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Amnesty: Reversing the Resource Curse

By Alabo Dickson
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The staccato of gun fire and the booming of artillery heralded a blanket of silence, the Generals and their Commanders knew it was time to embrace peace. It became obvious too that in spite of years of cheating, neglect alienation and deliberate under-development, there was no alternative to peace. The Federal Government initiated the ceasefire and amnesty, which initially was hazy because of complaints that the process was rushed and that stakeholders' consultation was inadequate. It had become obvious by the fall of 2009 that peace was a sine qua non for development.

The ceasefire and amnesty initiated by late President Yar'Adua began to take root as from mid 2009. Prior to that time, militancy across the Niger Delta caused a massive disruption of oil production in Nigeria, which depends on crude oil import for foreign exchange. The devastation that accompanied the oil-style insurgency is incalculable. Not only did it lead to the loss of lives and property, it culminated in the wholesale desolation of communities. Many people especially of the Region became weary of the volatile scenario hence the question as to whether the production of the liquid gold was a blessing of a curse. This phenomenon popularized the Resource Curse Theory.

The Resource Curse Concept enunciates that when states are oil dependent, they inadvertently create a “rent seeking clan”, which feasts on the oil – the “honey pot”. As more people depend on the “honey pot for their sustenance, there would be internal cracks because each of the rent seeking mafia would protect its own interest either by raising a militia or instigating crisis. The Rent Seeker would continue the onslaught on the honey pot until they; in connivance of international oil consumers create an “oil trap”. The oil trap once firmly established kills all other sectors of the economy.

The oil trap slows down economic growth; creates inequality and high unemployment; high corruption index, governance deficit, weakens the rule of law, emasculates existing democratic institutions and reinforces a culture of rent-seeking. These negative consequences are not without severe repercussions on 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 for the entire gamut of 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 course 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. This is precisely the 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. Again, whatever type of government that is in power are sustained by the oil resources hence such states are either unstable or the leaders spend unnecessarily long tenure of office.

Nigeria is a crude oil mono-culture and a rentier state par excellence because it relies exclusively on foreign exchange on crude oil. The implication is that there is exceptionally high value for oil and a corresponding usually high level of external interventions in shaping the affairs of the country. Essentially, Nigeria has less subject to the internal countervailing pressures. This explains why the conflict in the NDR snowballed into a mini-form of insurgency.

What the Niger Delta youths are protesting against are the external dominance and control of capital and technology in oil exploitation and the connivance with the Nigerian State with the foreign companies instead of bargaining with the local population. The local population suffers from economic exclusion – they do not participate in the ownership, production and enjoyment of their own resources because of an unfair legal regime.

The discovery of oil wealth has been central to the history of modern industrial capitalism. But in Nigeria, as elsewhere, the discovery of oil is widely believed to be a curse rather than a blessing. Glaringly, the system has entrenched a repugnant culture of excessive venality and profiteering among the political class. Oil has increased the nation's Corruption Perception Index, CPI.

The remedies for resource curse are the diversification of the by investing the oil revenues in industry, manufacturing and agriculture. This policy option has yielded dividends in Venezuela and Iran. Recently, the federal government established the Sovereign Petroleum Trust Fund. Such an independent fund exists in Norway and Alaska. The funds are deployed for the development of infrastructure in a transparent manner. In Nigeria, monies accruing from crude oil above the projected prices are declared as excess crude oil “funds” and shared among the three organs of government without spill-over effect on the real sectors of the economy. More importantly, there is need to entrench transparency in government expenditure. Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe; Trinidad - Tobago, Chad, Garbon, Azerbaijan and 51 governments have subscribed to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) template, Nigeria lacks the political will to implement transparency. The implication is that host communities are neglected as the proceeds of crude oil are not disclosed. Again, Multinational Corporations shy away from their corporate Social Responsibility because of the existing laws.

Now, the Amnesty Programme has opened a fresh page in reversing the resource curse. The tokenistic approach to developing the Niger Delta has changed. It will be recalled that since the dawn of the globalization, knowledge has been identified as king. Thus unlike the development of infrastructure, the Amnesty Programme, AM, concentrates on the building of human capital, which was sorely lacking in the Region.

The Programme Chief Hon. Kingsley Kuku has adopted a three-pronged approach. Firstly, he has mounted a vigorous campaign to rise of a class of intermediate manpower in under-water (Algon welding), piloting, seafaring and marine engineering. Most of the skills and vocations include: auto mechanics, Boat building, Safety programmes and ICT. Secondly, the Amnesty is bent on sponsoring Niger Delta Youths who are interested in acquiring higher education. Accordingly, the Programme has fully paid the fees of ND Students studying in the UK. Ukraine; Russia, South Africa and the United States. This kind gesture is to complement the various scholarship programmes embarked upon by the various States. Thirdly, the overriding objective is to train an army of middle and high caliber manpower to provide services in the various oil, gas and agro-allied industries. When these people are fortified with skills, the Region will not depend on crude oil alone as a source of foreign exchange.

The fact that the Amnesty programme is designed to diversify the economy is a unique development that appears to be reversing the Resource Curse in the ND Region. It is against this background that the Kingsley Kuku led Amnesty Programme has changed the economic contours of the Niger Delta Region. Indeed, the Amnesty Programme should be emulated by other development agencies such as the Niger Delta Development Commission, the Basin Development Authorities and other international development partners such as UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF etc. The principal goal is to create jobs for the youths, which has stifled development in the Region.

An opinion poll conducted in three States: Ondo, Rivers and Delta States by some concerned Niger Deltans showed that among all the development agencies that have operated in the Niger Delta Region, the Amnesty Programme has created more impact on the lives of the ordinary masses than others especially the youths. This is not to say that Hon. Kuku should rest on his oars. He has to intensify Monitoring and Evaluation; supervision and tracking whatever progress made in the AP. More importantly, he should administer a range of questionnaire to get feedback from both recipients and stakeholders with a view to identifying whatever challenges that are facing or likely to face the programme in the foreseeable future. Presently, the opinion of a cross section of Niger Deltans is that the Amnesty Programme is the best legacy bequeathed to the Niger Delta by the duo of Late President Ya'Adua and the serving President Goodluck Jonathan.

Alabo Dickson, wrote from Maitama, Abuja
I am strongly in support of the view that those who are orchestrating the derailment of the Amnesty Programme should understand what we have passed through as a people in the Niger Delta Region. Anytime an oil facility is blown up, the communities are worse for it. The Niger Delta lost most of her youthful population to militancy and so many elderly men and women died as a result of fear. While we push for an equitable fiscal federalism, we should not by any action resort to violence. I know there are politicians who may want to used the menace of terrorism in parts of the country to justify their actions but two wrongs cannot make a right. After all , the President is an Ijaw man and the Presidency has already demonstrated robust commitment to be pro-active in developing the Region. In particular, the PAP has conferred so many benefits to the Region and not even the NDDC - which was established 12 years ago can boast of such strides. We should collectively condemn any attempt to resort to violence because the causes of violence can be resolved at the table through effective dialogue.

IDUMANGE John

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