When Umaru Yar’Adua died, our leaders needed to say one or two good things about his life as Nigeria’s President. They didn’t have many options to point out as the successes of a President whose tenure was impaired by his ill health.
But then suddenly, everyone remembered that the late President had granted amnesty to militants who had terrorised residents in the Niger Delta and soon after, everyone with access to the media began to speak of the amnesty programme as a major achievement of the administration.
In effect, our leaders were praising a policy that rewarded people who had become outlaws because their governments connived with multinational oil firms to exploit their resources while destroying their environment and failing to develop the region. As expected, many Nigerians joined in saying how much the amnesty programme helped in restoring order in the Niger Delta. Few spoke out against the perception that amnesty to militants was an achievement.
In reality though, the amnesty deal with militants was more a curse than a blessing. There are many reasons for this conclusion but the most important is that the programme is indicative of the Yar’Adua administration’s laziness and failure to deal with the insecurity challenges criminal activities in the Niger Delta presented. To be fair to the administration, unrest in the Delta was a problem it inherited from the Obasanjo administration which, cowardly, failed to take any action – whether military or diplomatic – in solving the problem. To that extent, the Yar’Adua administration can get credit for initiating the policy it hoped would check strife in the Delta. But if the policy makers of that administration thought the amnesty deal was a solution, they failed to see that it would create long term security problems; problems that would spread from the Niger Delta into other areas of our country.
As a direct result of our policy to ‘reward’ militants for their crimes, there has been an alarming increase in cases of kidnapping in the South East. Media reports , especially after the recent kidnap of four journalists, indicate kidnappers are upset with the governments’ lack of vision for the youth and are perpetrating the crime in the hope that some sought of amnesty deal will be arranged to pacify them. In reality, kidnappers are not ‘fighting’ for development, they only want a share the ‘national cake’. Besides, the amnesty deal offered militants is too attractive to any group of criminals to resist.
As you may know, the so-called former militants have been placed on a tax- free monthly ‘salary’ of N65, 000; not to mention that they are undergoing free training in many vocations. Picture this: in my Benue State, a graduate civil servant is paid around N15, 000 per month from which their tax is deducted! This means the tax-paying graduate civil servant in my state earns about four times less than the guy who, only nine or so months ago, was bombing down oil facilities, harassing residents in Port Harcourt, killing those who stood in the way, and hiding in the creeks; from the law! Some of the ex-militants will undergo seafarer training in Norway, get a university scholarship and direct employment.
“You will have an opportunity to undergo a Seafarer training in Norway after this. This programme also offers you a four-year university scholarship, after which you are assured of a job,” Timi Alaibe, the amnesty programme’s chairman, said during the opening of the ex-militant’s camp in Cross River.
Now, this is the perfect package any Nigerian youth would hope to get in a country where many cannot get education ,want to travel abroad and are not sure of jobs after school. The reasoning among criminals now is if militants could make money committing crimes and then get paid to be trained at home and abroad; and then get paid to be employed to earn a living, why wouldn’t kidnappers get it? I know you are now reconsidering your profession.
This is the reality of what Yar’Adua and his team did: they made a life of crime pay and in the process made crime attractive. To be fair to them, the offer of amnesty was an act of diplomatic genius that is very rare in our country. It was a welcome departure from the days of the Obasanjo administration in which scores were settled by drafting the army to ‘level down’ villages. Its failings lie in the government’s failure to deal with the very issues that caused unrest in the Niger Delta and insecurity across the rest of the country. Curiously, the amnesty deal did not promise that Niger Delta governors and other leaders would stop stealing from allocations to the area; it did not say gas flaring will end; neither did it guarantee the people will see concrete projects executed in the area. This is why I say the problem of the Niger Delta is inward. They complain the federal government is taking from them and not developing the area but picture how much money is available to the Niger Delta states:
1) The Federal Government gives all 36 states money in form of federal allocation (my state, Benue, depends only on this)
2) The Niger Delta states (only them) get 13% of all the money Nigeria makes from its oil deals. Funds from here go to the Niger Delta Development Commission for projects in the area.
3) There is a ministry of Niger Delta which is also mandated to execute projects in the area.
4) Niger Delta states make huge revenue from taxes paid by multinational companies operating in the area as well as the people who migrate there for work or business (NOTE: in Benue, there is only one manufacturing company; Dangote’s Benue Cement. Coca Cola have closed shop there and the other is a dying brewery). Note too that for years, Lagos was depending only on internal revenue when Obasanjo refused to give it allocation.
5) Multinational companies and others execute projects in the area as part of their corporate social responsibility. So Shell or Mobil have projects at Uniport for instance, foreign scholarship schemes and many roads in Bayelsa, Delta or Rivers.
6) Then, international donor agencies, concerned about the lack of development, have numerous development programmes in the area. UNICEF, OXFAM and co are few examples.
These are the opportunities that exist in the Niger Delta, which the government failed to take advantage of in developing the area and checking agitation. Instead, it decided to make an allocation in billions of naira to a programme that will rehabilitate ONLY ex-militants who submitted arms. The questions they have dodged since they conceived the programme are; what is the assurance these batches of militants undergoing rehabilitation are the last? If the programme is only for militants, what is the provision for the youth who have avoided a life of crime? What is the guarantee that after spending so much on the militants, they will not choose, in the future, to return to the life they grew used to (remember how they terrorised Uniport students last year and spread fear in Abuja a few weeks ago?)
The questions are many. Instead of answering them, our government decided to offer amnesty to militants. Well, my advice to Goodluck Jonanthan has not changed; he should offer amnesty to kidnappers too…and then prepare funds for when we will have terrorists. For what it’s worth, I should say I am buying me a gun. That may be my ticket to joining my good friend Sylvia in Stockholm.