How Niger Delta Amnesty Failed – West | Independent Newspapers Limited
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How Niger Delta Amnesty Failed – West

Posted: Jul 24, 2015 at 12:56 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Soalabo West is a specialist in Environmental Law and Co-Ordinator of Support Our Troops (a Non-Governmental Organisation). In this interview with DANIEL ABIA, he speaks on the amnesty programme set up by late president Umaru Yar’Adua; demands made by the people of the Niger Delta, and other issues. Excerpts…

What role did you play in the effort of the government to quell militancy in the Niger Delta? Did you as an energy and environmental lawyer advise any of the more prominent militants?

I did not advise or represent a specific militant because I was involved in the process of consultation that culminated in what we now refer to as the amnesty programme. I was involved because I am from Buguma in Rivers State. Some of our youths were involved in militancy. There are some islands in Kalabari land where I come from and some of the militants have taken them over and were living there and fomenting trouble. They had lost confidence in the oil companies and were quite suspicious of the role of government in the indifferent attitude of the oil companies to their plight.


Were you involved in the team that was put together by the Rivers State government that was led by Chief Albert Horsfall to reintegrate Rivers indigenes who went astray to return to normal life after militancy?

No. I was not part of his team. There were a lot of people out there who were working behind the scene to convince our youths to drop their arms and seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis. For me, I went to the bushes and creeks and spoke with a lot of militants.


Was the amnesty programme on the cards during your consultations with the militants?

What most people do not realize is that amnesty was the last demand. We actually demanded for other welfare packages with amnesty coming last. But Yar’adua looked at the whole package, took amnesty and abandoned every other prerequisite made to his government. We wanted the government to pull out the troops and stop the killing of our people. We wanted to reassure our people of the corporate existence of the Nigerian and give them a sense of belonging that they are still part of Nigeria. Yar’dua thought that amnesty will put an end to the agitation in the Niger Delta region. We all now know that granting amnesty has not solved the other problems that are still before us today. I still believe that we should go back to some of the documents we were putting together at that time and take a more detailed look at some of the demands we had put before the Yar’Adua government.


Would you say the amnesty programme has succeeded?

As far as I am concerned, the amnesty programme has failed.


Why did it fail?

Amnesty has changed the value system of our people. It made some people to feel that they can get rich without doing anything. The amnesty programme is not sustainable. No society can grow and develop on the back of handouts. Developed countries don’t want to give aids to African countries anymore because they have come to realize that continuous financial aids will not make African countries to grow. The world is not designed to work on free handouts. So, for you to get amnesty there need to be prerequisites. Who says all those who went abroad for training as pilots or marine engineering were former militants? Or all those who were sent abroad for skill acquisition were former militants? The militants that were actively involved in the struggle were very few. It beats my imagination that a programme fashioned to ignore the cultural work ethics of a people only to tell them we will give you some money up to December 2015, so that we can drill the crude oil in your land. How can such the programme work? How can that work? They still will not allow you to take the oil after you stop paying them on December 2015. So, we have achieved nothing and that is how I see the amnesty programme. For me, the amnesty programme is a failed project. Unless President Muhammadu Buhari wants to continue paying the militants which we can’t even afford anymore because of the poor state of our economy.  So, it is like we have, inadvertently, boxed ourselves into the precarious situation that we found ourselves in 2007 which is really unfortunate. If we stop paying the militants after December 2015, and the boys decide to go back to the bushes and insist that you cannot drill the oil what are we going to do next?


What would you have suggested in place of the amnesty?

We had identified the problems in 2007. Look, we have militants who do not know what else to do in life. Rightly or wrongly, they believe that you are taking their oil wrongly and they were not benefitting from the proceeds of the oil. I think the first thing that we should have done is to explain to them that they are part of Nigeria and that the oil you are taking from their land is also for their benefit. And you must practically demonstrate this fact to them. We have far more local governments in the Northern states compared to states of the same size in the South. If you consider the allocation that goes to local governments you will appreciate the point that I am making. What comes to the oil producing states is derivation. The first important step is to restructure the country. The states that were created along with Rivers State in 1967 now have far more local governments that Rivers State. Rivers State has 23 local governments. Jigawa State was created from Kano State: Kano State has 44 local governments while Jigawa State has 34 local governments. You can imagine the disparity. Bayelsa State that was created from Rivers State has eight local governments. So, between Rivers and Bayelsa State you have 31 local governments compared to 78 between Kano and Jigawa States. Does this make any sense? It doesn’t, of course! Our youths have been indoctrinated about the politics of Nigeria. They have also told them the lopsidedness involved in the mathematics in the creation of local government that I have just told you. How does anyone believe that giving a young man who understands these uneven creation of local governments can be pacified by giving him cash every month in the name of amnesty to allow him allow you to drill oil in his community? It is not possible because the man will collect the money and simply wait for you to come and collect oil because he knows you will one day come to collect more oil from his community.