The Niger Delta is the focal point of Oil and gas production in Nigeria, and the region epitomizes a dialectics of wealth and power. Where as, the wealth generated from the ethnic minorities populated region is the heart of the Nigerian economy, the area paradoxically wallows in abject poverty, marginalization and underdevelopment. Hence, the advent of restive and militant groups that presently characterizes the region. The crisis in the Niger Delta is multifaceted. And the present militant oil agitations in vogue, spearheaded by frustrated, hopeless and deprived youths has serious impact on the Nigerian economy, resulting in dwindling oil revenues. Therefore, to pacify the militant groups and guarantee the flow of oil and gas production, the Federal Government of Nigeria granted amnesty to all militants in the Niger Delta that swell up the rank and file of MEND, NDPVF, COMA, JRC, NDV, etc. This paper argues that, due to the deplorable condition of the Niger Delta amidst the wealth that it produce to sustain the nation, the Nigerian state has no moral cum legal justification to brand freedom fighters as criminals and granting them amnesty. More so, if the very obvious lack of development and repressive measures in the Niger Delta are adequately addressed to better the lot of the region been that, the consciousness of exploitation and backwardness is on the increase in the area, thus insincerity or the promotion of temporary measures cannot put a stop to oil agitations by militants. The paper concludes that, what is actually needed in the region is unity of purpose, accountability and total commitment to the developmental needs of the region and not the politicization of amnesty. Again, due to the widespread culture of militancy and other social vices in the region, government should evolve modalities to re-socialise the youthful population affected by the militant mentality to avert future occurrences.
Keywords: Oil, Militancy, Amnesty and Niger Delta.
The Niger Delta obviously is the most social and delicate in the socio-economic and political discourse of Nigeria over a decade. History has it that quest to harness the oil and gas resources in the region started in 1909 when the first oil exploration works began in the Southern part of Nigeria. With the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 which led to the emergences of the Nigerian state, and the enactment of the Mineral Acts in the same year the central government declared autonomy over oil resources within its territory subsequently, licenses and leases were granted to British companies and individuals to explore oil. By 1937, Shell was given the entire land space to prospect for oil. She struck its first oil deposit in commercial quantity in Oloibiri in 1956 and, thereafter, in Afam Bomu and Ebubu, while the oil exports started in 1958 (Nwaomah, 2009).
However, a significant inquiry must be made in observing the identity of the Niger Delta. The region which derives its name from River Niger, is one of the world largest Wetlands covering some 70,000km2 formed by the accumulation of sedimentary deposits transported by the Niger and Benue Rivers (Azaiki, 2007:1; World Bank Report, 1993:1). Alagoa (2000:3) noted that the Niger Delta communities have settled in the area for many millennia with the Ijaws being the oldest group, having lived there for over 7,000 years.
More so, other responses and interests have defined it using ecological features. This refers to the region that records an annual rainfall average 4.0mm. The regions regarded by some as the core of Niger Delta include Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers State. (Oku,2003). Geographically, the Niger Delta consists of areas identified with deltaic characteristics in the Southern part of Nigeria which included Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Ondo States (Okoko and Ibaba 1997:57). However, Nwaomah (2009) opine that it is expanded to include all geographical expanse of land between the Benin River and the Cross River, covering an area of about 70,000 square kilometres that cuts across nine of the states of Nigeria. These according to Fubara (2002) are Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. The identification includes all oil producing states and is described as the political “Niger Delta”.
Today, oil and gas production remain central to the effective functioning of the Nigeria state, paradoxically the oil producing states within federated Nigeria have benefited the least from these oil wealth and by extension affected the inhabitants of the region. According to the Untied Nations development Programme, Niger Delta is a region, suffering from administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor and economic conflict. It is against this background that various attempts have been made by the leaders of the region calling for redress in various fora. These include Ogoni Bill of Right (1990), the Kaiama Declaration (1998) among others.
However, all these agitations hardly resulted to any positive response on the part of the central government but instead the agitation was met with state violence and that resulted to the militant approaching the youths in the region. For instance, the movement MEND first emerged in December 2005 when it took credit for blowing up an oil pipeline in Delta State. It is not clear who activated the group or coined its name.
