Winding down the Niger Delta amnesty programme

The Federal Government penultimate Friday signified its intention to wind down the Presidential Amnesty Programme for the Niger Delta ex-fighters by 2017. Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Programme, Brig.Gen. Paul Boroh, said this while addressing some ex-fighters trained as electrical engineers who were in his office to present their work.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on assumption of office, approved a two-year extension of the programme till 2017. Although there have been calls for further extension of the programme, especially in the face of renewed attacks on oil and gas installations in the region, Boroh said the programme cannot continue indefinitely.

Since 2009, the programme has provided job training and education to former rebels who created havoc in the oil-rich southern region by kidnapping foreign workers and attacking oil facilities, crippling the country’s key industry. It began effectively in 2010 on a five year execution period.

Signals that the federal government has decided to end the programme emerged early this year when the government   earmarked N20 billion for the Presidential Amnesty Office in the 2016 budget; an amount considered by analysts as too small for the operations of the programme considering the number of persons whose tuition fees have to be paid, and those who still have to be enlisted for training.

The budget for the Programme itself had started decreasing in the past few years from more than N70 billion, to about N50 billion in 2015, and the N20 billion for 2016.  On May 29, 2015, Buhari had said that the Programme would end by December 2015, but that his administration would make issues of the Niger Delta a priority.

As the December deadline approached however, different groups started voicing opposition to scrapping it, pointing out the terrible consequences of ending such a programme that has brought peace to the Niger Delta region for five years. Considering the number of trainees still on the programme and the 13,000 persons who are yet to be enlisted for training, the Federal Government, budgeted N20 billion for it in 2016.

Many, particularly in the oil sector, had feared that an end to the amnesty programme could trigger fresh unrest there, and news of the stoppage had caused tensions between Buhari’s   administration and Niger Delta leaders.

Despite being home to Nigeria’s vast oil and gas resources, the Niger Delta states remain underdeveloped and frequent oil spills have devastated the ecosystem and local fishing communities. Some former militants had said they would take up arms again if the payments ended. They said foreign and local companies make billions of dollars pumping crude from the Delta while local communities are polluted and impoverished.

These fears are definitely not unfounded. While the suspicions remain especially with the likes of Niger Delta Avengers looming around the creeks, the federal government had said that while it seeks dialogue to end the agitation in the region, it is not indisposed to using military action. President Buhari has also at some point accused Niger Delta elders and politicians of fuelling tension in the zone.

Since the government has expressed zeal to stop the uncertainty in the area, SHIPS & PORTS DAILY advises that the Niger Delta militants should desist from bombing pipelines and oil installations in the region as any resort to violence and insecurity only leaves trail of tension, neglect, pain and wanton violence in the areas concerned as have been severally seen. Even when security forces move in with the intention of restoring law and order, it is the innocent villagers, in particular women, children, and the old, who suffer most.

The zone is yet to recover from the season of violence which it experienced between 2005 to 2009 and nobody should encourage any more casualties in the name of fighting for supremacy.

Many have called for dialogue which has paid off from the days of Olusegun Obasanjo, to Umaru Yar’Adua and even Goodluck Jonathan to which the country benefited.

Like most statesmen has indicated,  SHIPS & PORTS DAILY  believes that the crisis in the Niger Delta region should be resolved through dialogue; the level of provocation notwithstanding. The federal government must engage all stakeholders in   a round table conference.

Rather than use military might, the government should lay much emphasis on engaging all parties in a discussion. The militants on their own must seize the initiative to restore peace in the region and ensure socioeconomic stability

It is obvious that the return of militancy in the region may not to be unconnected with the fact the certain groups are not happy with the present administration. It could also be retaliation to the confusion caused by Boko Haram to the former President Jonathan administration which some politicians are fuelling. This is why resolving the hydra headed matter should   be handled with utmost caution.



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