The Niger Delta Amnesty Programme is still on course! That was the good news every citizen of the Niger Delta region, concerned Nigerians and multinationals in the oil & gas sector wanted to hear from the Seat of Power in Abuja.
That good news came via presidential statement announcing retired Brigadier-General Paul Boroh as the New Co-ordinator of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme. He replaced Kingsley Kuku.
Before that announcement, there was understandable concern and uncertainty over the fate of the programme under the Buhari administration following the conclusion of the 2015 general elections in which the Niger Delta voted enmasse for former President Goodluck Jonathan, an indigene of the Niger Delta region.
Looking back, one would naturally commend former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for taking the right decision on June 25, 2009 to proclaim a 60-day unconditional amnesty period for militants in the Niger Delta region, in an attempt to resolve peacefully, the militancy crisis in the region.
The terms of the programme was for the militants to renounce violence, lay down their arms and surrender such arms to the authorities
unconditionally. In return, the federal government agreed to initiate an amnesty programme to rehabilitate and train the ex-militants on various vocational/career modules in Nigeria and other selected countries abroad.
At the beginning of the amnesty programme, an estimated 30, 000 ex-militants signed on for the rehabilitation and training scheme, while
the life-span of the programme was pegged at five years.
Again, looking back, the amnesty programme did not come as a form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) by the federal government. Rather, the government was forced to initiate it when it became obvious that Military Might by the federal authorities was not stemming the daily bloodshed, criminal acts of kidnappings and attendant ransoms, but more importantly, loss of vital revenue from declining oil production and export as a result of the militancy in the region.
Thankfully, both the militants and federal government duly accepted the programme, leading to disarmament and surrender of weapons by the ex-militants, and eventual commencement of their rehabilitation, integration and training on various areas of career.
Niger Delta Amnesty Programme: August 10-16, 2015
Now, what is the situation today? Before the advent of the Buhari administration, the amnesty programme itself was winding up gradually, counting in its successes, thousand of ex-militants that benefitted from the programme in several ways, both in cash and training.
But during the same period, the programme itself was also generating heated debate in the polity in respect of one crucial element: payment
of billions of Naira to certain militant warlords to allegedly protect oil pipelines from vandalisation on the premise that the ex-militants were better suited to protect oil pipelines running through the creeks.
As various figures allegedly paid to the militant warlords in Naira and Dollars for the pipeline protection contract became public knowledge, issues were being raised as follows:
Why should the federal government hand over the security of oil pipelines to ex-militants for protection, rather than security agencies? Who protected the pipelines before the advent of militancy in the Niger Delta?
How long will this contract last? Was the protection contract not an admission of failure of security by the federal government?
Expectedly, the pipeline protection contract became a controversial issue. It was therefore not surprising when on assumption of office on
May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari quickly cancelled the entire pipeline protection contract regime.
The cancellation then gave the impression that Buhari was about to cancel the entire amnesty programme in totality. However, the appointment of Boroh has soothed frayed nerves in that regard.
What would be the fate of the amnesty programme going forward? Tomorrow, they’d say, is pregnant-it could produce anything. For now, the first game plan should be for the ex-militants to benefit as much as possible from the amnesty programme while it lasts.
The second part is the issue of infrastructural development of the Niger Delta region as Phase 11 of the amnesty programme. It is not in doubt that oil productio has wrecked havoc on Niger Delta lands in form of environmental degradation, lost earnings by fishermen and farmers as a result of oil spill on rivers and waterways and health hazards on the citizens.
Tackling these challenges as Phase 11 of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme will generate more goodwill for the federal government in the region, ensure sustainable peace and stability, and create an enabling environment for oil multinationals to operate seamlessly in the region.
At the end, the federal government will reap more revenue from oil and gas production and export as dividend. For the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme, we wait for tomorrow with bated breath!