Since 2006, a little known militant groups have emerged in Nigeria oil Niger Delta making life difficult for international oil companies in the region. Their activities include errant violent movements, sea piracy and bunkering of oil installations, agitation for resources, control, hostage taking of foreign and local oil workers, communal clashes among others. Infact, these activities, majority of them negates the image it tries to convey.
The implication of these activities among others is instability and lost of resources. In an effort to bring peace and free flow of oil in the region, the Nigerian government initiated an amnesty programme. The program required militants to surrender their arms and in turn are pardon for their activities. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to understudy the moral and legal justification behind the amnesty granted to the militant youths. The study is structured in the following manner. Introduction conceptual clarification of politics, militancy and amnesty, the militant crisis in Nigeria, amnesty politics in Niger Delta and conclude with the means at sustaining peace in the post amnesty era. The paper employs descriptive and analytical method.
The term amnesty comes from the Greek word “amnestia” which means “a forgetting”. The word has the same root as “amnesia” which stipulate freedom or the time prisoners can go free (World Book Encyclopaedia, 2000). Throughout history various governments of the world have granted amnesty most especially in restoring unity after a war or an internal uprising. One of the earliest recorded incidents were amnesty was used dates back to 403B.C in Greek city state when Thrasybulus declared amnesty to all citizens except the thirty tyrants who over throw their rulers (World Book Encyclopaedia, 2003). Subsequently, American government over the years had used amnesty to grant reprieves and pardon for offences against the United States.
Amnesty is a legislative or executive act by which a state restore those who one way or the other have been found guilty of an offence against it to the positions of innocent people (www.wikipedia.org). it include more than pardon, in as much as it obliterate all legal remembrance of the offence. Similarly, it forget fullness, cessation of remembrance of wrong; oblivion an act of the sovereign power granting oblivion, or a general pardon for a past offences, as to subjects concerned in an insurrection (en.wiktionary.org) whereas in law, it is the exception from prosecution for criminal action. It entails forgiveness and forgetting of past action (Law Encyclopaedia). At this point, criminals are offered a promise of immunity from prosecution on the premise they reciprocate and abandon their unlawful activities.
It is important to note that amnesty and pardon are used interchangeably but in practice, the two usage overlaps in the sense that an amnesty is granted before prosecution takes effect, while on the other hand, pardon comes after the prosecution. More so, amnesty could be extended when the authority decides that bringing citizens into compliance with a law is advantageous than pursuing for previous offences. These include, avoiding expensive prosecutions, encouraging violators to come forward who might otherwise eluded the government, and most importantly promoting reconciliation between the society and the offenders. Similar to the latter is the initiative taken by the federal government of Nigeria where individuals or militants in the Niger Delta are encouraged to turn over illicit items to the authorities, base on the mutual agreement that they will not be prosecuted for parading arms. The essence of this gesture is to reduce the number of firearms in circulation and at the same time promote peace in the region.
In a nutshell, amnesty is a political undertone taking by government in which persons who have committed criminal offences that threatened the sovereignty of state are granted oblivion from prosecution.
The conception of politics is essentially contested in social sciences. Reason has been that it has different connotation and interpretation to individuals and scholars alike. Despite various definitions propounded by political scientists, non is comprehensive and adequate enough to explain the subject matter, because virtually all have been found wanting either being too general and uncertain or too narrow and excluding some issues of politics that are regarded important to scholars (Ayeni-Akeke, 2008:1). That is, the complex nature of politics has made it much difficult to arrive at an acceptable definition.
To the earliest philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, politics is posited in idealistic terms. According to Aristotle, “man by nature is a political animal” This stipulate that the essence of social existence is politics and that where two or more men are interacting with one another, they are invariably involved in political relationship. Therefore, are fashioning a structurally and functionally perfect human community that could be motivated at all time by the quest to promote justice and happiness for all her citizens.
