18 August 2012

Nigeria: Niger Delta - Beyond the Amnesty Programme


Nigeria is a complex country. It is thus difficult to govern. And part of the difficulty is in the nature and attitude of Nigerians, what is euphemistically described as the "Nigerian Factor". Theories , strategies and policies that work elsewhere, suffer mass failure here.

Last week, I wrote about the abandoned or slow-pace of work on the East-west road in the Niger Delta. Some readers who responded to the article wondered why I was complaining about the state of the road when the Federal Government is running a huge budget in floating the Amnesty programme.

One of the critics fired: "do you know the humongous amount the Federal Government is spending everyday to sustain the Amnesty programme or do you want to sacrifice the rest of the country because of the Niger Delta interest?" His argument suggests that since the Amnesty programme is running, the people of the Niger Delta should take solace in that programme and "feel cool".

While I admit the Amnesty programme is indeed running and expensive, I dare say it was not introduced because the federal government loves the people of the Niger Delta. It was more or less an economic strategy by the Federal Government to tame the violence in the region so it could maximize oil exploration and exportation, all for the huge economic benefits thereof to the treasury of the entire nation. Thus far, the volume of crude oil export which dipped to about 700,000 bpd in the troubled days has long risen to about 2.6million bpd. The logic therefore is that if it costs the Federal Government 'X' amount to sustain the Amnesty programme and in return gains 'XY2', then it is worth a price to pay for peace and economic buoyancy.

But the fact remains that beyond the Amnesty Programme, which is benefitting just a handful of erstwhile dangerous militants, the rest of the Niger Delta is writhing in painful neglect. Thus far, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has turned upside down, the wisdom in the saying that "Charity begins from home". As far as we can see, Charity is neither beginning at home, nor even abroad. There is a disturbing state of inertia, or so it seems.

If the Jonathan administration were to end like this, what shall the people of the region say they gained from a government presided over by their son?

The amnesty programme, it must be pointed out, is largely being enjoyed by Ijaw youths. Ijaws alone do not make up the Niger Delta region. There is hardly anything else for the rest of the Niger Delta populace. Not even the Niger Delta ministry is thinking of spreading the presence of the Federal Government across the region. The measly programmes of the ministry have hardly gone beyond Burutu and Yenagoa (both Ijaw communities), seeming to suggest, albeit wrongly, that the more violent you are, the more beneficial attention you get from resource dispensers.

Even then, the template that produced the Amnesty programme contained many other activities. The Ledum Mitee committee that preceded the Amnesty programme had recommended Amnesty , just as a part of many other programmes. There were plans to undertake New Town Development, build the Coastal road, build regional railway network, encourage the private sector to develop industrial clusters, and of course, complete the long-drawn East-West road. As it seems, as soon as the Amnesty programme commenced and peace was restored enough to begin massive oil exportation, all the other parts of the committee's report was dumped, without thinking of the possible consequences of short-circuiting the peace package.

Now, the Amnesty graduates are returning to "nothingness" . Not many of them undertook entrepreneurial trainings as to know how to float their own endeavours. Many of them will yet depend on paid employments to earn a living. And when such opportunities are not there, trouble lurks around the corner. Is it any wonder that oil theft, illegal bunkering, kidnapping are rebounding in the region?

But the bigger challenge is that aside the Niger Delta region, not much is seen in the rest of the country. It was thrilling reading of performance claims by the Federal Government in the papers recently. I am aware that in 2005, Aragba-Orogun, Delta State and my wife's village, was listed (in an advertorial) as having benefited from a Federal Government water Project under former Minister of Water Resources, Muhktar Shagari. But till date, seven years after, no such project ever got to the village or anywhere within 20 kilometer radius of the village.

Simply put, what they submit as completed projects, sometimes, exist only in the clerical imagination of the contractors and their collaborators within government. So we are not taken-in by those 'paper claims' which are sometimes not more than mere PR stunts.

If there is any doubt about a regional disenchantment, the renewed disquiet in Ogoni land and now Bakassi land, plus other yet-to-be-loud grumblings in other ethnic groupings, are only a pointer to the discontent with the status quo.

But even if we were to go back to the Amnesty Programme which is, so far, doing fairly well, especially with the training of professional skilled force, including even pilots, what is the job assurance for these soon-to-return skilled persons? Aside the Boko Haram menace wracking the polity, another time bomb in the corner is the growing army of unemployed persons in the country. Wherever you turn, you are hit by a platoon of educated but frustrated young men and women, frantically searching for "just anything to do". Having a degree or even Masters Degree is no longer a ticket to basic living. And the government does not seem to be demonstrating appreciable concern. All that we are told are reharshed platitudes by government officials who don't even believe the lies they tell us. Everyday, the economy is shrinking. But their statistics say it is rebounding. No wonder Chukwuma Soludo, former CBN Governor asked if we believe Nigerian statistics.

Perhaps the greater worry is that the hope that there is yet some time for the Jonathan administration to recoup some of its fading goodwill, is being shattered by the growing attention towards the 2015 debacle. The Federal Government had claimed that it was yet too early to concern itself with the 2015 elections, preferring to focus on the business of governance, yet the body language and even escaping utterances of top government officials are indicative that 2015 is an issue now. Meaning: not much time will be devoted to governance and development, but political plots and strategies.

But all is not lost. President Jonathan, on whom the whole issues rests, must rescue his administration from the mandarins. He must re-jig his programmes as it is clear that we cannot just continue like this.

Copyright © 2012 This Day. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.