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The success of the Federal Government Amnesty programme has no doubt translated into prosperity for the nation. The country’s crude oil production and export have climbed to a two year high of about 2.4million barrels. As our economy is principally driven by our oil exports, it is therefore not equivocal to opine that the economy is having cool cruise on MV Amnesty. The Niger Delta Amnesty deal and post-amnesty programme has been one of the most successful policies of any Nigerian government on the Niger Delta with regards to returning calm to volatile Niger Delta, a region with a long history political resistance.

As a source of the global energy supply, the Niger Delta is also important within the wider context of the international economic and political system. Since the 19th century, a complex interplay of factors has provoked sometimes volatile responses to the pressures for the control and distribution of resources. Underlying this volatility has been a feeling, among the peoples of the delta, of injustice and inequity. The following instances illustrate this point.

From 1894 to 1895, King William Koko of Nembe resisted the Royal Niger Company’s attempts to shut out the Nembe people from the lucrative trade in palm oil, a resistance that led to severe bloodbath, and major casualties to both colonial officers and natives.

Isaac Adaka Boro in 1966 and Ken Saro-Wiwa from 1993 to 1995 put up similar resistance, but this time mostly over petroleum.

In total, the Niger Delta has witnessed six major rebellions in the last two centuries. Other struggles in the Niger Delta included struggles sparked by King Nana of Itsekiri (1896) and Oba Overanmi of Benin (1897), and the numerous events leading to the Kaiama Declaration of 1998-2000.

The past decade in the Niger Delta has been chaotic for both its dwellers and the Federal Government. This was how the UNDP described the situation in the Niger Delta:

“The sabotage of oil production hurts the economy through the loss of sorely needed foreign exchange to finance national development. Blown pipelines interrupt the supply of crude to refineries and produce shortages that cause sudden spikes in oil prices. Hostage-taking is not only a stress on foreign captives, their families and the companies they work for, but also presents a challenge to international diplomacy and foreign direct investment (UNDP, 2006).”

This is the clearest description of the condition that plagued the country until the successful administration of the Niger Delta Amnesty therapy, a therapy that is rapidly healing the economy of the nation, while the Niger Delta only barely recovers from the decades of environmental devastation. I have always argued that the Amnesty Programme is not for the Niger Delta, but for the entire country. After all, not all the tribes of the oil rich Niger Delta engaged in armed struggle, and not all youth in the region took up arms against the state.

Amnesty is from the Greek word Amnestia, which means oblivion, complete obliteration or to forget completely. Amnestia is also the root for the word ‘amnesia’ – a medical condition that involves total memory loss. Amnesty is a legislative or executive act by which a state restores those who may have been guilty of an offense against it to the positions of innocent people. Whether the ex-militants were found guilty or not is the subject for another debate.

When President Yar’adua proclaimed amnesty for the militants of the Niger Delta in June 2010, many pundits did not comprehend how the then amorphous strategy would work. No one was sure of the outcome, not even then Vice President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was at the time the administration’s principal envoy to creeks and chief architect of the amnesty procedure.

However, the glimmer of the amnesty gamble only shone bright when the quiet general of the creeks Chief Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as General TomPolo agreed to accept the amnesty offer of the Federal Government.

I watched the TomPolo arms hand-over on television, and the only part I still clearly remember was when he broke down in tears. He did not cry because he felt defeated, I am sure. He cried because he thought about the day he and his comrades agreed to the Kiama declaration, and if what was happening that day was in line with the spirit of the declaration, which has since then had every word in it represented by a fallen fighter.

On the 31st of December 1998, Ijaw youths had a historic conference in Kiama, a coastal town of Bayelsa state. It was this rendezvous that set the stage for an aggressive and violent agitation for resource control across the Niger Delta.Kiama as the venue for the declaration must have been reached for some reason I do not know, but my curiosity led me to do a location assessment of Kiama, understanding that Ijaw people all through their history have chosen strategic locations for settlements and key events. What I discovered was shocking: Kiama is the confluence town of two major Rivers in the Niger Delta, that were significant during the slave trade days – the Ramos (meaning branches in Portuguese) and Forcados (meaning forced together in Portuguese). The first statement of the Kiama declaration read“After exhaustive deliberation, the conference observed that it was through British colonization that the IJAW NATION was forcibly put under the Nigerian state.” I cannot say if their decision was casual but I see an element of providence in this.