Again politics is viewed as the exercise of power and influence. Infact, they are regarded as the quintessence of political phenomena because we cannot defuse power and influence from politics as they are found anywhere political activities evolve. The third argument on politics is that championed by David Easton. He conceived politics as activities by which scarce resources and values are distributed among members of the society. To him, politics is the authoritative allocation of values and resources to the society (Easton David, 1965). Another perspective of politics is the view supported by Karl Marx. It is regarded as the struggles between social classes to capture and exercise the powers of the state. According to Marx, conflicts often arise between the classes because, the dominant class use the resources of the state to dominate, exploit and rule the proletariats.
While the final view associates politics, with disputes, competition and conflict over methods and goals of society (Ayeni-Akeke, 2008). The argument here is that the resources of the state is scarce, therefore can not go round to the satisfaction of all. In an attempt to capture or acquire the resources competition disputes and conflict thus occur among the social forces all in quest to maximize their interest. The illustration above stipulates that politics is very broad as well as dynamic and interactive.
Militancy is the state of being militant. The term “militant state” refers to an individual holding an aggressive posture in support of an ideology or cause. Such individuals or group of persons in a psychologically militant state is in a physically aggressive posture (en.wiktionary.org) put simply, a militant view most occasions in an attempt to pursue it objective is confrontational.
However, the concept militant is derived from the Latin words “militare” meaning “to serve as a soldier” (wikipedia). The term has been used rigorously active and aggressive especially in support of a cause. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English defined Militant as “having a Combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause”. Similarly, the Merriam- Webster Dictionary sees it as “aggressively active (as in a cause)”. It goes further to say that the word militant might be typically be used in phrases such as “militant conservationist” or “a militant attitude”.
More so, militant is used as a term for warriors who perhaps do not associate themselves to any established military institution (world Book Encyclopaedia). Their activities are thus classified as terrorist. It is equally important to know that all movements seeking to adopt military in its approach share common tactics. These characteristics most especially, in cause of promoting political philosophy employ force or violent directly or indirectly in offence and defence. They also justify the use of force in the ideological rhetoric of their various groups (wikipedia). The method of enrolment includes volunteering, enlistment and conscription.
OIL AND MILITANCY CRISIS IN THE NIGER DELTA
Whereas Nigeria is the jewel in the African oil crown, oil and militancy in the Niger Delta region of the country has become a subject of discussion just like the British weather.
The Niger Delta is the hub of oil and gas production in Nigeria, accounting for about 95% of foreign exchange earnings, 95% of National Budget, 80% of total Government and over 80% of National Wealth (TELL, February 18, 2008:33). The Oil Industry in the Niger Delta is dominated by multinational corporations such as Chevron, Texaco, Exxon- Mobil, Total, AGIP, SPDC, ELF and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Presently, there are over 600 oil fields, 5,284 onshore and offshore oil wells, 10 Export Terminals, 275 flow stations, 4 Refineries and a Liquefied Natural Gas project (Lubeck, Watts and Lipschitz, 2007:5). As at 2007, statistics shows that about 23, 183.9 billion barrel of crude oil were said to have been produced in the Niger Delta, which amounts to a staggering national revenue of 29.8 trillion naira (TELL, February 8, 2008:28).
Paradoxically, despite the abundance wealth the region parade, which is the fiscal basis of the Nigerian economy, majority of the ethnic minorities populated Niger Delta live in a state of chronic want. It is indeed factual, that the region epitomizes one of the extreme situations of poverty and under development in the mist of plenty. Infrastructural development is very low, while poverty and unemployment levels are very high. The poverty level is about 80 percent and unemployment level ranks 70%. Access to basic social amenities is very limited. Indeed, the region falls below the national average in all measures or indicators of development (Ibaba, 2005; 13-14). The cost of living in the Niger Delta is very high, and evens the prices of petroleum products is one of the highest in the country.
