10th September, 2012
Analysts warn that the present huge payments to former militants for peace in the Niger Delta is not sustainable
On 8 December 2011, early morning travellers along the Abuja-Lokoja highway were subjected to a long ordeal as hundreds of youths who described themselves as former militants from the Niger-Delta took over the River Niger-Murtala Muhammed Bridge end of the main artery that links the northern to the southern parts of the country. The youths, who were in many chartered buses, were on their way to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, to protest their non-inclusion in the Federal Government’s amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants before they were stopped at that section of the road by the police.
‘General’ Ramsey, who described himself as the leader of the team of ex-militants, told the policemen they were on their way to Abuja to meet with the President to register their displeasure over their alleged exclusion from the programme. “The government asked us to come out of the creeks and lay down our arms, which we did. But since then, the government has failed to fulfil its own part of the bargain but kept promising us. While we have embraced the amnesty programme, the federal government is frustrating it by refusing to pay us, and we don’t want to go back to the creeks or pick up arms again,” said General Ramsey.
However, Kingsley Kuku, Special Adviser to the President on Amnesty programme, wasted no time in dismissing the agitators. Though he acknowledged that the protesters were indeed militant youths, he said they were not part of the over 26,000 youths that embraced amnesty when the programme was brought to a close on 4 October 2009. But determined to be part of the deal, the youths, at least on two occasions this year, were able to slip into the FCT, to the embarrassment of managers of the amnesty programme who had all along given the nation the impression that the problem of militancy was over in the oil-producing region of Nigeria. Well, their persistence paid off last week.
After repeated assertions that there would be no new intakes into the amnesty programme, Kuku ate his words last Monday as he revealed that the federal government had agreed to open the third phase of the Amnesty Programme with 3,642 ex-militants. Kuku, who was speaking in Arogbo, Ese Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State last Monday, said the 3,642 persons would join the 26,368 beneficiaries of the programme, bringing the total number to 30,000. “There is agitation going on in the Niger Delta and I have always been at the forefront of the clamour that the amnesty programme has to close. The boys are unrelenting and the security agencies have collected their arms. The only option open to us is to return their arms. So if we are not going to return their arms, they should be included in the programme one way or the other,” said Kuku. He added that a memo has been forwarded to the President on the issue. This is against his earlier statements in different media interviews that the agitators never accepted the amnesty programme nor submitted their arms during the programme.
Yet, Kuku was not done. He added that the programme would now be extended to those who were not involved in armed struggle during the Niger Delta agitation, but worked for the militants in one way or the other: “We have to include law-abiding citizens of these communities in the programme. Unless we do this, we will be telling the communities that they can only be empowered if they carry arms. In order to cancel that message, which has been backfiring on this programme, it is important to include these people who are close to some form of restiveness in their communities.”
The fear is Kuku, and by extension, President Jonathan, by last week’s decision may have opened the door to unending agitations for inclusion in the amnesty programme under one guise or the other by not only youths from the Niger Delta, but from other parts of the country.
Already, some Itsekiri youths who claimed that Kuku had turned the programme to an Ijaw affair have petitioned the National Assembly, accusing the presidential adviser of mismanagement.
There is also an absurd, tongue-in-cheek suggestion for some sort of amnesty programme targeted at youths in the northern part of the country as a way of ending the insurgency that has grounded socio-economic activities in some states in the region. Then there is the issue of the cost of not just the amnesty programme, but the entire payments associated with keeping the militants and their “Generals” happy as a way of ensuring peace in the Niger Delta for facilitation of oil production in the region. There have also been complaints about late or non-payment of ex-militants’ monthly dues.
The late President Umaru Yar’Adua initiated the amnesty programme in 2009 at a time an upsurge in militant activities – such as attacks on production facilities, kidnapping of expatriate workers in the petroleum industry and blowing up of pipelines – in the Niger Delta region had crippled the country’s oil production. At a point, Nigeria’s the violence forced oil production to less than one million barrels per day.
The late President had included in his amnesty proclamation, the willingness and readiness of the agitators to surrender their arms on or before 4 October 2009, unconditionally renounce militancy and sign an undertaking to this effect. In return, the government pledged to institute programmes to assist the disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration of repentant militants. Encouraged and led by their leaders like Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, Boyloaf and Ateke Tom, 20,192 militants surrendered their guns and embraced the amnesty deal at the expiration of the ultimatum. Another 6,166 militants who agreed to dump their guns for peace were added in November 2010, to constitute a second phase of the programme, thus bringing the number of enlistments in the Presidential Amnesty Programme to 26,358.
