Nigeria: Rebellion and the aftermath of an expired amnesty

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The Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), a rebel group that has been dormant in the past years, has described the just expired presidential amnesty to militants of the Niger Delta as a calculated plot to divert attention from the region’s under-development and right to self willpower.

NDPVF’s lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, insisted that the rebels of the Niger Delta had done nothing wrong and needed no pardon. “Amnesty means ‘We forgive you’, but there is nothing to forgive here if you are fighting for the self-determination of your people. “They [militants] are saying: ‘Give us our resources to control, you have no right to control our resources on our behalf and no amount of intimidation or amnesty can make us lose focus of that fact,'” he said. According to Keyamo, President Umaru Yar’Adua does not have the power to grant pardons when nothing has been done wrong; the amnesty was a means to frighten everybody in the Niger Delta into submission and silence.

The concerns of the NDPVF militants were echoed by Reverend Stephen Davis, a former adviser to two Nigerian presidents on the Niger Delta. Rev. Davis expressed doubts about the amnesty, saying that the underlying political and economic landscape has not changed: “There are still no jobs for disaffected youths, powerful people in Nigeria continue to make money from oil theft and political godfathers will still need young men with guns in order to secure their positions.”

However the reverend has been called a mischievous nay-sayer by members of the amnesty committee who believe that jobs and economic development would come now there is peace and security. The 60-day amnesty offered cash, education and rehabilitation for fighters who disarmed. Most prominent militant leaders have accepted the amnesty to end years of attacks on the Nigerian oil industry, while some militants are reluctant to give up their arms and the lucrative oil-theft business.

Questions over militant legitimacy

Although Nigeria is the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter, the rebellion unrest has prevented it from pumping to its production capacity, hence losing its position as Africa’s oil giant, to Angola. In his June 25 article, ‘Reflections of the Niger Delta,’ Nigerian journalist, Edwin Madunagu sought to know if the so called militant activities could be qualified as, “an armed political rebellion, or armed banditry? […] a legitimate and justifiable liberation struggle or sheer criminality? Has any state – ancient or modern – ever recognised any armed challenge to its power as legitimate? Put more directly, which state has ever portrayed armed rebels as better than, or rather, different from, bandits and criminals? We may be more historically specific and concrete. Was the armed group led by Isaac Adaka Boro to challenge the power and authority of the Nigerian State in the Niger Delta in January and February 1966 a legitimate liberation movement or an ordinary criminal gang?”

Activists and former Nigerian government advisers have insisted that the oil bunkering business of the Niger Delta, the process by which Nigeria is losing billions of dollars every year was perpetuated by Nigerian syndicates and rogue international traders, leaving in their wake chaos and misery for the people of the Niger Delta. In order to get away with the theft, the bunkering syndicates operate under the cloak of the conflict between militants and oil companies in the Niger Delta. But observers quoting sources close to the former government of President Olusegun Obasanjo said “the problem is not about quashing militants in boats. Some of the people who run the cartels are among Nigeria’s top political ‘godfathers’, who wield massive political influence.”

Others have questioned the longterm effect of the financially backed amnesty, while gross human rights violations continue to occur in the Delta region. It is believed that a similar agreement between the Nigerian government and the Delta militants in 2008, brought about only eight months of relative peace. As oil prices fell, so did the rate of theft and pipeline sabotage. Local human-rights campaigners have confirmed that since May 15, helicopters and naval gunships have killed hundreds of civilians and displaced thousands more. Government forces, they say, have shown scant regard for civilians. Conversely, the Nigerian government forces are now poised to unleash terror in the poverty-stricken Delta, should any rebellion break, following the expiration of the presidential amnesty.

It is widely believed that if the authorities do not tackle the source of the problem the rebels would always have a good excuse to continue their nefarious activities. But curbing the problem of militancy in the region by virtue of tackling poverty would also require a crackdown on Nigeria’s top political ‘godfathers’, those described as the brains behind oil siphoning cartels. The Nigerian government has a long way to go.

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