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Amnesty: A mere appeasement package, says Mitee



The former President, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and default Chairman, Technical Committee on Niger Delta, Ledum Mitee, told KELVIN EBIRI, that the Presidential Amnesty Programme was used by the Federal Government as a means of appeasement, rather than a solution to the problems that gave birth to militancy. He contended that while oil production has increased over the years, the socio-economic condition of the people of the area is getting worse.

What is your assessment of the Presidential Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta so far?

TO the extent that it created a window for the cessation of hostilities that pervaded the whole Niger Delta at that time, you will say that some successes have been recorded in that respect. But beyond that, I think amnesty is supposed to say we are not going to prosecute you for the crimes we think you have committed and in return for which certain things should happen. The way we conceived it in the Niger Delta Technical Committee, it was supposed to be a means towards an end.

What I saw was that government being so much in a hurry to score successes that it took it as an end in itself, and it was projected in a manner that created the impression that people could just earn money without working, and that it would just be a continuous thing. That is not very good in so far as the Niger Delta is concerned because you are now creating role models to our young people that you can get money without working.

Now, there has not been any attempt to monitor the people that benefitted from the amnesty programme to see how engaged they are; where they are; what they are doing; how engaged they are with their communities, and what kind of multiplier effect have they created in their communities, if any.

Or does it mean that none of all the people that benefited from the amnesty programme have gotten a job? Or that none of them has died? Does it also mean that none of them has transited to society? In which case we will be able to assess how have they purged themselves of those activities that led to militancy in the first place?

So, were there issues with the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms?

As I have said several times, you do not just come up with a programme that obviously says I am going to target the deviants in society to the exclusion of those who have been compliant with the norms of society. By trying to target only the deviant segment, you are sort of rewarding bad behaviour, and almost everyone would at that point begin to say, ‘I need to be a hard man’ so that government will recognise me and reward me. What of those other people who were not involved in militancy, but who are equally angered by the devastation of the Niger Delta; who felt that by peaceful advocacy they could effect change?

There were also some gaps we identified then because some of those, who were engaged in that struggle at the time were not in the camps; some of them were your nextdoor neighbours; some were members of your choir, who were helping the militants with information and logistics. When militants were asked to come out, they won’t come out because a lot of people would be shocked. These people were therefore not captured within militants’ net, and there is that burning sense of injustice that I was also involved, but no one is looking in my direction. All these gaps are still there.

The stupendous wealth that some of these militant leaders have made has now created a pull factor on the younger generation that you need to be some sort of hard man to make that kind of wealth. I think it is this respect that I feel that the programme has been more of an appeasement than a continuation of the peace building process. There is no structured means by which we could monitor what has happened, evaluate it and see how it fits current circumstances.

Why is it that despite the PAP, groups like the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) are still proliferating?

Amnesty was offered to buy some space, which we did not build on to do something sustainable, and that is why the crisis will be recurring. The Federal Government merely picked the amnesty programme among all the things that the technical committee recommended. It has not touched the whole source of anger in the Niger Delta. It has not tried to find out why people take up arms, or why they are annoyed? What the Federal Government did with the amnesty programme can be likened to this.

The government wants to build a road and youths in the community decided to cut a tree and block the road. As a way out, the government seeks out those who cut the tree to block the road and bribes them, and they get the tree removed. Once this happens, the young ones in that society would say, ‘if we were aged, we would have benefitted from that bribe they are giving. So, when they get to that age, they would look for a bigger tree and cut down and end up getting their bribe. So, this becomes a recurring decimal. And what we have not bothered to look at is whether there is a link the between this and bunkering that is now going on in the Niger Delta. Or is it not the same case with those who cut crude oil pipelines out of anger just to spite the government and oil was just wasting?

Suddenly, these youths have said to themselves, since we are not getting the stipend, instead of cutting the pipes and allowing oil to just waste, we should cut the pipe and sell the content and make some money. Have we been able to see any connection between artisanal refineries and amnesty, and the complicity of the security agencies? We are just extending the doomsday in all of these and the society is pretending as if there is no problem, but there is a problem.

Amnesty ought to have ended in 2015. Why is this administration sustaining the programme?

Politics in my view. We cannot also rule out the fact that politics has its own role in all of these. They have perhaps found out that they need some of those people to win elections. If you ask me, it is politics. It is not something you will just sit down one day and say we want to end.

If you want to end it then there must be a programme that guides it because an abrupt end can be catastrophic also. So, what are the plans that must be in place from Day One in order to avert a catastrophic end? I cannot see any. When this government was coming, the rhetoric was more than its preparation to actually govern. In fact, I think there was no concrete plan and the will to deal with the situation.

So, it has suddenly found out that even the things it said it would, cannot do them again. Now, it think it can also exploit the amnesty programme for its political end.

This again is a very dangerous thing to do. I heard that some persons whom the Rivers State government declared wanted are on the verge of being granted amnesty. If that is true, that will be the greatest abuse of amnesty programme that I can ever think of. It will then be crass, crude politics. I strongly believe that if a government had declared some people wanted, they should be allowed to face the law.

Despite the gaps in the programme, the budget has been skyrocketing?

I am not one of those who are amused by budgets because budgets in this country are notoriously breached. How much was budgeted for East-West Road in 2017, how much was released? Nothing. So, when someone says this was budgeted, it does not make much difference. But what is important to me is the effect of what you have done.

Well we can say that militancy in the classic sense, which we saw has gone down. But can we still say that illegal refineries have gone down? Can we say stealing of crude oil has gone down? At the time of blowing up of pipelines, illegal refining and crude oil theft were not as prevalent as it is are today. I am one of those who felt that to have an Amnesty Office in Abuja was ludicrous.

How do they see what is happening in the creeks? How do the people engage them? How do you know where the money voted for the programme annually are spent? When you talk of assessment, I am more concerned with what has happened, but I am not seeing much. Is the Niger Delta environment more polluted than when the amnesty programme started? These are the issues.

The Amnesty Office cannot make success in isolation because there are other things that should be part of what they are doing. For example, the Ministry of Niger Delta, if they are not making any progress, then whatever the PAP does will not have impact. If the NDDC is not making any impact, then whatever the Amnesty Office does will not make impact.

Shouldn’t there be a roadmap to end the amnesty programme?
Absolutely, there should be a roadmap. That is my view. So, we need to know where the beneficiaries are, what are they doing? How are they impacting the society? How can we make them independent within a specified time frame. When we do that, then we will have an exit strategy.

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