14 September 2012

Nigeria: Closing the Amnesty Programme


The federal government's amnesty programme instituted to re-educate and rehabilitate repentant armed militants and facilitate acquisition of skills aimed at discouraging youth restiveness in the Niger Delta entered a new but previously unscheduled phase recently.

Last week, some 3,642 "ex-militants" were added to the programme. According to the Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, this 3rd phase needed to be embarked upon because "of agitation from those that were not considered in the earlier phases", noting that the security agencies had collected their arms which was a precondition for inclusion in the programme. The only alternative was to return their arms; "but if we are not going to return their arms, then they should be included in the programme", Kuku argued.

The original programme under which some 26,368 people benefited was to have closed since 2010, and anyone who took up arms beyond this date would be deemed to be a criminal and be charged as such. At its inception, the amnesty programme was greeted with huge opposition and for good reason too, because an amnesty for those who were, from all intents and purposes, brigands and had taken up arms against the state was tantamount to setting free felons who should have been hunted down and put behind bars. Late President Umar Yar' adua, whose administration established the programme, however embarked on it anyway, in order to partly address the agitation for resource control from the Niger Delta that was fuelling the activities of the militants. The programme was meant to be a politically expedient stop-gap measure until a more enduring structure is put in place to take care of real and imagined grievances of the Niger Delta region.

But rather than winding up the programme as expected and making the formal structures take charge of its empowerment and enlightenment functions, a third phase is now in place, thereby effectively prolonging its existence unnecessarily, even illegally. Yet, it should be clear that the longer the programme is kept, so long will the tendency it purports to be fighting continue to be romanticized. The danger in this is that there would never be any shortage of indolent young men who, because they are unable to make headway in legitimate ventures, would resort to militancy and proceed to constitute themselves into a nuisance. Once the notion becomes deep-seated that all it takes to be enlisted as a militant is to don some worn-out fatigue, chant war song and brandish weapon, then there would be no end to this sordid tendency. The appropriate measure to take therefore is to put in place the machinery to wind down the programme.

Doing so would in no way impede the various social and economic programmes targeted at the Niger Delta region by the federal government to redress past neglect as is being done through the ministry of Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to which the federal government has made huge outlays of funds for the human and physical development of the region. Indeed it could serve as a first step in streamlining and coordinating the many organs charged with delivering development to the Niger Delta, thereby instilling probity and accountability to the entire project.

But Mr Kuku's suggestion that this new batch be enlisted or their weapons be handed back to them is patently unhelpful and hints at blackmail. It is a tacit acknowledgement that militancy is a worthwhile venture in the absence of any action to mitigate their condition. The problem with that view is that it is capable of emboldening the youth to take to militancy and perpetrate mayhem and destruction. Officials like Kuku charged with handling important government assignment must be circumspect with their utterances in order to avoid rendering their work counter-productive.

However, with the establishment of other formal institutions such as NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta, it is about time to reconsider the existence of the amnesty programme and dismantle the bureaucracy that sustains it, because its continuous operation is duplication of the functions of other organizations.

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