Unlike other oil producing nations of the world such as Qatar, United Arabs Emirate, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Canada etc, Oil has been a curse to the people of the Niger Delta. Its exploration and exploitation since 1958 has set in political, ecological and socio-economical conditions that generate abject poverty, misery and back wardness in the region. The region has over the years been deprived of peace, progress, justice and its resources that were expected to bring about good life to its inhabitants (Inokoba and Imbua, 2008: 547). Prior to the discovery and exploitation of oil and gas in the region, the primary occupation of the people was fishing and farming. It is however said to note that, oil exploration and exploitation has destroyed the subsistence economy of the people. Testimonies from various quarters lend credence to the claim that environmental degradation occasioned by oil spillages has made life extremely difficult for the local people. The destruction of farm lands, fishponds and rivers has radically altered the economic life of the once self-reliant and productive region for the worst (Okonta and Oronto, 2001:108). Oil related environmental multi-dimensional problems that have made life unbearable for the people of the Niger Delta includes: water and Land pollution as a result of spills and drilling activities, destruction of vegetation, deforestation, displacement of human settlements as a result of installation and location of exploration facilities such as crude oil and gas carrying pipes that cris-crossed most communities, loss of bio-diversity such as fauna and flora habitat, destruction of mangrove swamps and salt marsh, air pollution and acid ran from gas and oil processing evaporation and flaring, industrial solid waste disposal, and several others (Azaiki, 2003).
It is this paradox of suffering in the mist of plenty that inspired the Niger Deltans to make demands on the Nigerian state and multinational oil companies operating in the region to better improve their living conditions. But instead of redress, the people were visited with state violence, repression and brutalisation. The execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and nine other Ogoni men in 1995, and the invasion and occupation of Niger Delta communities such as Umuechem, Ogoni land, Opia, Tombia, Kaiama, Soku, Odi, Agee, Ezetu, Gbanramatu, Oporoza, peremabiri etc by the Nigerian military captures reality. Therefore, it is not surprising that the consciousness of exploitation, marginalisation and disempowerment has made the Niger Delta a region of deep rooted frustration, hence the militancy crisis.
In terms of oil production, the poor state of under development in the Niger Delta and the resultant militancy, literatures blames this on Federalism and the politics of revenue sharing in Nigeria (Okoko and Nna, 1997; Orabator et al, 2006; Ikporukpo, 1996; Ibaba, 2005); environmental injustice and human rights violation (Aaron, 2006; Okonta and Oronto, 2001); the failure of corporate social responsibility on the part of multinational oil companies (Ikelegbe, 2008; Clark, et al 1999); accountability and transparency failures in governance (Peel, 2005; Inokoba and Imbua, 2008); Enweremadu, 2008), hegemonic politics (Isumonah, 2005) and the obnoxious Laws that govern the oil industry (Ibaba, 2005).
The rise of consciousness of exploitation, marginalization and disempowerment that heralded violent oil agitations in the past decade is multidimensional. First is the 3 million Man march programme tagged “Youths Ennestly Ask for Abacha, that transported Youths from the Niger Delta and expose them to the contradiction between the beauty and splendour of Abuja (a city build with oil revenue) and the absence of modernity in the Towns and Villages in the Niger Delta where the oil wealth is produced. The others are the Kaiama Declaration Youths summit that give birth to the Ijaw Youths council with the motto Resource Control by any means possible; the Ijaws- OPC crisis of Lagos that exposed the Youths to the Egbesu Power; and lastly the 1999 general elections, that breeded armed thuggery. More light will be thrown on some of this issues later.
We must reiterate the fact that, it is the long decades of the Nigerian State trivialization of the genuine and peaceful agitation of the Niger Deltans that metamorphosed to the violent militant phase of oil agitations in the region. That is, the refusal of the Nigerian state to respond positively to the pens and placards of the Harold Dappa-Piriye’s and Ken Saro-Wiwa’s era creased an environment of anger and desperation. The struggle was thus militarized in response to the violent posture of the insensitive Nigerian state. This led to the emergence of armed groups such as Egbesu Boys, MEINBUTUS, Arogbo Freedom Fighters, Joint Revolutionary Council, Niger Delta Volunteer force, Adaka Marines and the dreaded Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) etc.
