A Compromised Amnesty
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari “will build on good aspects of the (Amnesty) programme,” according to Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu. One’s natural response to this 14th July announcement is to also agree that it has its bad aspects. It is sensible to enquire about the nature of these negatives as Nigerians might be tempted to blame sleaze when the problem, historically, is sabotage. The establishment has always used amnesty as decoy for a more diabolic end in its dealings with Niger Delta minorities. Three instances will suffice.
One, in 2004 President Olusegun Obasanjo used amnesty to out-fox Asari Dokubo, when he offered to pay $2,800 for every riffle surrendered by militants in a buy-back scheme. Things worked until Obasanjo seized his quarry before abandoning his own amnesty. Asari spent two cruel years in an underground prison.
Two, fired by patriotism Government (Tompolo) Ekpemupolo hosted the Presidency in 2007 at Oporoza. His efforts led to the formation of the Federal Government of Nigeria/Ijaw Representatives Joint Committee, variously headed by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan and Ahmed Mahmud Yayale. The committee recommended amnesty for militants, which President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua rejected and declared Tompolo wanted instead.
Three, the Ledum Mitee led Technical Committee on Niger Delta (TCND), recommended amnesty for militants in its December 2008 report. Yar’Adua not only rejected this report, but went ahead and invaded Gbaramatu five months later.
That subsisting Amnesty suffers debilitating defects is not in doubt. In 2013, Bola Ahmed Tinubu openly called it a drainpipe for corrupt practices, only to be brow beaten. Kingsley Kuku, who headed Amnesty warned Tinubu to remember that those living in glass house don’t throw stone. Tinubu never criticized Amnesty ever after. But the clearest indicator that all is not well is the apathy of Niger Delta minorities. When ex-militant leaders recently staged pro-Amnesty demonstrations, rank and file militants were nowhere to be found. Again, record shows that only Ijaws took out adverts begging Buhari not to proscribe it, while other ethnic groups refused to beg. The disturbing question is: How fair is Amnesty Office to Ijaws and non-Ijaws alike?
The comprehensive amnesty designed by the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, sponsored Committee for Security and Economic Development in the Niger Delta of January 2009 was not what was offered by the Presidential Panel on Amnesty of 5th May 2009. This was the number one problem, as ordinary villagers, whose economies were wasted by the activities of militants and Joint Military Task Force, JTF, did not feature in the scheme of things. The location of Amnesty Office in far away Abuja out of reach of the rank and file is the number two problem. Distance means that poor militants must rely on the ex-militant leader and other middle men to access their payment and training. This encourages sharp practices. The number three problem, and perhaps the less obvious, is the mismatch in the managers of Amnesty not being its designers.
To get it right under Buhari we must retrace our steps to know at what point the rain started beating us, to paraphrase Chinua Achebe. To be better builders we must have the big picture.
YAR’ADUA’S Amnesty is traceable to a January 2009 phone chat between Dr. Felix Tuodolo and the then Bayelsa State Governor Timiprey Silva in far away London. Tuodolo combined his lecturing job at the University of Liverpool with taking care of Ijaw business in the Diaspora. As Chairman of Ijaw National Congress, INC, in the United Kingdom, it was the young man’s responsibility to debrief visiting South-South leaders.
“Our (Bayelsa State’s) revenue has fallen from 30 billion naira to just ten because the fighting has completely disrupted oil production,” Silva complained.
“So stop the boys from fighting.”
“No one can stop them; not even you. No youth in the Niger Delta will listen to you anymore.”
“Then I shall come home and see what I can do.”
Resigning his job, Tuodolo flew home that same month. One of the few persons who could give him a first hand account of the mood in the creeks was the combatant called Joshua MacKiver who was holed up in Government House, Yenagoa. MacKiver was afraid of his own life. The commanders wanted him dead for refusing to fight. In his own words, MacKiver said he was for the struggle but was tired of the killings. He was not a traitor and would not divulge information to government.
Of the eight categories of casualty tendered 19th April 2007, before the General Secretary of the United Nations, UN, European Union, EU, and Black Congressional Caucus by the Monitoring Unit of IYC, only two are abridged here. This exercise excludes the bloodier 2008 statistics that turned poor Mackiver’s tummy:
Killing of expatriates: (1) 23 February 07, a Lebanese with AUC Construction Company killed by gunmen at Isiokpo; (2) 16 January 07, gunmen killed Dutch man Gideon Lapre and two Nigerians. But C.W. Moon (Korean) and Kumpas (another Dutch) escaped with injuries; (3) 22 November 06, a Briton, David Hunt, killed and Pietro Caputo injured at the offshore Okono Okpoho fields while being rescued by Nigerian Navy. A soldier and two militants died; (4) 04 August 06, five expatriate oil workers of a contractor engaged by Shell killed in ambush along Egbema/Aga Road; and; (5) 10 May 06, an American working for Baker Hughes Inc. killed in Port Harcourt.
