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Whither state governments’ amnesties for Militants?

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Before October 2010, when late President Umaru Musa Yar Adua’s government, in a bid to stem the tide of militancy in the Niger Delta region announced amnesty programme for the leaders and militant groups in the region, amnesty was not common in Nigeria’s political lexicon. Despite the mixed reactions, questions, and controversies coupled with the ups and downs that dogged and have continued to trail the federal government Amnesty Programme for the Niger Delta militants, most state governments are adopting the approach in tackling criminality and other vices in their States. In most cases, the programme has always ended up not achieving the desired result, despite the millions of public fund sunk into it. Some have argued that amnesty programme for criminals, especially in a society like ours where there is no proper database or probity, is a waste of resources and conduit pipe to siphon public funds. Others advised that instead of government expending huge funds on amnesty programme that is neither here nor there, it is better for such funds to be used in creating jobs for the youths.

Considering the fact that the implementation of the programme by the government is always political and on short-term basis, many have seen it as an opportunity to make their own easy fortune. That may be the reason some state governments that have implemented the programme never bother to come up with a scrutinized report of its failure or success. The society on the other hand hardly feel the impact of its implementation, considering the fact that crime has continued to be on the increase. Despite this, some state governments are either implementing or planning to implement the programme. Assessment of the amnesty programme being implemented by some state governors shows that more work still need to be done to make it work.

Rivers Govt Moves To End Bloodletting Through Amnesty
From Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief)
To stem the wave of bloodletting by rival cult groups and restore peace to crisis-ridden communities, the Rivers State government has offered a blanket amnesty to anyone who drops his arms to embrace peace.

These cult members are in places like Omoku, Abua, Ibaa, Isiokpo, Omuagwa, Rumuekpe, Aluu, Rumuji, Ovogo and Rumuewhuo, Yeghe communities of Rivers State. They often engage in house-to-house rampage shooting, hacking and decapitating of defenceless men, women and children for inexplicable reasons. The offer by the State government is aimed at preventing the perpetrators of these heinous crimes from being prosecuted if they embrace the amnesty offer.

The President of Rivers Pathfinders, Clement Jack, had before the amnesty offer expressed fear that unless the federal government intervenes urgently, Rivers State would be in crisis due to the level of insecurity in the State, culminating in the daily killing of innocent citizens and the destruction of properties in several local government areas of the State.

Jack recalled the several incidences of assassination, kidnapping, street killing, cult-related killings, beheading of human beings and displaying of their heads in open square and all sorts of confusion in the state.

“Just within a month alone, nine persons were beheaded at Oduoha Emohua, 17 persons at Ogoni, 13 persons at Ahoada West, 6 persons at Abua, uncountable number of killings in Omoku. On Friday June 3 2016 over 40 persons relaxing at the frontage of stores or drinking parlours were sent to untimely death at Aluu community, next door to the University of Port Harcourt. The killers of the unsuspecting innocent citizens were said to have started their rampage from Isiokpo, Omuagwa, Rumuekpe communities before arriving at Aluu,” he said.

Piqued by the adverse effect of the activities of these despicable groups in the state, Governor Nyesom Wike, had on September 16, inaugurated the State amnesty programme committee headed by Mr. Ken Chinda.

The committee with representatives drawn from military, police and the Department of State Services, has been charged to interface with the different cult groups for the purpose of retrieving arms from them. The committee was also saddled with the responsibility of working out modalities to ensure the proper integration of cultists who willingly subscribe to the amnesty programme.

“Anyone who has surrendered his arms and has followed through the process laid out for the amnesty would be pardoned. Such a person will not be prosecuted. This committee has 60 days to complete its assignment.

“After the 60 days, any cultist or militant who fails to subscribe to the amnesty programme will face the full weight of the law,” he said.

Before the announcement of the amnesty offer, Governor Wike has led security agents on a raid at the hideouts of cultists and kidnappers at the Eagle Island, Port Harcourt. The governor who supervised the demolition of two cultists camps at Eagle Island, also announced that a police station would be built there.