From the dialectic of violent oil agitations (militancy) in the Niger Delta, two major arguments appears discernable (Eseduwo, 2008). The first argument is that, violent oil agitations is as a result of the Nigerian government’s application of force in quelling non- violent agitations/protests for development and resource control (Nwabueze, 1999; Azaiki, 2009; Ebienra and Nwaodike, 2009). The second argument asserts that, militancy in the Niger Delta in the form of hostage – taking, kidnappings, pipeline vandalisation, hijacking, etc is as a result of frustration due to lack of education, poverty, unemployment and idleness of the youths in the region. It therefore contends that militants are not fighting for the socio-economic and political emancipation of the region, but simply to enrich themselves (Igini 2008; Ibeamu, 2000; Bariagh-Amange, 2009).
The truth remains that, there is no homogenity in terms of militant Characters, ambitions and activities. This is because, the militants creation process ushered in three different categories of militants in the Niger Delta. They are: peaceful resource agitators – militants category (General Tompolo, Alex Preye, Asaki Dokubo, Henry Okah etc); Cult groups – Militancy category (Ateke Tom, Soboma George etc) and the Political thugs – militancy category (General Africa, Commander Joshua, etc). The line separating the two later categories is very fluid. We will argue that it is the benefits of bunkering and kidnapping which accrues from militant activities that attracted the later categories to militancy and that explains the kidnapping of children and the aged, kidnapping of construction company workers etc in the region. The idea is that the struggle has been criminalized and exploited by elements that are products of the marginalisation, disempowerment and neglect that held sway in the region.
THE AMNESTY POLITICS IN THE NIGER DELTA
The declaration of Presidential amnesty on the 25th of June 2009 to all militants in the Niger Delta that willing surrender their guns on or before October 4th, 2009 demonstrate a new dimension to the politics of sustaining oil exploration and exploitation in the Niger Delta. The reason been that, the proliferation of militant groups spread over 500 camps in the Niger Delta and their activities such as destruction of Oil installations and facilities, kidnapping and hijacking of expatriate staffs of Oil multinational corporations, oil bunkering etc became the Achille heel of the Nigerian Oil Industry, which sustains the nation’s economy. That is, the activities of the militants adversely affected the oil and gas production capacity of the country and also constitute a serious threat to live and property in the region. For instance, the number of persons reportedly kidnapped or held hostage increased from 353 in 2008 to 512 in the first 4 months of 2009. In addition, the continued disruption being caused by the militant activities has also been cited as major threats to the operations of the electricity projects and local refineries. Therefore, the point ought to be clearly underlined that it is the combination of these economic factors that force the government to come up with the amnesty package in the hope that, it will pacify the militants and enable the multinational oil companies to resume full exploration and exportation of crude oil and gas (Social Democracy, 2009).
The most potent militant group in the region, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) launched daring raids into fortified oil installations onshore and offshore and kidnapped foreign oil workers, detonated explosive devices near oil compounds, and fought pitched battles on land and at sea with Nigeria’s military forces (Obi, 2008:16). MEND, prior to the amnesty offer almost succeed with its threats to “cripple the Nigerian Oil exports” (IRIN, 2006). The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) led by powerful and sophisticated field commanders such as Government Ekpemopolo (Tompolo), Farah Dagogo, Victor Ben Ebikabowei, (Boyloaf) etc, first crossed president Yar’Adua part in June, 2008 when the militants attached the Bonga Oil Platform (The Country’s biggest oil platform) located about 120 kilometers of the Nigerian Coast. It produced 225,000 barrels of crude oil per day on its computerized, production, storage and off-loading platform (Mbah, 2008).
The fact remains that, the use of the military option by the Federal Government through the instrumentality of the Joint Task Force (JTF), propelled the militants to acquire more sophisticated weapons to check-mate the military and carry on with their activities. For instance most militant groups in the Niger Delta were involved in illegal bunkering. And the proceeds from bunkering were used to acquire arms and ammunitions. The strategic nature of the region, the porous nature of our national borders and waterways and the attendant access of the militant to the high sea makes possible for the wolf syndicate that was always around to exchange Arms, sophisticated ones with the Boys for crude oil. Bunkering is the supplying of fuel or oil to a ship but in Southern Nigeria, it has come to mean the illegal process of tapping into pipelines, stealing the crude and selling it on domestic and foreign black markets. Most militant groups tapped in to this following spigot of oil money.
