IT was for noble intentions and the need to placate the restive Niger Delta (ND) militants when former Nigeria’s President, Late Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua exercised his constitutional power by granting amnesty and unconditional pardon to all Niger Delta militants in June 2009. On acceptance, the militants were expected to renounce militancy and embrace the Federal Government of Nigeria’s (FGN) package for their rehabilitation.
The amnesty has survived till date, with FGN spending billions to train and empower ex-militants. However, what has refused to change is the absolute denunciation of militancy in the ND, as the amnesty has turned into a festering sore with more splinter groups emerging from former militancy camps or organizations.
It is now difficult, if not impossible to establish an effective census of militant groups in the Niger Delta. Neither the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) nor the National Population Commission (NPC) dare venture into such an exercise. That is the extent Niger Deltans have rubbished one of the very laudable efforts of government to bring succor to people of the region.
Before Yar’Adua’s amnesty, the Niger Delta paraded militant groups like the defunct Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Leaders of these groups claimed to have embraced amnesty and renounced militancy.
But now, militant groups have duplicated to the extent, even militants themselves are amazed. There is the Reformed Egbesu Boys, Egbesu Water Lions and Egbesu Mythier Fraternity to Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) Adaka Boro Avengers (ABA) Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF) to Former Forest Soldiers, (FFS), aka Isaac Boro Last Born among others. And their common denominator is that they are splinter groups from earlier militancy camps.
Beyond this, the emerging militant groups differ in almost all nuances, but hold firm to claims of fighting for the emancipation of the impoverished Niger Delta.
Agreed that the Niger Delta region is the base of Nigeria’s oil wealth. And since 2006, renewed agitations for the control of the oil resources of the region has violently heightened.
The familiar trademark of militancy in the ND has been bombing or blowing up of oil installations and facilities, kidnapping or abduction of oil workers, mostly foreign nationals, and the near blackmail of the FGN with outrageous demands for cessation of hostilities. The cost of the ND restiveness on the economic fortunes of Nigeria has been enormous.
But Leaders of the country, including South-South leaders, seem confused on the best way to placate the region. History is replete with attempts by successive leaders of the country to genuinely revisit the ND question and their agitations.
But the directionless pattern of the militancy in the region has forced the impression that the age-long sensation is prompted by greed rather than an honest desire to salvage the region.
So, even under military dictatorships, Nigeria’s most dreaded dictator, Late Gen. Sani Abacha, extended solace to the Niger Delta. Gen. Abacha granted the ND 13% derivation formula; President Ibrahim Babangida created the Oil and Mineral Resources Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) and later on, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) emerged and in 2008, an independent ministry for Niger Delta Affairs was created. These have been efforts of the FGN to redress the perceived injustices in the region.
And to further ice the cake, Late President Umaru Yar’Adua introduced the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP). Through it, dozens of repentant militants have been trained in various fields and others paid monthly stipends. Some ex-militants have actually distinguished themselves in their field of study both within and outside Nigeria.
But it appears the PAP has sparked more trouble than it was intended to solve. It is quite strange, that only in the ND region multiple groups which claim to be fighting a common populist cause have no uniformity of ideology, cohesion or consensus on any matter. Each emerging group has its separate agenda and feels the only way the FGN can listen to its grievances is by attacking and destroying oil facilities and crippling the national economy.
And from the pronouncements of some of these groups, it is clear PAP was misconstrued by many as a permanent appeasement, an instrument of blackmail and a national largesse for the inhabitants of the ND. Consequently, most emerging militant groups mouthed that their exclusion in the amnesty programme is reason for their renewed aggressions.
But in the last few years of FGN’s intervention in the ND, through the special agencies and the ministry created for the region, over $40 billion have been expended in improving the lives of people of the region in the last four years. Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu dished out this information and no leader from the region has contested it veracity. Despite these huge sums expended, there is little or no impact because of poor utilization.
Besides, Buhari has started the clean-up of areas despoiled by oil spillage, through the implementation of the UNEP Report on Ogoniland. Yet, the militants have remained resolute to hold the country to ransom. There is no more justification for this aggressiveness, except it is meant to deliberately distract the government.
But in advertising a somewhat criminal enterprise and inclination, which appears to be the second identity of militancy in the ND, they freely dabble into political issues, each time they list conditions for cessation of hostilities. Part of their ridiculous demands include the release of corrupt politicians like Col. Sambo Dasuki who is on trial for the alleged arms scandal and the unconditional release of a secession campaigner like leader of the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu and the de-freezing of the accounts of ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo among others.
So, the struggle is no longer about the emancipation of the Niger Delta or restoring its dignity as the militants delight in postulating. It is about vested personal interests of their sponsored leaders, who identify with government in the day time, but romance the militants at nights.
Based on the mounting pressure on the FGN and with the silent voice of America which is pushing for dialogue, President Buhari seems to be bending backwards by announcing its readiness to dialogue with the NDA militants.
And that is where the trouble lies because further granting of amnesty or recognition of emergent militant groups and cash patronage by the FGN would instigate fresh problems. Therefore, the extension of another amnesty to NDA and even similar other groups in the region would amount to succumbing to blackmail of the militants. It would inevitably give birth to more such militant groups, who would also demand for same treatment as evidenced by the experiences of PAP under former President Yar’Adua. In addition, this step would signpost the reward of gangs guilty of economic sabotage or crimes against the Nigerian state.
*Attah, a public affairs analyst contributed this piece from Bayelsa state