Friday, 5 February 2016

NIGER DELTA MERITS IMPROVED AMNESTY PROGRAMME

It is sad that after seven years of implementing an amnesty offer generally thought to be a master-stroke by the then Umaru Yar’Adua administration, militants in the Niger Delta are beating the drums of war again and listing conditions for stopping violence in the area. The resurgence of violence in that region is an unhealthy development at a time insurgency in the North East region remains a bad ulcer.

Certainly, the amnesty programme should have been preceded by a more sincere effort on the part of government to tackle the Niger Delta development crisis and thereby inspire the confidence of the people. What should have come first was visible short and long-term investment in the development of the poverty-stricken area, and not palliatives, vague gestures and empty rhetoric.

It is not too surprising, therefore, that the cancer of militancy in the region is relapsing, courtesy of poor management. This unfortunate development has been attributed to a number of factors, including executive inaction on the implications of halting the payment of stipends to the repentant militants by the end of last year. Besides, there have been reports of callous neglect of overseas students on the ticket of Niger Delta Office in the presidency.

Indeed, students on this platform have reportedly suffered some indignity as a result of failure to pay fees and maintenance allowances in different parts of the world. What is obvious, in the circumstances, is that privileges being enjoyed by the ex-militants in the area have been withdrawn without any constructive engagement with the beneficiaries most of whom do not have alternative means of livelihood.

This has, therefore, triggered renewed agitations, with serious implications for peace and stability in the area. Certainly, the governors of Niger Delta States should do better in terms of engaging the Federal Government for a development agenda that can affect quality of life in the area. The youths that have spoken on behalf of the militants and concerned people have appropriately insisted on a meeting with the Minister of Petroleum Resources to resolve recent developments.

It is also curious that while most of the militants are asking for a fine-tuning of the privileges being withdrawn, some others are still asking for amnesty, which they expect to attract fresh privileges. This action speaks volumes about the fact that the Niger Delta challenge is far from being over.

And it must be tackled urgently and sincerely in public interest. All the stakeholders must continue to deepen understanding of the Niger Delta issue as a national challenge. The Federal Government must integrate the Niger Delta into the national development programme. All the interventionist agencies, including the Ministry of Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Office of Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Amnesty Programme, that have been created to accelerate development in the area have not added much value to affect quality of life, let alone engender development in the area.

Therefore, enough is enough of tokenism and ad-hoc interventions in the Niger Delta. There will be no end to agitation and indeed militancy in the area if tokenism and quick-wins remain the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy in the region.

As desirable as negotiation on the basis of values re-orientation, about the amnesty programmes and other issues in the area, may be the Buhari Administration should raise the bar of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation in the area.

There are a number of projects that can be pursued in the area with some seriousness: There are no good roads yet in the area. The East-West Road has been abandoned. The water is polluted and electricity supply is still a luxury in the area where it exists at all. Good schools, from primary to secondary, not to talk of tertiary institutions, are badly funded. In other words, the people of the Niger Delta remain impoverished.

What is more, why, with all the monies already spent, are there no landmark projects in the area? There are no monuments in the Niger Delta to the huge wealth derived from there. Indeed, all the organisations in the nation’s oil sector, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Headquarters are not even located in the Niger Delta.

Why are the Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF), Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF), and allied government oil and gas-related agencies and firms not located in the area to boost development and employment? Where are the head offices of all the multinational oil companies located? Instead of staying in the Niger Delta, managers of these oil firms are known to daily fly over all the numerous challenges in the area.

Also, the Buhari government should not be carried away by the sentiments of those who keep harping on the sufficiency of the 13 per cent derivation to the Niger Delta states and on the accountability questions therefrom. South-South government may not have done too well but that reference is always provocative in the extreme and the people of Niger Delta deserve better.

Besides, with the nightmare over insurgency in the North East zone, the dire cost and consequences of inattention to the rumbling in the Niger Delta at the moment are just better imagined. Already two refineries have been shut and there are risks of producing crude oil at a rate that is higher than the cost in the market.

In the end, the solution to much of what ails Nigeria is true fiscal federalism, as contained in the last National Conference’s report which must not be allowed to gather further dust on the shelves. (Guardian)