It will be recalled that in July, 2016, Governor Wike had declared a total war on cultists in the state, stating that they would be dealt with.

“We have declared a total war on cultism. We will fish out those who sponsor cult-related violence in some communities of the state. I have provided the required support and logistics to the security  agencies to tackle these cultists. Nobody involved will be spared. No cultist will go free,” he said.

But the governor’s decision to grant a blanket amnesty to the cultists might have been informed by his desire to provide healing, and avert any disciplinary action that would open old wounds.

Those who are opposed to the State government’s stance on the amnesty have argued that amnesty for killers is a denial of justice for the victims.

Chairman of the amnesty committee, Ken Chinda, disclosed to The Guardian in Port Harcourt that over 10,000 repentant cultists have embraced the amnesty offer and surrendered undisclosed number of weapons.

Just penultimate Saturday, hundreds of cult members belonging to Iceland and Debam groups, accepted the amnesty offer and surrendered weapons that include AK 47 rifles, Dane guns, dynamites, NATO gun and detonators at Isiokpo, the headquarters of Ikwerre Council.

Similarly, some cult groups in Ahoada West Council Area have accepted the amnesty offer by renouncing their membership of cult group during a peace and reconciliation meeting at Ogbologbolo town hall in Ahoada west Council Area organised by the State Government in conjunction with the council authority.

Similar success was recorded in Soku community in Akuku Toru Council, where more than 20 cultists accepted the government’s gesture.

The leader of the Debam cult group in Soku, Divine Boy, who surrendered 14 dynamites, guns, machetes and charms, has appealed to the State government to create employment opportunities for repentant cultists to prevent them from resorting to criminality.

The amnesty committee chairman observed that in Ogba/Egbema/ Ndoni Local Council Area, which has witnessed some of the most vicious cult clashes, scores of cultists have also embraced the amnesty offer. The amnesty committee blamed the crisis in the council on the greed of the elite.

“From Omoku to Egi, it is greed all over. Everybody wants to have quick money. There were some persons who were given projects in the name of the community, but they diverted it to themselves. People should see themselves as servants of the people and not lords over the people”

Chinda told The Guardian that the success recorded by his committee has been the restoration of peace in Abua/odual, Ahoada East, Ahoada West, Ogba/Egbema/ Ndoni, Etche, Andoni, Akuku-toru, Asari-Toru, Khana, Gokana council areas, where there were issues of killing, cultism and criminality.

He explained that before the amnesty offer communities in some local council areas were engulfed in one form of crisis or the other. As a result of this, people had to flee and abandoned their homes. According to him, the situation was so bad that people could longer go back to their villages for funeral and marriage ceremonies and even to see loved ones.

“Peace has been restored and the confidence has been restored. People are generally happy. All those who live and do business in Rivers state can testify that there is peace. We no longer have incidents of criminality for a while now.

“At least nobody can say he has heard gunshots in these areas since we commenced this programme. The way the young men approached the scheme showed they were also supportive of the government. They said they are tired of violence and they have also seen the sincerity of the governor in transforming their lives,” he said.

Chinda explained that the governor has shown desire in changing the lives of the repentant cultists, so that they can have a new life outside cultism and have a legitimate means of income through the programme outlined for the amnesty scheme.

“Government intends to engage them through meaningful ventures such as skill acquisition. Some of these young men said they do not have any skill to enable them to even secure employment. Some of them are not educated. Some of them are school dropouts, even at the lowest level. So, government will engage them seriously and that we have started also by giving them biometric forms so that we know at the end of the day what they want to do for themselves, so as to engage them in that field of endeavour”

“What we want to do for them contains technical skill training. We also intend to give scholarship to those who want to go back to school and for those who have certificates in one area or the other, we will give them employment. Those we will train, we will engage them, either by direct employment or we will give them starter packs to enable them start their own businesses, which we are going to monitor to ensure that the funds given to them will be properly utilised. We will monitor their activities both at home and places of work to ensure that they do not deviate,” he said.

