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From Resource Curse to Amnesty…!

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Michael Watts in his “Economies of Violence: Governable and Ungovernable Spaces in an oil Nation” chronicles how the vile trinity of naked aggression, genocide and the violent law of the corporate frontier conspired to bear out the fearsome dialectics of blood and oil. Earlier, Anderson had posited that the power of fossil fuel would be a major desideratum of the politics of the capitalist West. He averred “blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than either”. The seemingly interminable violence and instability that characterize Nigeria's treasure trove lends credence to the aforementioned assertion. From Omaha to Oklahoma and from the North Sea to the Caspian Sea, the liquid gold has been a source of contention and profound crises. In transitional societies, some scholars call it resource curse.

The resource curse concept enunciates that when states are oil dependent, they inadvertently create a “rent seeking class”, which feasts on the oil – the “honey pot”. As more and more people depend on the “honey pot for its sustenance, there would be internal cracks because each of the rent seeking Mafiosi would protect its own interest either by way of raising a militia or instigating crisis. The Rent Seekers would continue the onslaught on the honey pot until the economy falls into “ the oil trap”. The oil trap once firmly established kills all other sectors of the economy. This situation leads to crisis both within the local “comprador class” and international competitors who would push for favourable investment climate to secure cheap energy.

The oil trap precipitates some negative consequences; it slows down economic growth; creates inequality and high unemployment; high corruption index, governance deficit, weak rule of law, emasculate existing democratic institutions, reinforces a culture of rent-seeking, with severe human rights violations, environmental degradation and greater risks of conflict and war.

It is not the crude oil itself that threatens the economic and political stability of Petro-states, rather it is the political and institutional arrangements that have developed around its exploitation as panoply to “resource curse” to appear, Petroleum must be sold in the international market. It is the international character of oil regime and the interaction between the MNCs and their host governments, and foreign financial institution. The resource curse today is not limited to world's hotspots like Iraq, Indonesia, Sudan, Chad, Colombia and the Niger Delta but also other Countries like Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia. dilemma of oil-exporters, Petro-States suffer from a double perverse effect; their states, formed during the period of oil running, are usually skewed by the imperatives of resource exploitation, but the intensification of the resource dependence accompanying state-building. The Resource Curse model is a fundamentally political problem about the transparent, just and equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of crude oil.

Most men of conscience have no doubt that the administration of the Late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua had mustered up the courage to remove all roadblocks militating against the peaceful resolvement of the lingering Niger Delta Question. Only few months into his administration, late President Yar'Adua mooted the idea of a summit to resolve the Niger Delta Question. Sadly, most stakeholders in the region sounded loud choruses of no - a submission that the Region's problems could not be resolved by a tea party” wearing the toga of a Committee. The administration kowtowed to voice of the people and the proposed summit died a natural death. Since then the federal government has been looking for viable options and ways of getting around the problem, while the most realistic thing to believe is that short-cuts could only lead to disaster.

What perhaps lent credence to the disapproval is the attitude of the Federal Government in minimizing the magnitude of the Niger Delta problem. Fifty years after the Willink Commission Report of 1958, it is surprising that our leaders are not reaping up with the demands of time President Yar'Adua's first attempt at solving the Niger Delta Problem was the 2008 budget when government earmarked a whopping N446.6 billion for the security of the Niger Delta. He followed this up by creating the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. To add teeth to his commitment, he set up a Technical Committee on the Niger Delta.

The major recommendations of the Committee are: the open trial and bail of the detained movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) leader Mr. Henry Okah; an upward review of the derivation formula from 13% to 25% in order to tackle the infrastructure challenge in the Region and the dualization of the East-West Road. Others are the disarmament, decommissioning and rehabilitation of militants within six months; withdrawal of troops within six months, as confidence building measure towards the disarmament of the militants and the creation of employment for 2,000 youths in each Federal Government through the youth Employment Scheme.

The Niger Delta Region is even a late starter in insurgency. The Zapatista's in Mexico; the Moro Islamic Rebels in the Philippines; the Tamil Tigers in Sri-Lanka, Shin Fein in Ireland; the PKK in Turkey, Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Basque Separatists in Spain, Tu-Pac Amaru of Peru, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hezbollah and Hamaz in Lebanon are well organized insurgency groups. In all these groups' rebels or militants do not engage their governments directly; they do so with the aid of persons appointed by the Militants and agreed by government.

From the onset, most people regarded the Amnesty Programme as a Greek gift; its propaganda was meant to buy time because the Federal Government refused to address the fundamental issues of fiscal federalism, resource ownership and control and above all the imperatives of balancing the leadership equation in an ethnically dichotomous, politically fractious and structurally truncated federalism. Presently, the activities of a segment of the militia groups and the punitive expeditions by the Nigerian military apparatus have conspired to create the impression that the honeymoon days are over.