Clashes between Government Forces and Local Resistant Groups and Extra-Judicious Killings: (1) 21 June 07, 15 youths and three soldiers killed in clash between JTF and militants at Ogboinbiri flow station of NAOC; (2) 13 June 07, JTF killed nine youths in a speedboat at Ogboinbiri; (3) 11 May 07, JTF killed four youths in speedboat along Oporoma axis of Nun River; (4) 12 March 07, two policemen killed at Dawes Island when boat belonging to Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) was attacked; (5) 15 November 06, two killed when JTF and local groups clashed at SPDC Nun River Field Logistic Base; (6) 07 June 06, five naval officers, two civilians and Commander F.N. Kolawole killed escorting two Chevron boats along Cawthorne Channel; (7) 09 March 06, seven soldiers and three gunmen killed when soldiers escorting fuel tanker on Escravos were attacked; (8) 30 March 06, 19 soldiers killed in clashes at TUNU and Benisede Flow stations; (9) 08 March 06, four naval officers and a police officer escorting oil vessel MTCM Spirit killed at Okerenkoko.
Talking to the wanted man convinced Tuodolo that there were thousands other Mackivers out there in the creeks fighting only because they lacked the protection to lay down their arms. In that case they must be identified and encouraged to visit him. He was determined to end this war.
Committee on Security and Economic Development
TUODOLO, who was pioneer president of IYC gathered the canonical youth leaders of T.K. Ogoriba (President of MOSIEND and father of the youth struggle), Asari (2nd IYC President and leader of NDPVF), Comrade Oyeinfie Jonjon (3rd IYC President), Sgt Weri Digifa (Chairman, Supreme Egbesu Assembly), Dan Ekpebide (Leader of FNDIC), Mike Wenebowei (former IYC Zonal Chairman), Dr. Chris Ekiyor (then sitting 4th IYC President), Eng. Udengs Eradiri (then General Secretary and current 6th IYC President); and Claudius Egba (then IYC Speaker of Parliament). The above names featured prominently in the hatching of the epical Kaiama Declaration. Today, the search for peace had brought them together.
To this small caucus, officially known as the Committee on Security and Economic Development in the Niger Delta, Tuodolo first mooted the word “amnesty” that same January. With him as Chairman, the Committee developed this concept on the UN model of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, DDR. What emerged was an amnesty resting on the five pillars of Disarmament, Demobilization, Reorientation, Reorganization and Reintegration, DDRRR.
IYC Yenagoa Youth Summit of 6th February
THEIR initiative was formally launched 6th February at the IYC sponsored Youth Summit on Economic Development and Security in Bayelsa State. The relevance of this summit is that it conferred legitimacy on their activities. Indeed, the summit got its name from Committee’s official title. The communiqué emerging from it regretted that ten years after the Kaiama Declaration there was still no justice for the Ijaw, who felt deeply alienated in a prosperous Nigeria. Their peaceful protests were met with violence.
This insoluble condition created a situation where the economies of Niger Delta states were in near collapse due to the activities of armed groups and the money-making Joint Military Task Force. Whereas survival was hardest, Observation (9) noted that; “Government has given the petroleum industry as a “gift” to the northern part of Nigeria. All major appointments in the oil industry including its minister are all northerners.”
Having articulated the frustrations of the youth, the communiqué then hit the bull eye in Resolutions (1) “The Government of Bayelsa State should take immediate steps to dismantle all militia camps in Bayelsa State and provide for the demobilization, training and re-integration of those in such camps. Such a program must be holistic, broad and well planned to accommodate all militia camps in the state” (2) “Government should immediately grant amnesty to all militants including, Mr. Henry Okah as part of the demobilization and re-integration process,” and (3) “All militia camps in Bayelsa State MUST embrace the government demobilization and re-integration process when it begins, and immediately start the process of closing down all militia camps forthwith. This should be accomplished within the next three months.”
In Search of Peace
COMMITTEE then made presentation 8th February to Silva, who promised to sponsor the group in its onerous self-imposed task. A timetable for consultation was drawn beginning with other Niger Delta governors, INC leadership, the Yar’Adua government, diplomatic community, and finally militants. Unfortunately, Committee’s activities leaked to the creeks causing a big uproar.
