Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Elections are possibly 4 months or so away. Naturally therefore the attention of all, especially decision makers and the political elite are now focused on 2011. This promises to be a defining election for a number of reasons; the imminence of an Ijaw President and the arguments by the Northern political elite of the need to maintain the terms of a supposed gentleman’s agreement to rotate the Presidency in favor of the North. Who could have scripted these circumstances leading up to 2011? Less than a year ago a northern President presided over the affairs of Nigeria. Of course there are those who would argue that this was former President Obasanjo’s game plan. To foist on us a terminally ill President and rule through controlling his man Jonathan whom it is said owes his political good fortunes to Obasanjo. We have been to the brink and back. We were never told the true state of Yar Adua’s ill health. We don’t know what has become of the cabal that once ruled in the dark corridors of a Saudi hospital and Aso Rock. But true to fashion we have stared at the precipice and in that uniquely Nigerian way we have pulled back and are in the midst of wrangling and angling for power and influence come 2011.

Lest we forget, somewhere in the background to the frenetic pace building up around the 2011 elections is the amnesty program for ex militants. The much touted success and high point of the Yar Adua Presidency of which President Jonathan was a very prominent part. Much has been made of the amnesty program and that for good reason. For a start kidnapping and the sabotage of oil exploration activities have for the time being become a thing of the past. But for how long we cannot tell.

Instead the kidnapping industry has relocated south easterly to the neighboring South Eastern States of Abia and Imo. The success of the amnesty program even led recently to a reported foreign investment drive involving the Ministers of Petroleum and Foreign Affairs and guess who? Boyloaf ex militant leader on the entourage to convince foreign investors that violence has truly become a thing of the past. Whoever thought of including an ex militant on the investment road show in Europe was surely looking to achieve a major psychological boost to the fortunes of the Niger Delta economy and by extension our national fortunes.

Beyond the lull in kidnapping and sabotage activities what are the expected long term benefits of the amnesty program? This might seem an obvious question to ask. For a start many have asked this question in different guises. Most poignant of all questioners is Ledum Mitee – the chairman of the Federal government sponsored Technical Committee on the Niger Delta. The committee whose remit it was to review all previous recommendations on the Niger Delta dating back to the colonial era and to use those recommendations as a backdrop to recommend a way forward for the much benighted region. Nevertheless the question needs to be asked repeatedly.

For a start no word has been heard on the Federal government’s view or plan for the Mitee report. The report was submitted over 18 months ago in 2008. Since then our focus has been on just one item on its list of recommendations – the amnesty program. Even at that many questions need to be asked regarding the amnesty program. First is the opacity surrounding the payments made to militant leaders and their followers. This has generated much interest and little by way of information clarifying what payments were made and to whom. Perhaps in the interest of 2011 this fact has been quietly forgotten.

Then there are questions surrounding the training program itself. What sorts of training programs are on offer? How were these programs determined? Who will provide the training? How were the trainers chosen? What are the expected outcomes in terms of skills acquisition or entrepreneurial abilities? Recent newspaper reports notably This Day of June 30th 2010 on page 7 reports that training will last 6 months. What happens at the end of the 6month period? In the same report the ex militants are reported to be unhappy with the training facilities in Cross River State. How are these grievances being handled? Interestingly the Mitee report envisaged a mechanism for quarterly public hearings involving the National Assembly to appraise and evaluate the success of any efforts at resolving the deep-rooted challenges of the Niger Delta.

Unfortunately, the impression created by the way and manner in which the amnesty program has been handled so far is one of form and little substance if at all. It is as though an elaborate effort is being made to gain dubious accolades out of a program hastily cobbled together without much thought for any meaningful outcome or benefit to the ex militants or the region for that matter. This portends very serious problems for the future. Especially in an era where cynicism reigns supreme concerning Government intentions at really resolving anything. This amnesty program runs the risk of being seen as another charade to allow for huge dispensation of government patronage. It is unlikely this was the intention of late President Yar Adua or the incumbent President Jonathan. So with little by way of accountability and transparency in the execution of the amnesty program and scant regard for international norms in the decommissioning of weapons and no provision to date for a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (DDR) the hopes of a successful outcome are slim. One major fall out of such cynicism will be a total collapse in confidence concerning government’s supposed good intentions and the structures put in place to achieve it. Sad to say but added to this will be the potential for a return to violence.

Talking of the Mitee report, this report comes in the wake of a long line of reports dating back to the Willinks report of 1958. Will this report go the way of others? It would be shame if it does. As shameful as this will be, the signs are that it will. Ledum Mitee is on record in the press calling on government to implement its report. No response has been heard from government regarding what it would do with the Mitee report. I have read the main recommendations of the report and they appear well thought out.

The report has been broken down into 2 parts. The first part being the Compact with Stakeholders on the Niger Delta, which focuses on immediate steps the government can take to rebuild trust and end the violence. To the credit of the government the commencement of the amnesty program is borne out of this recommendation. It is unclear though what the government’s view is of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process. DDR formed an integral part of the recommendation on amnesty and ending the violence in the region. It also forms a major part of most international efforts of ending militancy and violence of this sought. Part 2 focuses on the broad themes of governance, rule of law including an end to militancy, regional development and human development.

Now whilst it is understandable that President Jonathan became President in very trying circumstances and so soon after has been more or less forced onto the campaign trail for the 2011 elections, it would be tragic that these unique circumstances will deny the much needed momentum and political will that is necessary to bring lasting peace, goodwill, human and infrastructural development to the Niger Delta region. Adaka Boro started the first armed insurrection in 1966. We have just doused the flames of the second resort to violence. Will we be so fortunate third time round? Whilst I do not seek to sound like a doomsday prophet; the fact remains that if we do not address the underlying issues in a serious and resolute manner the little trust that has been engendered will be lost.

To quote the Mitee report “The importance of the region to the country makes the resolution to its problems a national issue with international implications, and as such, its solution ought to be addressed as a matter of national interest.” I would add ought to be addressed as a matter of urgent national interest.

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