By Binebai Princewill
The presidential Amnesty Programme commenced on Thursday, July 11, 2009 when a proclamation of amnesty for Niger Delta militants who had engaged in the armed struggle for a better deal in the nation’s oil gains. In granting unconditional amnesty for the agitators, the late Yar’Adua opened a window for a period of 60 days for the agitators to lay down their arms in exchange for amnesty as a step towards redressing the adverse security situation in the oil rich Niger Delta region which had almost brought the nation’s economy to its knees. The measure was also aimed at stabilizing, consolidating and maintaining security in the region as a pre-requisite for promoting economic development. He was right on target.
Years later, the Presidential Amnesty Programme [PAP], it’s indeed a new dawn with a bright future. Prior to the proclamation of amnesty when guns boomed in the creeks of the Niger Delta, Nigeria lost over one million barrels of crude oil per day [bpd] estimated to be about N8.7 billion [$58m] as at May 2009. This followed a drastic reduction of the daily crude oil production figure from 2.2 million bpd to an abysmal 700,000 bpd when the Niger Delta insurgency reached a boiling point in January 2009. The cut in oil production had earlier robbed the country of over $20 billion in 2008, just as the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas [NLNG] reportedly lost over $2 billion in 2009. The toll was not limited to the economy as over 1000 lives were said to have been lost in 2008 alone, while 128 persons were allegedly kidnapped within one year [January 2008 to January 2009].
As the crises raged, production and construction firms which were working in the area including Wilbros, Michelin, Julius Berger, as well as small and medium scale enterprises [SMEs] laid off their workers in the Niger Delta and pulled out of the region, a situation that led to the stalling of the East-West Road project for over two years. These had disastrous consequences on the nation and its citizens as several other multinational companies relocated not only from the area but also from Nigeria. The country lost billions of Naira that would have accrued from oil revenue to the Federation Account, even as oil and gas companies which remained in the region with a resolve to weather the storm were compelled to cough out a whopping $3 billion annually to secure their facilities and installations, as critical infrastructure, especially pipelines, became targets of serial attack. Again, this propelled the slamming of an outrageous $90 million p.a. premium Marine War Risk Insurance for cargo into Nigeria.
Against the backdrop of a vision to transform the ex-combatants from militancy to gainful employment and ultimately change agents, captains of the PAP adopted the United Nations [UN] –prescribed Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration [DDR] intervention model, but developed a home-grown process which has become a global reference point.
The initial disarmament and documentation process spanned a period of 60 days between August/October 2009, and involved all known militant groups in the Niger Delta, with 20,192; 6,166, and 3,642 ex-agitators disarmed in the first, second and final phases respectively, in an exercise which is arguably the most successful disarmament exercise in the history of DDR in Africa. The recovered arms and ammunition including explosives, light and heavy weapons, were publicly destroyed at a designated site at Lokpanta, Enugu State, on May 25, 2011.
Pursuant to its mandate, the Presidential Amnesty Programme entered the next phase of demobilization via engagement of the ex-agitators in a non-violence transformation training geared towards erasing their belief in violence and offering them nonviolence as a veritable alternative to achieving development and progress in the Niger Delta. The ex-agitators are currently in various stages of reintegration.
Remarkably, women were also involved in the process, with 822 of them participating in the Amnesty Programme. Interestingly, some of the women were at the demobilization camp with their children, just as there were a few child births during their participation in camp. But their attendance of the transformation camp was restricted to batches 1, 11 and 12, to allow for the kind of special attention required of their gender.
It is unarguable that during the wake of the agitation in the region, High Chief Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo, contributed majorly for the realisation of what is today known as the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme and with others in Delta State.
When the Federal Government begins to appoint people to lead the office in order to do justice to the already laid down template of the Programme, the Federal Government despite Delta State contributing a major part of the struggle that gave birth to the Amnesty Programme first appointed Timi Alaebe from Bayelsa State to man the office.
What followed next was Hon. Kingsley Kuku from Ondo State who continued from where his former boss Timi Alaebe stopped.
When it comes to the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, he appointed Brig. Gen. Paul Boroh from Bayelsa State again to man the office and thereafter, President Buhari later appointed Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo from Rivers State to man the office which he ruled until his removal from office.
The point is that, Delta State despites its contributions in the system is yet to have a sense of belonging in the Amnesty office by being appointed as coordinator of the Amnesty Programme.
Indeed, Delta has Ijaw men with full capacities that if given the job will deliver fully to the admiration of all in the region and the country at large.
This is the right and perfect time to appoint an Ijaw from Delta to take charge of the Amnesty Programme as the state is uniquely blessed with lots of ebullient personalities to manage PAP to achieve its set goals.
Delta State has been shortchanged for too long and the time to get it right is now, President Muhammadu Buhari and other relevant stakeholders in the polity must look into this matter with all sense of fairness and act accordingly as posterity will always smile at him. Let an Ijaw from Delta occupy that office as its coordinator now.