On 9th March Committee members ran into a storm at Akure, where they went to consult Governor Olusegun Mimiko. Bibopre (Shoot-at-Sight) Ajube and his militants booed them as traitors. They were prevented from entering Government House till some officials recognized them as authentic youth leaders. Mimiko saw them and they returned to Yenagoa only to receive an impromptu summon to appear before a gathering of warlords at Tompolo’s Camp Five. A charge of disloyalty to the Ijaw cause was leveled against them. In defence, they told the gathering that they were committed to peace before leaving unharmed.
A “Request for Audience” letter was 9th March dispatched to Chief Andrew Uchendu, Chairman, South South Parliamentary Caucus of the National Assembly; and through Senator James Manager, All Distinguished Senators from the Ijaw Area and All Honourable Members of the House of Representatives from the Ijaw Area. The letters stated that Committee was mandated by the 6th February Yenagoa youth summit to pursue the dismantlement of all militant camps, amnesty and Program for disarmament, re-integration, empowerment, etc. The meeting was “to explore possible areas of collaboration and assistance, among other issues, regarding the peace, security and development of the Niger Delta.”
Committee’s first contact with the Yar’Adua government was 26th February through the Inspector General of Police and Minister of State, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. On 27th February the Director-General of State Security Services, SSS, was briefed at Abuja. Like the governors, the SSS and police promised to pass Committee’s amnesty proposal to higher authorities. The INC President was written 8th March. The Minister, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs 26th March.
Within the diplomatic community the British High Commission was their first port of call 26th March. The Consul welcomed their proposal. The South African and Canadian embassies all responded in likewise manner. In each embassy a copy of the proposal was left behind and progress was rapid. Finally, a reply came 9th March from Robin Renee Sanders, the U.S. Ambassador in Nigeria. The ambassador said she would see Committee on condition that Asari was not among the delegates. On 30th March Committee met Sanders at Abuja without him.
The Gbaramatu Genocide
COMMITTEE’S good work was nearly truncated by a horrific event that tested the statesmanship of even the highly respected Ogoriba. In early May, the humiliated Yar’Adua sent in soldiers to capture Tompolo for brazenly killing a Lt. Colonel and eleven other JTF men on 13th April. Failing to track down their target the soldiers 15th May, turned on Tompolo’s hometown of Gbaramatu Kingdom on the Escravos River. Some 2,000 of the very elderly, nursing mothers and ordinary villagers were cut down triggering an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. This senseless slaughter was backed by a 21st May resolution passed by the Dimeji Bankole-led House of Representatives.
A furious Tuodolo wrote Bankole three days later in condemnation of the invasion, arguing that militancy was the common property of every geo-political zone even though only the South South was singled out for militarization:
“However, what conditions prompted the setting up of the JTF in the Niger Delta? If it is the protection of economic facilities and fighting of crimes or “militants”, then other regions are not safer than the Niger Delta. On the issue of kidnapping and hostage-taking, it is on record that these crimes are taking place in all the geo-political zones of the Federation, including the South-West where you come from, and the North where Hon Balla Ibn Nallah comes from (see Vanguard 14/02/09, 14/03/09, 27/03/09; Tribune 16/12/08, 20/04/09; The Sun 16/04/09; ThisDay 19/04/09; Daily Trust 24/05/09).
“In the cases of armed robbery, other regions record more incidences than the Niger Delta (see ThisDay 07/12/08; Weekly Trust 04/08/07; Leadership 26/12/08). Even the incidences of oil pipeline vandalism are common occurrences in all the geopolitical zones of Nigeria (see Punch 16/05/08, 13/12/07; Daily Trust 29/12/07; ThisDay 19/05/08; Vanguard 11/07/07). NITEL cables are vandalised and stolen in other regions than the Niger Delta (see Punch 13/02/08; Vanguard 17/09/08; Leadership 18/01/08), so also are PHCN cables (see Daily Trust 07/09/08; Punch 10/04/08).
“The presence or existence of arms, “militants” and “militant camps” in the guise of religion, sovereignty, resource control or boundary dispute dots all the regions of Nigeria (see Guardian 19/03/09, 02/03/09, 23/04/09; Vanguard 22/04/09). Yet, it is only the Niger Delta that has been selected for militarization. Is this not hypocritical? Or are the citizens of the Niger Delta lesser citizens in Nigeria? What is good for the goose is also good for the gander. It will only be just to militarise all the regions where these crimes are taking place as they are not different from the Niger Delta.”
Such was the anger when on Thursday 25th June, citing Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution, Yar’Adua suddenly declared; “I hereby grant amnesty and unconditional pardon to all persons who have directly or indirectly participated in the commission of offences associated with militant activities in the Niger Delta.”
