Date Published: 10/25/09
MENDing Yar’Adua’s Amnesty By Hakeem Babalola
I was a guest on Al Jazeera's Inside Story TV programme recently. The topic of discussion centred on Niger Delta; particularly on the amnesty granted to the militants by the Nigerian Federal Government. In my humble contribution I submitted or argued that the so-called amnesty would fail if the Federal Government's intention was to play game with the process. I said that money inducement will not solve the Niger-Delta problem. I also reasoned that the only thing that can get us started is by seriously addressing the root cause of the agitation in the region which of course is simple: INJUSTICES AND ABJECT UNDERDEVELOPMENT.
Barely 12 hours after the programme two high-ranking militants issued separate statements that have seriously undermined the amnesty. Both men accused the Nigerian government of toying with the aspiration of a people. Although it was widely reported that ex-militants got N10.2bn from the Federal Government, MEND especially warned that neither money nor threat will dampen the spirit to liberate its people from internal oppression. Whilst the Federal Government thought it had bought most of the militants with fabulous money, these groups insisted that money was the root of all problems; hence money could not buy them. They posited that Yar'Adua was not ready for a permanent solution. In short, there was and still no sincerity of purpose.
Consequently, two hundred and thirty-two members of the Dokubo-Asari-led Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), according to Vanguard Newspaper , filed a class action before the Abuja Federal High Court to void the amnesty by President Umaru Yar'Adua to militants in the creeks of Niger Delta region. Jomo Gbomo, spokesperson for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), also said that fresh attacks will commence on oil installations in the Niger-Delta.
As expected, the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta vowed to consume the militants should the group make good its threat to commence fresh attacks. JTF Commander, Major-General Sarkin Yarkin-Bello, who spoke exclusively to Vanguard, advised the group to rescind its threat to commence fresh attacks on oil installations because any militant or group that carries out such action would be consumed. So much for the amnesty peace process!
MEND wanted dialogue and had appointed eminent Nigerians like Prof. Wole Soyinka to talk on its behalf in which the esteemed professor and others honoured. Of course the Federal Government rejected the Aaron team saying, "It does not recognise MEND as spokesperson for the militants". Why did the Federal Government refuse MEND's offer? After all, the government dined with some militants so why not those who invited the intellectuals to debate on their behalf? The move by MEND should tell Yar'Adua and co that the government might be dealing with highly intelligent and principled militants. I wish it is other way round.
Meanwhile the Federal Government through its Re-brand Lord/Communication Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili, went to town proclaiming the success of the amnesty and the supposed disarmament exercise. Another professor, Rilwanu Lukman, the current Petroleum Minister also joined in the euphoria when he disclosed that Nigeria now earns N18b from oil daily as a result of the amnesty granted by the government. To them, it's all about money. Although key militant leaders, including Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Farah Dagog and Boyloaf have accepted the amnesty, analysts warned the Federal Government that the Niger-Delta crisis is not over.
Prof. Tam David-West, former Petroleum Minister, said in an interview he granted the Sun that "It would be rash to assume that the last minute mass surrender by leaders of Niger Delta militia has ended militancy and restiveness in the oil-bearing region". Prince Tony Momoh, former minister for information, also warned that the Niger Delta militants would return to the creek if the country fails to take advantage of the prevailing peace in the region. Speaking to the Sun, Prince Momoh stressed that they (the militants) can acquire more deadly arms and nobody is going to give peace a chance in future.
Every right thinking Nigeria knows that the amnesty granted by the Federal government lacks merit. It is suspicious. There is no fire of trust even among the militants who have surrendered their arms. In a crisis of this magnitude, there is need for sincerity of purpose which is absolutely missing. For instance, the period of six months given by the government for the militants to lay their arms was too short. The Niger-Delta crisis is much more serious than the government envisaged. Perhaps the amnesty was granted in the first place because Yar'adua and his advisers were confused. Playing politics with this problem could only escalate it. And it’s a pity that every single action points to calamitous direction.
Why did the government grant the amnesty in the first place and why now? It might have been a ploy to dismantle the militants' network which of course, has worked in favour of the government. The president is also lucky that most of the militants have embraced the amnesty. The plan B may be to declare a state of emergency and total war against the militants who might have rejected the amnesty. So what should we expect now that MEND has refused to participate in the amnesty? Is it drum and, or song of war? Oh, forget it, there’s no MEND!
But hear Gbomo further as reported by pointblanknews.com : "'We will fight for our land with the last drop of our blood regardless of how many people the government of Nigeria and the oil companies are successful in bribing''. Such threat is dangerous, and even more dangerous for the Federal Government to counter that it would consume any militant that cause further trouble after the amnesty. Instead of threats, I think the energy and, or focus should be directed towards the post-amnesty programme.
