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1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The Niger Delta region, also referred to as the South-South geo-political zone is made up of six states – Akwa Ibom, Delta, Bayelsa, Cross River, Edo, and Rivers States. It is a region made up of a number of ethnic nationalities mainly, Ijaw, Ekwere, Ibo, Efiks, Mbembe, Ejagham, Yakurr, to mention a few. This region with a population of 31 million people, is a vast coastal plain in the southernmost part of Nigeria, where one of West Africa‟s longest rivers empties into the Atlantic Ocean between the Bights of Benin and Biafra, in the Gulf of Guinea. It is situated within the wetland area of Nigeria with the most extensive freshwater swamp forest and rich biological diversity, and out of an area of about 70,000 square Kms, covered by the region, 36 Sq Kms alone is covered in marshland, creeks, tributaries and lagoons, therefore, making it the largest wetland in Africa and one of the largest in the world, while the rest is a lowland rainforest zone (Obi, 2010)
The thrust of this paper is not to give a historical account of the conflict in the Niger Delta but the amnesty initiative adopted in the region cannot be talked about devoid of the reason behind the need for the act. It should be noted that the conflict in the Niger delta region pre dates the colonial period, discovery of crude oil and the Nigerian independence. As a result of this, it isn‟t far-fetched to assert that the region had been laden with Militancy even before the discovery of crude oil at the Oloibiri in 1956.
Ayodele, (1999); Hargreaves, (1996); Tamuno, (1999), all traced the era of militancy in the Niger delta to the time of Jaja of Opobo, Ovonramwem N‟Ogbaisi of Benin establishing that the British interest in the Niger Delta or Oil Rivers goes back to 1851 earlier before the 1885 proclamation of the region as a British Protectorate. The militancy witnessed in this era was such that the british dominance and control of the palm oil trade was resisted by the Deltan Kings, although a futile effort because the British did dominate the oil trade without regard to the development of the region or its inhabitants.
The expectation and hope that came with the discovery of oil in the region was short-lived, when rather than provide development and improvement in the region it has brought about agony and penury to the people. This has led to the use of petitions, civil agitations and now militant agitations as a way through which the Niger Deltans have cried out their plight. The lack of attention from the government towards their plight led to a lot of actions, one of recountable measure was the creation of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) which was headed by Ken Saro-Wiwa who was an activist and this groups activities gave much leeway to the conflict as to them, it was a struggle and quest for self-determination.
A different era of militancy sprung up following the arrest and death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Other Ogoni 8, rather than be deterred this led to the emergence of various militant groups who saw the Ogoni 9 killings as an act of Martyrdom. These new groups all chose to live by the sword in a bid to achieve their ends and as such have taken up arms to drive their point. The blessings the discovery of oil was meant to bring has instead led to the pollution of the water and rivers through the exploration and exploitation of their lands, which has in turn has made their occupation of fishing and agriculture to become an almost impossibility with no possible solution in sight.
The inability of the oil companies and Nigerian Government to reduce the negative impact the exploration of oil has reeked/ wreaked on the region has motivated the oil producing communities to move against the Nigerian state through a chain of events ranging from peaceful protests to violent protests and an increase in the perpetuation of oil bunkering, kidnapping and pipeline vandalisation.
President Umar Musa Yar‟Adua on June 25, 2009, granted amnesty to all persons involved in the Militant activities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, whether directly or indirectly. The amnesty initiative which was a sort of last resort tactic by the president to proffer a solution to the lingering crisis inherent in that region, gave a 60 days window from the adoption of the initiative for the militants to lay down their arms. The realization that the activities of the militant groups if left unchecked could become a problem for Nigeria‟s economy led to this decision of the government in power at the time. Before the granting of amnesty President Yar‟Adua had tried other solutions such as drawing up the Niger Delta Master Plan, establishment of a Niger Delta Ministry (Ikenya and Iwuagwu, (2009); Omotola, (2010). The Amnesty Programme was
categorized into three phases: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. The disarmament was to last from August 6th to 4th October 2009; demobilization was to last for a period of six to twelve months; while reintegration was to last for five years, which would end in the year 2015- a year which was to hold the presidential election.
The Amnesty Programme was an avenue for the willing militants to surrender their weapons in exchange for skill acquisition, financial benefits and a host of other benefits that would follow. The terms of the amnesty included the willingness and readiness of these agitators to surrender their arms, unconditionally renounce militancy and sign an undertaking to this effect. In return, the government pledged its commitment to institute programmes to assist the disarmament,
demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of repentant ex-agitators. The major objective of the amnesty programme was to stabilize, consolidate and sustain the security conditions in the Niger Delta as a ground for economic development in the area. Following the proclamation of amnesty for the militants, the region has been transformed from the once volatile area to one where peace, safety, security and sustainable development is present. This relative peace has aided in the growth of Nigeria‟s oil production from the 700,000s barrels per day as at the first week of January 2009 to between 2.4 to 2.6 million barrels per day as at April, 2012.
At the end of the disarmament period, it was viewed as a huge success by many owing to the fact that it reduced most of the problems being faced in that region. The laying down of arms by the militants seemingly brought about relative peace to the Niger Delta in particular and Nigeria as a whole. There was visible reduction in the violent activities in the region as well as an increase in the oil export of Nigeria.
This study critically examines the amnesty programme of the administration and the challenges it has been confronted with in terms of arguments for and against it. The study comes up with suggestions on the ways in which the gains of the amnesty programme can be sustained and/or improved upon in a way to favor all those involved.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Just like every strategy or arrangement made by the Nigerian government, The Amnesty program which was implemented by the late former President Umaru Musa Yar‟Adua has met with visible challenges. Owing largely to the lackadaisical attitude of the system of government where
rather than continue the initiatives or operation of previous leaders, the present ones come in and take up new approaches to running their government.
The thrust of this paper is to ascertain how far the amnesty initiative of late President Umaru Musa Yar‟Adua has achieved success in quelling the issue of militancy in the region of the Niger Delta and also to identify and proffer solutions to the challenges faced along the way. The problems include:
1. The exclusive nature of the Amnesty: The beneficiaries of this amnesty program has been the militants, no thought has gone to the victims of the conflict or the families that they left behind. This program didn‟t take into consideration, mothers and children who had lost their husbands and fathers, sons who were killed during the crisis and the people who had to move from their homes because they were displaced. It is rather focused on the people who were responsible for all the death and destruction in the region.
2. Lack of cooperation: This is visible on the part of the former militants who have been provided an opportunity to join the rest of civil society and make a better living for themselves. The Amnesty Program has provided them with an opportunity to create better futures for themselves by enrolling them in schools, entrepreneurial training centers and providing them with menial job opportunities, but rather than cooperate fully with the system, they prefer to act out against all the program stands to benefit them.
3. The amnesty initiative has not been focused in addressing the root causes of the crisis in the Niger Delta Region, it is rather focused in the acts of disarming, rehabilitating and reintegrating the militants in the Nigerian state.
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The main objective of this study is to determine how effective the amnesty program has been in resolving the crisis in the Niger Delta while the specific objectives are stated as follows
i. To examine the challenges faced by the government in implementing this program
ii. To determine the extent to which the amnesty program has been a success
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