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EXCLUSIVE: Is Amnesty Programme Hijacked?

The Niger Delta crisis has been a major threat to both socio-economic activities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

The Presidential Amnesty Programme commenced July 11, 2009 when a proclamation of amnesty for Niger Delta militants who had engaged in the armed struggle for a better deal in the nation’s oil gains. 

In granting unconditional amnesty for the agitators, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua opened a window for a period of 60 days for the agitators to lay down their arms in exchange for amnesty as a step towards redressing the adverse security situation in the oil rich Niger Delta region which had almost brought the nation’s economy to its knees.

Prior to the proclamation of amnesty when guns boomed in the creeks of the Niger Delta, Nigeria lost over one million barrels of crude oil per day estimated to be about N8.7 billion [$58m] as at May 2009. 

In the last nine years since the introduction of the Amnesty Programme, the Niger Delta region has witnessed relative peace; but not without pockets of agitation.

While the Amnesty Programme successfully paid off ex-militants with training and stipends, it was not able to provide them with jobs. The programme raised expectations that it was not able to meet and these are fuelling criminal activity among those unable to find work.

These may equally have prompted the recent agitation by several ex-militant groups including Niger Delta Agitators Network.

They accused the Presidential Amnesty Programme Office, which is headed by Professor Charles Dokubo of alleged neglect of beneficiaries of the Presidential Amnesty Programme.

In this exclusive interview with Roots TV, the leaders of the group accused the Amnesty Programme Office of alleged corruption and stifling the process of re-integrating ex-militants.

According to Braye Numonde, an HSE Consultant and Spokesperson for the Niger Delta Agitators Network, “there has been impact but because the people have not been properly oriented and they don’t even know where they are going…I am happy for the government of Muhammadu Buhari to have even restructure the process to the level where it is, I’m confident about this government and I am also confident about transformed leadership,  if only Charles Dokubo can sit down with the original beneficiaries of this process, Numonde said.

According to him, “that is why we are calling on the Niger Delta ministry to sit up because the aims of the Niger Delta Ministry are to address issues of insecurity, unemployment and human capital development…”

The group said they will not give up the fight until their demands are met, which includes:

A report by the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme noted that the amnesty package was not part of a broader peace-building strategy for the region.

A considerable volume of arms remain in circulation as the disarmament elements of the programme were weak. 

Speaking further, the group’s National Secretary, Solomon Lawrence Wazolo said, “for nine years now, there have accepted this peace and there have not been any breach of security from our various camps. We have tried to maintain peace all these years telling our boys that the government will come to their aid and every of their submission for empowerment will be fully addressed with time”

And when asked if there has been impact on the region as a result of the amnesty programme, in his response; ” yes you know we as agitators we need to relax our minds for them to confirm our genuineness for accepting peace because if you start collecting empowerment they will think you are going to buy arms’’. “The real beneficiaries of the amnesty have been sidelined and the amnesty programme meant for us the ex-militants have been hijacked by the enemies of Niger delta and Nigeria at large”

The Presidential amnesty officially resulted in the demobilization of 30,000 militants, paying them allowances and providing training for a smaller number. It has noticeably reduced conflict in the region. 

More so, in a bid to upscale infrastructure development and promote peace in the Niger Delta, the Federal Government in the 2020 budget has made a provision of N155 billion for some special interventions in the oil-rich region. 

They include the N80.88 billion proposed for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the N65 billion for reintegration of transformed ex-militants under the Presidential Amnesty Programme. 

However, the amnesty was not part of a coherent and coordinated peace-building and reconciliation plan, and is unlikely to be able to facilitate sufficient employment for demobilized militants. 

In its partial nature, it has also neglected non-combatants who had been impacted by violence. 

On these and other grounds, the sustainability of its achievements remains in question.