Now that Gbomo and Dokubo-Asari have started "causing trouble", what next? Is the Federal Government going to use those militants who have surrendered against those who have not? Even the former group publicly said it would take up arms again should the Federal Government failed to implement the terms of the amnesty and, or address the root cause of the agitation, which include but not limited to poverty, injustice and level of degradation in the region. Also, MEND has reminded us that only "a few weapons were surrendered by commanders who decided to discontinue their participation in the arms struggle".
Of course, the Federal Government has the military power to destroy the militants. But Mr. President and his advisers must tarry a little before starting something that would further show how disorganised or ill-prepared they are. We should also ring it to their elephant ears that mighty does not necessarily mean right. We should drum the drum of caution and not war. Wars are costly and always have devastating consequences. No war indicates victory. Perhaps this is the main reason the Yakubu Gowon administration declared in 1970 shortly after the civil war, "No Victor No Vanquished”.
It’s quite unfortunate that the Federal Government has allowed the crisis to reach such a boiling point. It should be noted that MEND war of attrition with Federal forces cost Nigeria over 25% in oil revenue loss. Now the government has put itself in an embarrassing position having declared publicly that the next course of action against unrepentant militants is military attack. It seems to me that the Federal Government is now in a fragile position: damned if it goes to war, damned if it does not. I suppose it's better to cultivate the habit of thinking deeply before implementing policies or actions that affect millions of lives.
Since the government was ready to hug, shake hands and pose smiling pictures with those it had already called criminals, kidnappers, thugs, the best thing would have been to do it completely. But to cuddle a group of "criminals, kidnappers, and thugs" and isolate other similar group is a wrong signal sent. It portrays the Federal Government as not being sincere about the amnesty. A common sense approach would have been to do everything in order to lure unrepentant militants to surrender their arms. I agree with MEND that the provision for meaningful and sincere dialogue on the root issues that gave birth to the Niger Delta unrest can solve the problems in the creeks.
At this juncture, I must confess that I am as confused as Yar’Adua and his advisers. I am confused about one particular thing. I am confused about the amount and sophistication of the weapons surrendered by the militants. Imagine weapons like anti-air craft machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, bombs and sticklers grenades, army camouflage uniforms, dynamites and masks! How, where and when did they acquire such weapons without being detected by our law enforcement and security officers?
And have you ever thought of the fact that the woman who is now screaming or chewing amnesty and disarmament might be the same person supplying and, or allowing the supply of these advanced weapons? Has it ever occurred to you that the same faceless woman might be the one influencing the outcome of policies (whatever they are) on the Niger-Delta quagmire? This is thought for food or is it food for thought? I am confused just like Mr. President and his advisers. It is difficult for me to accept the fact that people have to take arms before their problems are genuinely addressed by the government.
Surely the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger-Deltans did not begin yesterday. It started more than four decades ago when Isaac Jasper Boro declared a republic out of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. To think that six months would be enough to settle the crisis further shows how uninformed those at the elm of affairs are. Consequently, it distinguishes those who are truly fighting a genuine cause from opportunists who thought they knew the meaning and reasons for fighting. Perhaps those who surrendered were intimidated or completely hypnotised by the power of the President's office. Perhaps these groups of militants thought. "Oh, what else remains after catching the president's attention...the struggle after all, has been won…"
Well, ''MEND considers the next phase of this struggle as the most critical as we intend to end 50 years of slavery of the people of the Niger Delta by the Nigerian government, a few individuals and the western oil companies once and for all. In this next phase, we will burn down all attacked installations and no longer limit our attacks to the destruction of pipelines".
Just consider this: the Federal Government has declared that N6.5 billion would be spent as the monthly allowance to the ex-militants in the Niger Delta region who have accepted the amnesty annually, according to Vanguard. I ask, is distributing money the way to solve the Niger Delta crisis? Is treating the militants as celebrities the lasting solution to the crisis? Even At that the militants’ demobilisation daily stipend of N1, 500 has not been paid as at 14 October, sparking protest.
Finally, the post-amnesty management is probably much more important than any other thing. Although Yar’Adua’s recent meeting with Henry Okar, a high ranking MEND leader, may be a positive sign, the issue in my opinion, is much more than secret meeting. The Federal Government must be truthful to itself in finding a permanent solution with genuine intentions. In anyway, the jokes seem to be on Mr. President who smiled his thanks describing Ateke Tom's decision to embrace amnesty as Nigeria’s 49th Independence Anniversary gift to him. Only time will tell, as they say.
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