” he said, so individual commanders may accept the government’s amnesty while others pursue attacks.

Since violence in the region intensified in May, when the government launched an offensive against MEND bases, both sides have seen that militarily neither can deliver a knock-out blow, Goldman said. While the government may have surprised the militants with the capacity it displayed, it also showed that it can’t defend all oil facilities, he said.

Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, yesterday urged militants to accept the amnesty, saying the Okah’s release was evidence of the government’s commitment to the process.

“Government is not going to force you to respond to the amnesty,” Okiro told reporters in Port Harcourt. “Government has given a period of time for the amnesty and if the amnesty period expires, it means, you do not want it.”

The government portrays the amnesty as the first step in a process to bring peace to the region.

It’s not intended as “a stand-alone solution,” Tamie Koripamo-Agarry, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Amnesty Committee, said in a statement e-mailed to reporters yesterday.

The government recognizes the neglect in the region and is prepared to help boost development, she said. “Peace will accelerate this process”.