As we have argued elsewhere, the illegal bunkering that characterized militant activities in the Niger Delta is a creation of the Nigerian state. The argument is that, those who are licenced to carry out bunkering legally were predominantly non-Niger Deltans. And secondly, these legal bunkers in collaboration with corrupt State officials and the Oil companies introduced illegal bunkering in the region. Experience has shown and there is no denying the fact that, this infamous Nigerians and their foreign counterparts contacted able bodied unemployed youths in the Niger Delta to secure their illegal bunkering (that is excess of the government approved quota) badges to the high sea, where the crude oil is transferred to waiting vessels and money paid in hard currencies. The Youths were then paid peanuts, and provided with arms to secure future trips from customs and Naval patrols. As time goes on, the youths became conscious that, the job they are doing for their masters is highly profitable, and since they have mastered the trade, decided to set up their own bunkering networks. The violent insurgency in the region was driven by the lucrative oil smuggling business, and the proceeds used to produce sophisticated arms and ammunitions (Ebienta and Nwaodike, 2009). In February 2009 alone, the Nigerian military intercepted 22 barges of stolen crude oil in the creeks of the Niger Delta (Gilbert, 2009).
The spate of militancy in the pre-amnesty era in the Niger Delta took a huge toll in Nigeria’s Oil revenue. For instance, the execution of Hurricane Barbarossa, the hurricane of retaliation lunched by the movement for the emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), against military offensive consumed lives, property and oil installations. On September 14, 2008, Hurricane Barbarossa commenced with heavily armed fighters in hundreds of war boats filling out from different MEND bases in solidarity to carry out destructive attacks on the Oil Industry (Opukeme, 2008).
We must reiterate the fact that, the frequent attacks by militants almost crippled the Nigerian Oil Industry. The Report of the Ledum Mitee led Technical Committee on the Niger Delta estimated that: The country lost about N8,84 trillion or 61.6 billion dollars to oil theft and sabotage in the volatile region between 2006 and 2008. Details of the report show that in 2006 alone, the total cost of oil loss per barrel due to the activities of the militants is N2,45 trillion or 27.2 dollars while an additional N283 billion or 1.9 billion dollars was lost to Oil bunkering. In 2007, the country also lost N2.69 trillion or 18.8 billion to the debilitating Niger Delta crisis. Nigeria lost an estimated revenue of about 2.97 trillion naira to attacks an oil installations resulting in shutdowns and spillages in the first nine months of 2008 (Ajaero, 2009).
From a peak production of an average of 2.1 million barrels per day, achieved in March 2008, Nigeria’s production declined to 1.7 million barrels per day by May 2009. And with the retaliatory attacks by the militants in June, production hovers between 800,000 barrels per day and 1.2 million barrels per day. Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, which account for about 60 percent of Nigeria’s production capacity, suffered the most disruption in its operations. From a previous production capacity of about one million barrels per day, Shell’s delivery drastically reduced to an alarming 140,000 barrels per day as at June 30, 2009 due to shut-ins, an 85.9 percent drop (Adeyemo, 2009). That is, Oil production in the pre-amnesty 2009 peaked in April at an average of 2.2 million barrels per day. But by July, it had declined to 2.004 million barrels per day with the face off in June between the militants and the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta. The reason been that, when the JTF sacked the Tompolo led MEND faction from Camp 5, in Delta State in June, the militants blew up every pipeline on their way as they faded into the creeks. Consequently, oil production plummeted to less than one million barrels per day (Agbo, 2009:20).
