Consolidating on the Yar’Adua/Jonathan Niger Delta Amnesty Programme

By Akanbi Thani

Undoubtedly, the country is faced with many challenges occasioned by developments on both the national and international arena.

These challenges, largely in the areas of economy and security, have been tackled by the administration in the best way possible.

Since a new democratically elected government is on the way by 2023, we are taking a look at the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme used by the administration of former Presidents Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan to see how it can be adopted, modified or reviewed to tackle current challenges.

 When the initiative started it was described as unsustainable, too late, and unrealistic. There was also skepticism in view of the prevailing situation in the region. The security forces were fully engaged in the mix of the socio-economic and political crises in the region, coupled with high level of banditry, illiteracy and unemployment.

Amorphous bands of militants ravaged the Niger Delta by engaging in piracy, oil bunkering, hostage for ransom and pipeline vandalism.

This, no doubt, made oil production unsustainable. The region at a time also witnessed environmental pollution. This was further compounded due to deep seated feelings of utter neglect, marginalization and exclusion among the people of the region.

Niger Deltans then did not pretend that they had lost confidence in the ability of the three tiers of government to address their problems.

At the time of inception of the amnesty programme, oil production from the region which stood at 2.2 million barrel per day plummeted to about 700,000.

This was a frightening scenario for a nation dependent on almost 80 per cent of public sector revenues from oil.

The situation meant substantial revenue loss to the three tiers government, reduced oil flow to the world market; reneging on Nigeria’s quota production, increasing prices in the oil market as well as drawing the attention of the world to Nigeria.

The circumstance required not only urgent solution, but also a permanent one. For this abiding and urgent need, then President Yar’Adua and his Vice Jonathan, took the bull not only by the horn, but also by the tail in a bid for a final and sustainable solution.

Of course, the government had a serious conviction that the time was ripe for political and economic amnesty.

This was consequently adopted as an art of forgivingness in the belief that those who had committed atrocities will abandon such callous behavior by embracing peace and participate in the amnesty programme.

The full implementation of the amnesty in earnest began with the setting up of a Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament for Niger Delta to work out modalities for the implementation of the declaration.

This was followed by the establishment of the Office of Amnesty Programme under the presidency and a special adviser appointed, with the release of N20billion as take-off grant.

The unconditional pardon to all persons, who committed offences directly or indirectly, took effect upon immediate surrender and handing over of all weapons, arms and ammunitions as well as the renunciation of banditry and militancy. The gesture saw the immediate surrender of more than 30,000 militants from 24 insurgents groups that had been making life unbearable to Nigerians.    

Yar’Adua died before the full fruition of the initiative and it became the duty of then President Jonathan to see the full implementation indigene of the region, it was his responsibility to now bring peace and stability to his homeland.

The stoppage of hostilities in the region brought about instant peace while a host of other criminal activities such as hostage taking for ransom, pipeline vandalism, oil bunkering and piracy ceased, bringing stability to the region.

Yar’Adua and Jonathan

The peace and stability achieved led to increased oil exploration and exploration from mere 700,000 barrels per day in 2008 to 2.2 million barrels per day by the end of 2009. The region also witnessed series of investments and other economic activities arising from the confidence created by the nation in the fulfillment of its constitutional obligations to major oil companies as well as its quota as assigned by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The Amnesty Programme through its rehabilitation and re-integration programme also recorded a substantial success. It not only provided a stipend of N65,000 as monthly allowance to those who surrendered arms and registered under the rehabilitation programme, trainings for skills acquisition was also guaranteed.

The vocations offered included auto mechanics, welding and under water welding, ICT, sea fearing and other services and food processing among others.

Under the programme, more than 20,000 ex-militants acquired various skills and were rehabilitated and resettled. More than 2,600 ex-combatants were sent to various school across the world including Britain, Italy, Malaysia, US, South Africa and India among others for training in order to meet the needs in the petroleum industry as part of the administration’s local content development initiative.

Under the programme, 490 youths were trained in food processing, 7,000 ex-combatants gained employment in some oil industries while 400 youths acquired skills in under water and pipelines welding. About 70 were trained as commercial pilots and a similar number as aviation maintenance engineers among others.

Since the implementation of the programme in 2009 and till date, more than 100,000 youths have benefitted from various skills development programmes initiated over the years. It appears a permanent peace is reigning in the Niger Delta region courtesy of the Amnesty programme and its full implementation.

If there was no peace or the amnesty did not serve as a panacea, billions of Naira would have been wasted in the name of securing the region and the nation could have suffered economic retardation as a result of huge losses of millions of dollars revenues oiling the nation’s economy. Industrial capacity utilization and other economic activities would have gone down, resulting in huge unemployment, leading ultimately to more socio-economic crises and conflicts across the country.   

There is no doubt that this kind of intervention, for which many were skeptical about, has recorded substantial successes in resolving a major crisis that faced the country. It is today a panacea that can be replicated in other parts of the country at least in its spirit and purposes.

There is no need for argument as to whether such militants, bandits, insurgents groups in other parts of the country such Boko Haram members who renounce violence and their extreme ideology deserved such treatment.

The most important thing is to ensure criminals renounce violence and engage in the nation’s development process, acquire necessary skills, and become responsible members of the society.

Nigeria today cannot neglect the greatest threat to its existence- millions of idle youths ready for crises.

When for instance 13 million children of school age are roaming the streets without clear focus and direction, more than 100,000 armed bandits inhabiting our forests without a clear political or economic objectives, when millions of displaced persons as a results of various conflicts and banditry are idling in all states without a clue to any better future, and when million of herders had lost an estimated two million cattle without an inkling for another source of living in the near future and when there is a perpetual  conflict between farmers and herders, leading to monumental economic loss; and when there is socio-economic conflicts, either instigated by ethnic or regional reasons, then the panacea is nothing else, but the Niger Delta Amnesty approach which recorded resounding success.

The North, as elsewhere in Nigeria is not immune to poverty, illiteracy and high level of unemployment. It is indeed regarded as the poorest in all indexes of human development. This is where there is in existence a large swarm of uneducated, unemployed, hungry and angry youths, willing to be recruited for violence at the prompting of religion or ethnicity.

To address this humongous problem requires the Yar’Adua/Jonathan Amnesty approach with all its intervention initiatives of training, skills acquisition and opening of employment opportunities. The present and future administrations in Nigeria have no option than to invest huge resources to secure the future of the nation in terms of its security and corporate existence.

This is the elixir our teeming youths look forward to and so deserve as the nation gallops toward the 2023 general elections.