“For now, we have captured over 10,000 persons and a lot more will still be captured. We are not done yet. The full wrath of the law will take its course if anyone fails to embrace the amnesty before November 14.”

Benue Govt Achieves Relative Peace With Recovery Of Illegal Arms
From Joseph Wantu, Makurdi
WHEN Benue State Governor, Mr Samuel Ortom assumed office, one of the major challenges his government faced was insecurity occasioned by illegal possession of firearms by people. In view of this, there were indiscriminate killings, particularly in the Benue North-East Senatorial zone, where some politicians were alleged to have engaged the services of militia groups to clinch political power by all cost. The situation was only less different in the Benue North West and South of the state.

Most places particularly Katsina-Ala and Ukum axis in Zone ‘A’ became no-go-areas as no day passes by without incidents of brutal killings, kidnappings and robbery as the case may be. Alleged to be at the forefront of this insecurity was a young man, Terwase Akwaza alias Ghana, who was alleged to have over 400 militias under his camp. These militants were meant to secure his people against external aggression from their neighbors in Taraba, but eventually turned into monsters against the people of the state.

Worried over the development, Governor Ortom used diplomacy to convince the gang leader Terwase Akwaza and hundreds of his gang members to surrender weapons through the amnesty programme. The amnesty programme itself was divided into two parts. The carrot and stick approach with the first part ending in August, leaving behind the stick approach which is ongoing.

A high-powered committee managed the programme for three months during which over 700 illegally armed youths led by Ghana surrendered over 400 different types of weapons and ammunition. But, in as much as the amnesty programme yielded result, it was not all encompassing across all the senatorial zones of the state. For instance, the people of Benue South District did not fully embrace it, even as no recovery was actually recorded from the herdsmen who have been attacking the areas.

It is, however, eventful to say that pockets of abductors and cultists who are hellbent on frustrating the efforts of the government are still operating in the state, but they are being faced with resistance from the police and other security agents that arrest them on a daily basis. Governor Ortom has, in pursuit of his amnesty programme, dedicated Benue State to God on May 30, at the IBB Public Square in Makurdi. But shortly after the event, three principal actors in the amnesty programme allegedly derailed from their oath to uphold to the rules and tenets of the programme.

The gruesome murder of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Security, Mr Denen Igbana, who happened to be the anchorman for the programme, marked a serious setback for the scheme. This was closely followed by the arrest of another anchor person and Adviser to Governor Ortom on Special Duties, Architect Joseph Ikyargba for his alleged complicity in the death of Igbana. Architect Ikyargba has since been made to resign from the state exco, while the Amnesty gang leader Ghana has been declared wanted by the police for his alleged role in the death of the governor’s aide and for violating the amnesty oath by going back to their bad old days.

However, Ortom vowed not to shield anyone from investigation by security agencies and asked them to fish out those that killed his aide. He equally pledged to sustain the amnesty programme initiated by his administration in spite of the assassination of his Senior Special Assistant on Special Security, whom he described as the amnesty pillar.

With the stick approach of the amnesty ongoing, more arms, ammunition, charms as well as over 60 criminals that defaulted the amnesty programme, most of whom are accomplices of Ghana, were arrested and arms recovered by the joint security operatives drafted across the state. As it is now, many states in Nigeria including Taraba and many others have already keyed into the Benue example.

Recently, Governor Ortom was invited to deliver a keynote address at a United Nation’s gathering in New York. Expressing his view about the amnesty programme of the government, a social commentator, Joseph Tsekaa lauded the success the programme has recorded so far, but advised the governor to strengthen the committee and have sub- committees at the zonal level, so as to fast-track the recovery of illicit arms from youths.

“To me the amnesty programme of the government is a success. If it were not introduced, nobody would have remained in the state particularly in the Benue North East zone. The bad boys were going from house to house,” Tsekaa said.