The declaration continued“That the principle of derivation in revenue allocation has been consciously and systematically obliterated by successive regimes of the Nigeria state. We note the drastic reduction of the derivation principle from 100% (1953), 50% (1960), 45% (1970), 29% (1975), 2% (1982), 1.5% in 1984, 3% (1992-date), and a rumoured 13% in Abacha’s 1995 undemocratic constitution”. They also declared that “Oil and gas are exhaustible resources and the complete lack of ecological rehabilitation, in the light of the Oloibiri experience, is a signal of impending doom for the people of Ijaw land.”The Kiama declaration by all standards was sharp and symmetrical enough to provide the justification for the violent struggle that was to come.

The first major attempt to address the grievances of the minorities in the Niger Delta was in 1957, when the colonial administration set up the Willink’s Commission of Inquiry to investigate the fears of minorities and how to allay them. The Commission reported in 1958 that the needs of those who live in the creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta are very different from those of the interior and the area required special attention. The commission concluded that “This is a matter that requires special effort because (the area) is poor, backward and neglected.” The Late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu put it this way in a Thisday interview in 2007, he said “...the people of the Delta have been left on their own, situations that were bad have become roads, no infrastructure, nothing.”

When the Nigerian civil war broke out, it led to fiscal and political centralization of the federal system. In a sweeping move, the General Yakubu Gowon administration promulgated Petroleum Decree No. 51 in 1969, which put the ownership and control of all petroleum resources Nigeria under the control of the Federal Government. It meant that individuals, communities, local governments and even states with land containing minerals were denied their rights to the minerals. Between 1969 and 1971, the military government, fighting an expensive civil war, expropriated five per cent from the 50 per cent meant for the producing states, thereby shooting up to 55 per cent funds for the Distributable pool, while 45 per cent now went to the producing states. General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime further reduced the allocation to producing states to 20 per cent, while making a clear distinction between onshore and offshore proceeds. Also, General Obasanjo in his second coming in May 1999 also suspended the 13% derivation funds to producing states for 10 months in blatant disregard to the constitution. He has offered no explanations for his actions.Between 1982 and 1992, a period when General Muhammadu Buhari, then General Ibrahim Babangida held sway, derivation accounted for merely 1.5 per cent of oil proceeds.

It was the General Sani Abacha regime from 1993 to 1998 that raised derivation to 3 per cent as an interim palliative, pending the determination of an appropriate derivation formula by the Constitutional Conference called to resolve the political crisis created by the annulment of democratic presidential elections of June 1993. The Conference recommended a 13 per cent Derivation Fund, which was accepted by Abacha’s Government, but not really implemented until General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over as head of state.

As this year marks the thirteenth year of the thirteen per cent derivation policy, I opted to reflect on the state on the region and the prospects under the current dispensation. The relative calm in the creeks is a pleasant thing and a boost for the nation’s economic stability, but how much of this calm has translated into development in the region, or how much of a strategic plan is there, for a an aggressive development drive in the Niger Delta.

Before we all fall into amnesia, let me scoop back what President Umaru Yaradua said when his administration basked in the successful disarmament of militants, and when Chief Government Ekpempolo and some other militant leaders paid a formal visit to him.

He said “Now we will have to work together with the militants leaders to ensure that the programme for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the young men and women takes off successfully. Also members of the amnesty committee and other stakeholders will make inputs into these programmes to ensure that the programmes would be acceptable ...the other issue is to sit down and look at the issues that led to the agitations in the first place and ensure that they are resolved to the satisfaction of all Nigerians”.

The first recommendation of President Yaradua has taken off. President Goodluck Jonathan has nailed it exceptionally well, from the choice of Kingsley Kuku as the programme driver, to the restructuring and management of the capacity development programmes, prompt and adequate funding of the programme. Even the once very sceptical US embassy in Nigeria has made U-turn on the earlier position on the amnesty programme. In a cable to Washington referenced 09LAGOS375, the US Embassy in Abuja described the amnesty process this way “There is no indication that the GON (Govt of Nigeria) has written a second act for this drama, beyond a poorly conceived and designed rehabilitation process for ex-militants. It is hard to be optimistic”. All that has changed now.

The other issue Yaradua/Goodluck administration meant was about developing the region. In a leaked US cable referenced 09LAGOS387 with subject - President Yar'adua Outlines Infrastructure Development For The Niger Delta, it was stated that in a October 9, 2009 meeting with South-South Governors and militant leaders, President Yar’adua promised the following key measures included: 1) construction of a four-lane East-West highway from Calabar to Lagos; 2) a railroad line from Calabar to Lagos via Benin City; 3) a container terminal at Warri; and 4) ten per cent community ownership of oil and gas joint ventures in their communities. The infrastructure development projects would be financed through a supplemental budget and funneled through the Ministry of the Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and the two ownership proposals are to be added to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) now before the National Assembly. This, I believe should be the four-point agenda for the Niger Delta.

