Date Published: 11/09/09
Imo State and the Amnesty Package By Peter Claver Oparah
I had no intention of mentioning this fact but circumstances are forcing me to do so. When Imo and Abia States were mischievously left out of the benefits that naturally should come to them as a result of their oil-producing status, it took me quite some time to convince some prominent Igbo groups and individuals, as well as commentators on national issues, that the omission was worth fighting against. This was during the empanelling of what was called the Coastal States Development Commission or something like that. What was unique in the new body was that it excluded the two Igbo oil-producing states from the list of beneficiaries of what was deemed a palliative from noticeable problems resulting from oil exploration. The cliché was that it was for coastal states yet states that had no coastal attachment and with marginal oil value, found themselves in the list.
I had to personally reach out to Igbo groups to fight against this deliberate act of marginalization and it was not really easy mobilizing them to fight against this cheating, especially when most Igbo seemed quite oblivious of the merits derivable from this new setting. Aka Ikenga, then under Chief Chris Asoluka, was one of the earliest groups that bought into my reasoning and started the first noticeable fight against this act of injustice. Ndigbo Lagos and Ohaneze were to key in latter and despite these and the many media attention we brought to bear on that issue, the then Obasanjo regime refused to budge, probably because the governments in the South Eastern states then were seemingly blind to the prospects of including Imo and Abia States in the committee. I will bet that the many infrastructural projects, employments in key institutions like in the security and oil sectors, which were granted the so-called coastal states, eluded the two Igbo oil producing states.
It took the quiet and effective diplomacy of the present Governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim for the two states to get included in this new platform. He was able to do this by intervening and reaching out to President Yar’Adua, who saw this clear act of injustice and redressed it by including Imo and Abia States in the committee. I don’t really know if the benefits that were already granted the other states were extended to Imo and Abia States at the point of inclusion but I do know that as at today, the two states are correctly enumerated among other oil producing states in the coastal states development commission. Why I recall this incident was because of the attempt to still leave out the two states in the present amnesty package the federal government is enacting for repentant militants.
I want to emphasize a point here. I am not a militant and I don’t know one. While I see reason in what they did to attract attention to the Niger Delta, I never believed in some of their ways. I had, in an earlier report, posited that the Niger Delta needs sincerity of purpose, of the type that will make agitations unnecessary. In that selfsame sincerity, the Niger Delta will directly feel the impact of the billions of petro-dollars that gush out from their land in the enhanced infrastructures and the good standard of living of its people. I believe that the lack of that sincerity is why the region is like the goose that lays the proverbial golden egg but which ironically is left to pine away in unending hunger and want. I believe that if they are well attended, the type of agitation that spew forth the tingling anger in the Niger Delta, which had birthed militancy, would not have happened. For a curative measure against this tidal wave, I had advocated sincerity, which would entail that the chunk of the resources that is harvested from the Niger Delta is ploughed back into the region to uplift the lives of the people, upgrade their infrastructural base, create jobs and make militancy not only unattractive but practically abhorrent. These were contained in an earlier report I did when the restiveness in the Niger Delta was boiling to a scorching level.
Now that the government had gotten the militants to lay down their arms, I strongly believe that it behooves mostly the government to approach the issue of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Niger Delta with utmost sincerity so as to avoid our regressing into the same hell we are migrating from. Let my reader understand that the concept of the Niger Delta is not by any means, geographic but represents the adjective that is used to capture the oil-producing states in Nigeria. It is the context it is used in Nigeria at present. It is the attempt to deliberately misread this that led to the wrong-headed exclusion of Imo and Abia States from the coastal states commission. It is such wrongheaded conception that ensures that some people mischievously try to shut out the two states from benefits that come about from oil production. Perhaps, this accounts for the miserly and contemptuous manner they are treated anytime there are benefits to be shared among the oil producing states.
Such misreading is now showing its hands in the issue of the amnesty package for repentant militants and how it is distributed among the oil producing states. I heard that out of the over N200 billion amnesty packages approved by the federal government, only a paltry N6billion was approved for Imo State. I don’t know the figure for Abia State but I know it would be equally mere pittance. It should be mentioned that this package is being employed to rehabilitate the militants and improve infrastructures in the oil producing states. The shoddy treatment meted to Imo and Abia in this package is a wry way of telling the two states that they are not originally in the picture of the amnesty deal. This is another way of showing the two states that they are being merely tolerated on any issue that hinges on the resolution of what should be a general problem that arose from the injustices meted out to oil producing states. It is either the message is that the militants of the two Igbo oil states are not threatening enough or that the two states only add marginally to the oil belt of the nation. It is either they are not being seen as real, fire-belching militants-whatever that means-or they are dared to show they can bite. Even when it is obvious that the militancy in the Niger Delta region has spawned very serious problems of kidnapping and general insecurity in not only the two Igbo oil states of Imo and Abia but the entire South East, it is clear that the two states are treated with contempt and scorn in dealing with these problems. I don’t think this is acceptable at all.
I really don’t understand the message the federal government intends to send out by this type of treatment. I guess it is to the effect that Igbo militants, whoever they are, should adopt much more hardened and audacious means to make their statement. I wonder why this type of message should be sent to a people that are naturally slow to react to injustice but difficult to control when they start. Let it not be that Igbo are being encouraged to take extreme measures to press their demands because the Nigerian nation would be the worst for it. I hope the people behind this shabby treatment realize that their actions may serve as incentives to more hardened actions and God forbid we should pass this stretch once again.
My opinion is that the problem of militancy arose as a result of the unrequited exploitation of oil from the states that were lucky to have oil deposits. In some states, this anger finds expression in the extensive action of the militants demanding a just recompense from the oil proceeds from the Nigerian nation. In some others, it finds expression in the vending of frustration on the citizens and deigning them as means of extortion. This has unleashed a social potentate that has defied solution in the South East today. Looked at in the best objective ways, the latter is much more far-reaching and very difficult to solve. It is the wild fire, which is known as kidnapping that is ravaging the South East presently. The danger inherent in it is that it started in the oil producing states of the South South and migrated, and indeed, is presently domiciled in the South East. While militancy, of the form we know in the South South, is at very low ebb presently, kidnapping is rampaging like harmattan fire in the entire South East. Either way you look at it, both require surgical intervention that does not approve of the contemptuous way Imo and Abia States are treated in the present amnesty deal. It is obvious that in the present amnesty deal, the government is desirous of treating the symptoms of the crisis, which is the armed insurrection and not the ailment, which is the decay in the oil-producing region that gave birth to militancy. If it is really desirous of treating this ailment, it would have treated the states in proportion to their contribution to the oil chain and not the whimsical manner Imo State is treated in the entire amnesty deal presently.
I am suggesting that an evaluation mechanism be set up to ensure that states get the amnesty grant in proportion to their contribution to the entire oil chain. This will ensure that ,as in the derivation fund and as in the NDDC funding, states with higher oil deposits will get more allocations in the amnesty deal than states with lower deposits. Whimsically allotting mere pittance to Imo and Abia States just because they have not held the country by the jugular is sending a very wrong and dangerous signal that can spark off another fresh round of armed agitation. Nothing should be done to deepen the specter of injustice further because I believe the country will not survive another round of such scary prospect. Let Imo and Abia get their just and fair treatment in the amnesty deal. Let their militants be equally treated as others. This is justice and it should have no colour or emotion attached to it.
Peter Claver Oparah.