Another citizen of the state, Adole Adouche from Otukpo, expressed misgivings as to why the programme did not give much attention to the herdsmen who he said are still grazing freely in some parts of the state with AK 45 guns. He advised the government to closely check and monitor activities of the herdsmen and ensure that they are included in the programme.

Also in a remark, Mr. Gbakule John from Katsina-Ala encouraged Governor Ortom to continue with the programme, despite attempts by some people to frustrate it. He equally urged security operatives to be focus and not to be compromised by the criminals.

Speaking with one of the amnesty beneficiaries who hails from Katsina- Ala, who craved anonymity, he said government should correct some of the anomalies going on among managers of the programme, alleging that most of them surrendered arms that were not paid for by the managers as specified by the Governor. He, however, vowed not to go back to the criminal act now that he has seen the light, stating that he is now fully a businessman trading in cloths in Katsina- Ala town. Mr. Gbakule further advised citizens of Benue State to join hands with the Governor as he forge ahead to implement the amnesty programme in all parts of Benue State, noting that security is not one man’s responsibility nor that of security agents alone, but a collective responsibility of all the citizens.

PLATEAU: Amnesty Promised, Yet To Be Implemented
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
On Sunday, October 16, 2016, the Commander of the Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), Major – General Rogers Nicholas, took the Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong round to inspect the cache of arms seized from restive youths by the special task force.

The OPSH, formerly named the Special Task Force (STF) was drafted to the state and two local governments of Bauchi State, Bogoro and Tafawa Balewa councils, to check violence at the peak of the communal crisis in the state that left many dead.

It was as a result of this incident that the governor announced amnesty programme for youths in possession of illegal firearms and light weapons, who are ready to surrender them.

The OPSH Commander, General Nicholas, at this juncture told the governor that some of the firearms seized are imported. The confiscated weapons from the hoodlums included cartridges, pistols, rifles, locally fabricated rocket launchers and an anti– aircraft gun among many other weapons.

Lalong later disclosed that Plateau State government is working on an amnesty programme for those who are willing to surrender illegal weapons in their possession.

The governor, who was visibly concerned and touched said: “Very well, I am ready for the amnesty. I will tell my commissioners to go back to their local councils so as to mop up the arms together with Operation Safe Haven. We will make announcement that those in possession of firearms should come out and surrender them because some of them are claiming that they are not employed and that was why they indulged in arms deal. Come out with your ammunition and we will reward you accordingly.”

The governor even likened the activities of the youths who are in possession of the arms to those of the Shiites that he recently banned in the state.

“As you already know, the movement (Shiites) has already been banned in its headquarters in Kaduna. Why should the branch exist in Plateau State? If they believe the movement is already banned in the headquarters, there should be no branch operating in Plateau State.

“Please, I am appealing to them, Plateau is a peaceful state. Any little thing religious could be volatile and could engulf the whole nation. Whoever is bringing the issue of religion again back to Plateau should please take it back to where it is coming from. We are already enjoying our peace. We are consolidating on the peace we have in the state.

Commending officers of OPSH for their dedication to duty, the governor promised to improve their condition of work. Lalong said that the recovery of the huge cache of different types of ammunition was a big challenge to the government as it is working tirelessly to restore permanent peace to the state.

Asked whether some people had voluntarily surrendered their arms from the day the governor announced the amnesty, Spokesman of the Taskforce team, Major Ikedichi Iweha, declined comment.

Director of Press and Public Affairs, Government House, Mr. Emmanuel Samuel Nanle, said that the taskforce had almost recovered all the arms, adding that government will definitely work out skills acquisition programmes for those who voluntarily surrender their weapons.

Nanle told The Guardian that if that one does not work as expected, the government will have no other option than to resort to forceful mop-up of arms. He, however, said that the community mop-up operation is yielding result, stressing that except that nobody has come out to willingly surrender.



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