COMMITTEE rejected Yar’Adua’s Amnesty in all its ramifications, as it could not have come at a worse time when Ijaws were licking their deep wound at Gbaramatu. Secondly, no prior agreement was reached with government before Amnesty as efforts to see the president by Committee was thwarted. Such agreement would see a reasonable increase in the derivation formula from 13%. Thirdly, without the involvement of neutral international community Yar’Adua’s motive was suspect.
Based on the above Committee seriously warned that Niger Delta minorities were under no obligation to accept a dubious amnesty. For generations these minorities were subjected to inhuman condition where their natural resources were looted and habitats contaminated. It was in self-defence that the youths took up arms to check these excesses. If anyone deserved amnesty it was the Nigerian State and racist oil multinationals. In short, what Committee wanted was a negotiated amnesty gazetted into law.
Things were not helped as Ateke Tom, who initially hailed Amnesty now became ambiguous; finally rejecting it. Farah Dagogo, Soboma George and Ebikabowei (Boyloaf) Ben rejected the “unconditionally” clause attached to it. Tompolo remained stiffly opposed to the whole charade as long as Okah stood trial in Jos on charges of gun running in Angola. He also wanted every single soldier out of the region. In the deadlock that followed, Committee once more saved the day. On the understanding that Amnesty’s latent flaws could be corrected in situ, it reluctantly embraced it and joined other Niger Delta leaders in talking to militants to do likewise. Tom and Tompolo only accepted Amnesty on 4th October, the very last day of the sixty-day deadline within which militants were expected to hand in their weapons.
Therefore, it can be argued that Yar’Adua appropriated a concept given bone and flesh in the womb of IYC by Tuodolo and his comrades. The harm was done by the Presidential Panel on Amnesty of 5th May, that made a parody of DDRRR, by degrading it back to UN’s DDR.
If the argument is that DDR was the standard world over, it must be understood that the Niger Delta has its peculiarity and so what worked in Kosovo may not work in the region. But the story could have been different had Yar’Adua and his Panel implemented DDRRR the way it was designed, as he who wears the shoe knows where it hurts. The greatest headache confronting beneficiaries of Amnesty is job placement, which DDRRR foresaw, but DDR did not.
The Bad Aspects
VERTICALLY, 21st Century Ijaw is a land of great inequality. The Ijaw ex-militant leader is an overnight billionaire, while ordinary Ijaws are still poor. He is contented with the deplorable living condition in his own immediate community, which he shuns for Abuja and Dubai. Mention the children Harold Dappa-Biriye and Isaac Adaka Boro left behind and you have truly spoilt his day. But an exception must be made here: Tompolo truly cares about Ijaws. He has a mind not moved by wealth or adversity.
Horizontally, today’s Niger Delta comprises of privileged Ijaws and the sorry others. While Ijaws eat other ethnic minorities are reduced to watching with jealous eyes. If the Fulani man is a tragic figure in seeing this country as a conquered territory, the Ijaw man could escape the same fate sparing some kind thought for the Efik, Isoko, Ibibio, etc; granted that Ijaw boys did much of the fighting.
Amnesty suffers the above complexes. It is elitist and, it is sectarian. Nigerians were taken aback when Kelvin Ibruvwe and his questionable Liberation Movement of the Urhobo People, LIMUP, recently asked for a separate amnesty from government. A deeper reading of Ibruvwe’s demand indicts Amnesty as sidelining his ethnic group. It also shows that this programme is not community based not to detect Ibruvwe’s disaffection when he started murmuring of being pushed out of his grandfather’s only land by Shell into the crime ridden Okada economy.
There is justifiable fear of the Niger Delta breaking ranks; with each minority pursuing a struggle within the struggle. Blame the Ijaw ex-militant leader for this sad state of affairs. The Kaiama Declaration ebulliently carries other minorities along. In his inaugural speech IYC fifth President Miabiye Kuromiema confirmed that the struggle was a joint one. Where then did the Ijaw ex-militant leader get his beggar-my-neighbour mindset from?
Making Amnesty Work
IN its present configuration, Amnesty has become a red herring in the emancipation of other Niger Delta minorities. Least we forget, this programme is not about bread and butter. It is a core national security matter that cannot be trivialized. Its deficiencies mean that any government sensitive to the poverty and despondency in the region cannot leave it untouched.
The best way for Buhari to build on its good aspects is by taking a peep at the DDRRR proposal presented to his predecessor Yar’Adua with bias to making it (1) community-based so that ordinary villagers who bore the brunt of the armed struggle could also benefit; (2) more inclusive for other minorities without alienating Ijaws who undeniably championed it, and (3) more transparent by transferring Amnesty Office from Abuja to Yenagoa, preferably. This is the best way of cutting out the ex-militant leader who acts as middleman between Amnesty Office and potential beneficiaries.
EKE Lives In Port Harcourt
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