I believe that there must be a sustained agitation for more resources to the region because as the FG cruises on MV Amnesty, it is possible that those whose responsibility it is to defend the interest of people of the Niger Delta may fall to sleep. While the people of the Niger Delta continue to celebrate the first minority president, they should remember that he is not the Niger Delta President, but the President of the nation. Therefore, there is a fresh need to engage Mr. President not as a ‘brother’ but as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: an engagement that will keep the poverty and deprivation of the region on the front burner of the national oven.

Unfortunately, the failure of governance and governors has plagued the region. Leadership and responsibility is a critical success factor of the Niger Delta project. The failure of leadership and strategy is evident in the absence of key amenities. A key evidence of this failure is in the inability of these states to provide such a basic necessity as water to their people. It is mortifying and miffing that even Port Harcourt, the hallmark city of the region does not have pipe-borne potable drinking water, its residents, like other in the rest of the region, depend of privately sunk boreholes.

Even with scarce resources, leadership with a vision brings about transformation. Donald Duke, former Governor of Cross River state is still talked about today as a brilliant leader who maximized the resources that were available to him. His dream to transform his state to the tourism destination of Nigeria continues to stay.

The new agitation should compel the Federal Government to study the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan. It is a comprehensive development strategy that should serve as the framework for the broad development objectives in the region.

Beyond the development strategy, the FG must as a matter of urgency set up a committee of eminent engineers and planners of Niger Delta extraction to further strengthen the development of a comprehensive infrastructural development Action Plan.

This action plan should highlight key feasible projects that must be tackled in the short and long term and advice the government on technical and cost issues.

This action plan, endorsed by the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, should then serve as the Memorandum of Understanding between the people of the Niger Delta and the Federal Government of Nigeria.

The Third Mainland bridge in Lagos was built based on an oil for construction barter bargain between the Babangida government and the Julius Berger contractors. Nothing stops the government from repeating such a process for the Niger Delta Coastal road and rail.

The Niger Delta has been too painfully short-changed for much too long. The region is replete with too many micro-projects funded by several development agencies and oil companies. The development pathway must be ambitious and futuristic. Projects like the East-West coastal road project, Niger Delta rail project, and massive electrification and water supply schemes must be taken on. Major Adaka Boro in justifying his twelve-day revolution said: “The Niger Delta has sufficient land to accommodate four of the largest cities in the world - London, New York, Buenos Aires, Moscow — more than enough humidity to bathe the extreme aridity of the entire Sahara; and a physiognomy gloomy enough to repel the most adventurous of explorers." He is right!

The new agitation must seek to know how much the 13% really is.

Is it 13% of anything tendered, or 13% of what the states produce. In 2006, when a barrel of crude oil sold for $70 at a time, the Obasanjo administration benchmarked the oil price in the budget at 35 US dollars x 2.45 million bpd. Accordingly, he only paid 35 US dollars x 2.45bpd into the Federation Account and thereafter he paid the excess 35 US dollars x 2.45 million bpd into an excess crude oil account. Thus, he paid to the people Niger Delta 13% of 35 US dollars, instead of 13% of 70 US dollars which was the actual price of crude oil in the international market. Will funds for the Sovereign Wealth Fund be deducted before or after the appropriation of the 13% derivation? These are questions that must be asked.

In accepting the amnesty offer, a commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Farah Dagogo put out a statement that read: “As soldiers, we are not competent to dialogue with the federal government on these serious issues affecting the region. We wish our brothers and sisters who we hope will commence with the intellectual struggle for justice in the Niger Delta, the very best and pray for a just and peaceful Niger Delta.”

The Niger Delta once had effective contemporary intellectual activists in the likes of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Oronto Douglas, Felix Tuodolo, Nnimo Bassey etc, whose words were smarter than bullets. However, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s emergence as President has muted the voices of most activists. More like these ones are still needed, as the region’s struggles will definitely outlast the President Jonathan.

Before we slip into amnestia, Isaac Adaka Boro was just 28, an undergraduate and student union president at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He was so angered by the neglect of the Niger Delta. He and his compatriot at UNN Samuel Owonaru abandoned their education, formed a militia group called Niger Delta Volunteer Force in 1966. On February 23 1966, he declared the Niger Delta Republic; started a revolution but was captured on the thirteenth day after he was routed by the superior fire-power of the Nigerian Armed forces. He too was granted amnesty by the General Yakubu Gowon regime in May 1967, on the eve of the Nigerian civil war – to fight for Nigeria. He fought gallantly and died mysteriously in 1968 after he had helped Nigeria secure the Niger Delta.

Written by Ross Alabo-George, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. [email protected]

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