Initially, opinion leaders suggested that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, that the Federal Government should appoint some eminent Nigerians to engage the Federal Government on the issue. Accordingly, eminent people like Mike Akhigbe, Wole Soyinka, Ann Kio Briggs, Sabella Abide and others were appointed to negotiate on behalf of the militants. If the Federal Government, had respected this popular opinion, the discordant choruses about the acceptability or otherwise of the Amnesty Programme would have been avoided. It is because the Federal Government directly negotiates with the militants that rumours of jamborees, promises of huge cash gifts, oil blocs and others began to spread. This has been a fundamental flaw in the architecture of the Amnesty Deal.

The Amnesty Deal being implemented does not seek to address the fundamental issue of resource control; it lacks depth and very limited in scope. It concentrates on the youths who fought in the trenches including some downright criminal elements; the implementers have forgotten that during the crisis, several communities were destroyed: Agge, Odioma, Okerenko, Gbaramatu, Odi Ayakoromor, etc are all victims of the insurgency. A holistic concept of Amnesty could have built in the critical component such as rehabilitation of Communities and compensation of those victims of grave injustice, despoliation and psychological trauma. The tangential omission of this critical component and the payment of gun carrying militants have now served as an inducement to would-be militants who also want recognition, and this has added a radical twist to the crisis.

What perhaps made the institution of militancy legit is the fact that the Federal Government negotiated directly with the militant commanders. This idea was monumental flaw. Government sat at table to discuss with Boyloaf, Farah Dagogo, Ateke Tom, Tompolo, John Togo, Egberi Papa, and others. Their meetings at Aso Rock were so frequent that they became more accessible to Mr. President than some Ministers. In other lands, insurgent groups negotiate with government through intermediaries.

When the Federal Government eventually granted amnesty to the repentant militants, the entire process was devoid of broad-based consultation with the alienation of most critical segment of the Niger Delta people. The approach adopted by the Federal Government alienated some key stakeholders who could have been instrumental to the success of the Deal. It is a known fact that the appointment of most of the people serving in the programme was selected on political considerations-not on merit or track record. A good number of them may turn out to be conflict entrepreneurs whose sworn affidavit is to truncate the Deal because they survive on the resources emanating from conflict.

Again, because adequate consultations were not made, the communities which have suffered horrendous atrocities are not carried along. The repentant militant leaders are not neither Chief nor people recognized by popular approbation to represent their communities. What then is the basis for initiating a direct discussion with the repentant militants? I tend to take refuge under Henry Okah's analysis that the arms mop-up operations only succeeded in taking away about 10% of sophisticated munitions leaving behind about 90% poses a threat to resumption of hostilities in the Region. This shows that the Region is highly militarized. The demilitarization of the Region is necessary because we should not bargain for a Somalian situation in Nigeria.

What is most worrisome is the insincerity of the operators of the Amnesty Programme. Experience has shown that when such programmes are implemented, the operators benefit much more than the people to whom the policy is targeted. The Amnesty Committee members should not transform themselves into naira Goliaths'- which is what the youths have seen that is eliciting more and more agitations and protests. Let's not turn the programme into a conduit pipe of fraud. The ND people are watching because they want to see tangible results lest they begin to advocate a re-constitution of the present, highly politicized money-guzzling Amnesty Committee. The architecture of the programme is wobbling and the cracks are deep and dangerous enough to threaten even the faintly optimistic. The Amnesty Committee should demonstrate some quantum of patriotism and seriousness in assuaging the fears of the people.

Now, the Uwais Report seems to have been abandoned; the power sector reforms have not fared any better. Our democratic system still lacks mass support and legitimacy. The problematic of legitimacy is all the more questionable because politics has not translated into improving the socio-economic situation of most Nigerians. The ruling Peoples' Democratic Party, PDP has by blackmail or brute force snuffed out opposition parties.

It is our inability to resolve all these problems that has transformed Nigeria into a reference point of bad governance, high-level corruption, insecurity and cyclical illegitimacy. Most of the challenges facing the legitimacy of our nation bother on the economy and the allocation of scarce resources. The nation's overdependence on crude oil has resulted in a crude oil mono-culture, and complacency of the States. Monthly handouts from oil revenue to the states have had grave repercussions on the innovativeness and productivity of the States. The Nigerian Federal system is no longer serving its purpose; it is supposed to promote a healthy competition among the constituent units but the situation on ground negates the gains of the system as it was originally conceived. Our inability to promote unity and peace in Nigeria has made the SNC more imperative in our body politic.

It was Professor Nwabueze who asserted: “As everyone knows, Nigeria is not a nation. It is rather an amalgam of nations, a conglomeration of numerous antagonistic, antipathetic and incompatible nationalities the various peoples comprised in it is yet to coalesce into one national civil society animated by a common spirit, and a feeling of common nationality and identity; and propelled by common social dynamics”. These developments have proved further underlined the imperatives of a sovereign National Conference. Whereas the MEND phenomenon has started to submarine, there is now a resurgence of the Boko Haram movement and its numerous splinter groups may be odd nomenclatures used to mask the enemies of good governance in our lands. What mortal threat these would pose to the 2011 transition programme still remains to be seen. After all, any conflict begins and ends in the hearts and minds of people, not in the hilltops.

Idumange John, is Deputy Editor of the Moment Newspaper, Lagos

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Idumange John and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Idumange John