The above existential reality presented the Nigerian president with two options: to continue with the military onslaught approach which was only increasing the strength of the militant groups and destruction of oil facilities; or to seek peace at all cost. The later option was adopted, and the President granted an unconditional amnesty to all the militants who choose to surrender their arms and ammunition. within a 60 day window that ended on the 4th of October 2009, with a 50 billion naira budget to execute the programme. Though, the leadership of the militants initially rejected the amnesty offer, they all later embraced it after serious politicking to give peace a chance in the region. We must emphasize that, the amnesty was highly political because it factored on interest protection and maximisation on the part of the federal government, which invariably is the hitch free production of oil and gas in the region. That is, it was the declining fortune of the nation’s main source of revenue that compelled Yar’Adua to proclaim a hasty amnesty to pacify the militants and perhaps get a breather for the economy, which was heading for crisis (Adeyemo, 2009) .
We wish to categorically posit that, juxtaposing the poor and deplorable condition of the Niger Delta amidst condition of the Niger Delta amidst the wealth that the region generate to sustain the Nigerian economy, the use of State violence to suppress peaceful agitations etc, the Federal Government has no moral cum legal justification to brand freedom Fighters as criminals and granting them amnesty. What is the justification of telling indigenes of Odi, Oporoza, Gbaramatu, Umuechem, Choba, Agee, Okerenkoro, Ogoni land etc that the Federal government has pardoned them. Pardon for what? In an ideal situation, it is the Niger Deltans that should be thinking of forgiving the Nigerian government for the numerous atrocities carried out against them. Moreso, there is no denying the fact that, the amnesty programme was not well planned. The reason been, that, the initial step on the part of Nigerian government ought to have been militants and arms audit in the region. A comprehensive audit of the rank and file of the militant population in the Niger Delta, would have afforded the Federal Government the opportunity to ascertain strength and arm capacity in the region.
But since that was not done, it is difficult to ascertain whether the arms surrendered by the militants in the arms collection centres across the region actually represent the arms capacity of such groups. Furthermore, the government’s amorphous amnesty menu, which offers tripartite rehabilitation jobs, skills acquisition (including education) and private business – does not suit all the targeted beneficiaries (Agbo, 2009:22). Again, it is as if government exists for corruption to thrive, where as the amnesty package was heavily monetised, the crisis of non-payment of allowances to militants clearly pictures, corruption in the programme. In Bayelsa state for instance, the tense rivalry cum battle between Governor Timipre Slyra and Chief Timi Alaibe, (the Honourary Adviser to president Yar’Adua) on whose platform the militant in the state surrender their weapons also captures the political dimension of the amnesty programme.
In essence, we subscribe to view that the amnesty policy was formulated and implemented to ensure free flow of Oil production. It was a panacea to raise money for the fast approaching 2011 general elections. And simply, an avenue for reconciliation with militants, especially the cult groups – militancy and political thugs – militancy categories that carry out illegal, unconstitutional but deterministic roles in elections. The argument is that the frequent attacks on militant locations led to strain relationships between the militant class and political elites in the region. The reason has been that, the Niger Delta play crucial roles in our national elections. That is, the block votes from the Niger Delta always determine winners of our national elections.
Though all known militants in the creeks of the Niger Delta embraced the amnesty programme, it will only translate to total success if the lack of development and repressive measures of the Nigerian state are adequately addressed. This is because, oil is a non-renewable resource and the consciousness of exploitation in the Niger Delta is very high. Therefore any policy that will not lead to sustainable development in the region is doomed to fail.
We therefore recommend that: Government should fast track the execution of capital intensive projects in the region such as building of bridges, Hospitals, tertiary institutions, construction of roads and railways, cleaning up of the polluted environment etc. The military joint Task Force should also be withdrawn from the region. Government should be more accountable and committed in satisfying the needs of the region and discontinue the politisation of issues that affects the Niger Delta.
Moreso, due to the constant agitations and widespread culture of militancy in the region, there is need for critical and wholistic resocialization of the youthful population affected by the militancy culture cum mentality in other to for stall future occurrences. On the part of the repentant militants, government should evolve modalities to understudy them and make provisions for sustainable employment, education and business commitments as the case may be. There should also be caution to avoid intra-conflicts between them to avert dragging the region to the bad waters of violence. The fact remains that if the Nigerian Government is not committed to develop the Niger Delta, violence agitation in the region would be inevitable.
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