26 January 2013

Nigeria: What Does Dokubo-Asari Really Want?

We have always said what we have on (the) ground (the Presidential Amnesty Programme) is successful.

Today people are being trained oversees in various skills and in the universities, and the Niger Delta area is now better for it.

There is no doubt that the amnesty programme is very successful" - Mujahid Dokubo-Asari during a press conference at the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, in September 2012.

Leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, remains the most lionized among the contemporary crop of those who hogged the headlines on account of their armed struggle for resource control in Nigeria's Niger Delta.

After his detention and treasonable felony trial during the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, Dokubo-Asari was much sought by newsmen, who believed he symbolized the fight for justice not only in the Niger Delta but also for other marginalized zones within the Nigerian federation.

At the time, his NDPVF was at the forefront of the other groups. Indeed, it appeared to be the only one that registered an attractive presence both in the media and in the trenches. Other groups came later, either as offshoots of NDPVF or outright copycats of his group.

Dokubo-Asari's days in the gulag was however cut short when he was released by then President Umaru Yar'Adua in 2007.

Two years later, the late Nigerian leader granted unconditional pardon through a presidential amnesty to all those who had fought the state in the Niger Delta, a reprieve that was however spurned by Dokubo-Asari. He rather went to court to challenge its legality.

Hailed as a masterstroke in the tradition of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt war-ravaged Europe after the global conflict between 1939-1945, the amnesty programme has since 2009 redirected the tragic trajectory of Nigeria on the way to economic destruction and towards recovery and hope.

Now it has created an ambience for more crude production, and therefore more earnings for the country. Without doubt, it is proving a great success under the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan presidency, with thousands of Niger Delta youths causing havoc in the region freed from violence and kitted with skills and monetary empowerment to lead a decent life and contribute their quota to society.

But despite rejecting the tag of an ex-militant, Dokubo-Asari has benefitted immensely from the amnesty. He is said to have benefitted from mouth-watering training contracts for some of the former agitators in neighbouring Benin Republic and in faraway northern Cyprus.

It is, therefore, curious that after lauding the programme as being very successful (as seen in the quote above), he has attempted lately to reverse himself by declaring that amnesty is a "fraud" as reported in an interview he granted a weekly magazine recently.

We must look beyond the mischief of doublespeak implied in Dokubo-Asari's critical stance in order to understand his apparent U-turn. As part of the amnesty deal (that he initially spurned), a pipeline protection contract was awarded by the NNPC to Dokubo-Asari's company and some of the 'elite' former militant leaders.

But Dokubo-Asari's contract, in particular, was reportedly revoked on grounds of non-performance and in strict adherence to due process and prudent management principles of the current administration.

Since then, the former warlord has been hopping from one newspaper page to another criticizing the President. He mourns: "If Jonathan takes my pipeline contract from which I am making N15million every month then I become a destitute ... if Jonathan with all my contributions, cancels my pipeline protection contract ... I will fight him." So, this is the reason for the war against Jonathan, which we are all witnessing now.

But he cuts a pitiable picture if he rubbishes a nationally and globally hailed amnesty programme on the basis of a President's exaltation of due process and protection of the country's wealth from the greedy palate of one person.

If, as he claims, he has paid his dues and so deserves to be recognized, it cannot certainly be at the price of impoverishing the majority and enriching one man!

It should not also drag Dokubo-Asari into the murky pastime of dimly viewing amnesty as a "fraud". A "fraud" cannot empower thousands of youths that were hopeless three years back.

It cannot triple crude production, which had declined to an all-time low before the amnesty proclamation. Finally, it cannot be offering a mouth-watering N15million every month to an ex-warlord!

•Ebitebe Akpoemi is an Abuja-based public affairs commentator

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