FG's amnesty and renewed insurgency in Niger Delta

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Emmanue Addeh

The declaration of amnesty by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2009 helped in no small measure to reduce armed insurgency in the Niger Delta region.

Before the programme was inaugurated, militancy in the region had taken a frightening dimension as the rebels took up arms against the Nigerian State, drastically cutting oil production from over two million to less than a million barrels per day.

The effect of the violence by the youth, who are mainly from Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Edo and Ondo states, also took a serious toll on the socio-economic life of the country before the declaration of the amnesty programme.

However, there are already fears that the three-phase programme meant to disarm, train and then reintegrate the disgruntled youths back in the society might be heading for the rocks.

If the recent actions taken by some youths in the area who feel short-changed by their leaders and by extension the Federal Government are anything to go by, then the days of militancy with the sorrows, tears and blood associated with it might have returned.

Although, there had been grumbles by some of the militants who regrouped under the umbrella of ‘Amnesty Phase Three Agitators,’ not many took so much cognisance of their activities until they blew up a trunk line belonging to AGIP in Bayelsa last month.

Succinctly put, the aggrieved youths are angry that their ex-militant leaders had abandoned them and are now living like lords with large convoys of cars and security personnel while they were left to languish in anguish.

In fact, the same reason was adduced for the return to the creeks last year of a prominent ex-militant, John Togo, who was killed in an aerial bombardment by the military after he allegedly ordered his boys to attack the soldiers.

Togo, leader of the Niger Delta Liberation Force, was said to have been angered because he was denied access to the presidency like some of his colleagues who had unfettered access to the president and his aides.

The killing of Togo and some of his boys temporarily brought relief to the government and the security agents operating in the waterways as there was no major incident of violence until the last AGIP bombing.

But just before the security forces could find out who blew up the oil pipeline in Bayelsa, at least six persons comprising the military and the police were killed in another round of violence.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta immediately claimed responsibility for the fresh violence, but the leadership of the Joint Military Task Force, Operation Pulo, said the attackers were mere sea pirates.

The National Coordinator of the third phase amnesty agitators, ‘General’ Ramsey Umukoro, later told journalists that the bombing of Agip’s oil facility, was not unconnected with their exclusion from the amnesty programme which they had been advocating.

“The bomb blast is a signal from the freedom fighters, I am not excluding myself any way, we have over two thousand barracks, and we surrendered close to 50,000 arms.

“I cannot tell which particular barrack carried out that attack. With what I am seeing, things are getting out of hand. The multinational companies should expect more of this attack if the Federal Government does not listen to us,” Umukoro said.

The restive youths, some of whom had been declared wanted, were also angered when the special adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Amnesty, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, described them as “criminals.”

The Delta State Coordinator of the third phase amnesty agitators, ‘General’ Para Ekiyes, who took on Kuku, said it was wrong for the JTF and Kuku to address them as criminals after allegedly collecting their arms from them and promising them amnesty.

Ekiyes said, “President Goodluck Jonathan and Kuku know what we can do because they are from here. We were with Kuku in the creeks during the heady days of militancy. He knows what we can do.

“We are demanding our inclusion in the programme or the FG should hand over our guns back to us. Let all the companies operating in this region begin to evacuate. The Boko Haram people they are begging are not more violent than us.”

Speaking in the same vein, Mukoro stated, “Kuku is saying we are criminals just to protect his office. You received arms through the JTF and these arms were documented but at the end of the day, you are calling the people criminals.

“We submitted our arms early part of last year at the JTF barrack in Warri, it was signed and I received a copy of the document. At this level, I am now pleading with the authority to come out and look into this critically. If they do not include us, we may not help the situation. Our struggle can take any form.”

Following the latest disturbances, Bergen Risk Solutions, a risk analysis firm has predicted that Nigeria’s amnesty scheme could “fail in a few months.”

The agency described the programme as ‘shaky’ following the renewed activities of the militants, who have re-grouped and gone back to the creeks to unleash further violence to get the attention of the FG.

“Frustration among former militants grows as the amnesty programme fails to generate jobs and infrastructure development.

“The possibility that some former militants will return to violence and sabotage petroleum infrastructure is increasing as the so called ‘Third Phase Militants’ continue to be denied access to the amnesty programme. They are present in all the major oil producing states,” the monthly report said.

But Kuku dismissed the report, stating that the amnesty programme of the government would not fail, despite the activities of those he described as “sea pirates in the Niger Delta.”

But Ekiyes believed that the Norwegian report was a justification of his group’s position that many militant organisations were regrouping in the Niger Delta region.

“We are ready to engage them. We are regrouping and we are warning the government to get ready for us since what they want is war.

“Of course, we are not surprised by the report that the amnesty programme will soon collapse because that is what the FG wants by not including us in the programme,” he stated.

However, the JTF described the wanted ex-militants as criminals, adding that unless they submit themselves to the authorities and look for peaceful ways of engaging government, they would end up like their late leaders.

The JTF Spokesman, Lt Col. Timothy Antigha, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, said the task force was not the FG that had the powers to grant amnesty.

He said, “These people are criminals. Where were they when the amnesty window was open and the serious ones among them embraced it?’’

But a former spokesman of the defunct NDLF, ‘Captain’ Mark Anthony, expressed fears that despite the mopping up of arms in the Niger Delta, many weapons still remained in the region.

The ex-militant maintained that unless the FG went beyond the current ‘tokenism’ in the region and began a serious human and physical development of the area, arms insurgency would take a more dangerous dimension in the coming months.

He said, “These Niger Delta communities are still suffering because there’s no blueprint for development beyond the amnesty. The amnesty should not be an end in itself. Today, the devastation in the area remains the same.’’


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