While briefing journalists on the third anniversary of the initiative earlier this year, Kuku noted that in line with its objectives of demobilising and reintegrating the former combatants into civil society, the entire 26,358 ex-agitators enlisted in the programme had been fully demobilised, having successfully undertaken non-violence, transformational training at the Amnesty Demobilisation Camps in Obubra, Cross River State and Akodo in Lagos State. The Amnesty Office also said it had within three years successfully placed a total of 11,525 former militants in skills acquisition/training and formal education centres within and outside the country. Some of the beneficiaries, said Kuku, were being trained in different skills that would make them self-reliant in 39 local training centres in 12 states of the federation; while some others had been placed in offshore educational and skill acquisition centres in the United States of America, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Malaysia, England, Israel, Sri Lanka, India, Benin Republic, Cyprus, Poland, Ghana, Turkey, Romania, Belarus, United Arab Emirates, The Philippines as well as Trinidad and Tobago. More of the trainees are due to be deployed to skill acquisition facilities in Greece, Germany and Canada.
Kuku added that 6,067 other ex-militants are currently being processed for deployment to reintegration centres in and outside the country. “The reintegration agenda of the Federal Government is to groom these ex-agitators to become key players in the emerging economies of the states in the Niger Delta. Several of them are also being prepared to become entrepreneurs who will ultimately provide gainful employment for themselves and other youths,” said Kuku.
He also listed “random emergence of groups of unregistered youths claiming rights to the benefits of the Amnesty package” as one of the major challenges confronting the programme. But the youths angling to be part of the scheme cannot be blamed. For one, apart from the opportunity for fully sponsored vocational or educational training in Nigeria or overseas, the ex-militants are also paid N65,000 monthly stipend each and are entitled to generous exit packages on their final disengagement from the programme. Therefore, many have argued, the message from the Amnesty Programme to deprived Nigerian youths in and outside of the Niger Delta region is that violence and militancy pays.
This apart, critics of the programme are also raising questions over the mind-boggling payments for peace in the oil producing region of the country. For instance, about N127 billion was budgeted for the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme from 2009 to 2011. A further analysis indicated that of the amount, N3 billion was spent in 2009 as take-off grant for the initiative, while N30 billion and N96 billion were spent respectively in 2010 and 2011 for payment of stipends and training of the ex-militants; N74 billion, equivalent to the budget of some states in the country, was allocated for the programme in the 2012 budget. The payments are however considered peanuts when weighed against various benefits being bestowed on their ‘Generals’ to ensure continued peace in the Niger Delta since the inception of the amnesty programme.
In a recent story, this magazine detailed how Government Ekpemupolo, leader of a foremost Niger Delta militant group, has been a beneficiary of several government contracts. They include a N15 billion contract awarded to the Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, GWVSL, a firm widely believed to be owned by Tompolo, to supply 20 vessels for the use of the nation’s military authorities to secure the waterways. Ziadeke Akpobolokemi, Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, confirmed that the contract was indeed awarded to a company owned by the ex-militant. According to him, GWVSL, under the contract “provides platforms for effective policing of Nigeria’s maritime domain and ensure compliance with international maritime conventions on vessels and ships voyaging the country’s waters.”
But as recently reported by the Wall Street Journal, Tompolo is not the only beneficiary of such contracts, nor is the vessel supply contract the only one being enjoyed by the leader of the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND.
The America-based journal reported that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and the Federal Government maintained an annual pipeline and maritime security contract with Asari Dokubo, the leader of Niger Delta Volunteer Force, for US$9.5 million, or N2 billion. Tompolo also enjoys another US$22.9 million (N3.614 billion) pipelines protection contract while two other militants, Boyloaf and Ateke Tom, are annually being paid US$3.8 million (N1.2 billion) each to protect pipelines in the Niger Delta. “Some of the leaders took up residence in the executive floors of Abuja’s Hilton and through much of 2010 and early 2011 spent weeks or months enjoying the Executive Lounge’s complimentary supply of Hennessey V.S.O.P. cognac, priced at $51 a shot on the room-service menu. Over a buffet of fiery Nigerian dishes—gumbos, jollof rice pilafs, goat stews—they rubbed shoulders with the country’s leading politicians and influence peddlers, who often live in the floor’s $700-a-night art-deco rooms,” the magazine reported on the life of opulence the Niger Delta militant leaders have been living on the payout they are receiving from government. “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Dokubo said when he was confronted with the facts of the payments. “If it’s too huge, what are the alternatives?” Oronto Douglas, Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly reacted when he was confronted with the figures.
Government officials and some sources in the oil industry have consistently justified the spending on the amnesty programme and payments to the militants’ chiefs with the excuse that it has led to a remarkably improved security situation in the Niger Delta states. This, they said, has in turn facilitated investment inflow to the upstream sub-sector of the oil industry, unlike when insecurity in the region, as typified by sabotage of installations, oil siphoning rackets and kidnapping of oil workers by militants virtually crippled the operations of the oil companies and exerted immense pressure on the Nigerian economy.
Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of Shell Production Development Company, also agreed that the programme has helped in bringing peace to the oil production areas: “For you to address the whole issue of poverty and development, you need some kind of peace. That is what I think the amnesty program has offered.” But he also told Wall Street Journal that the incidence of oil-theft, which reduced significantly immediately after the introduction of the amnesty programme, was on the rise again. But Malam Shehu Sani, a civil society advocate, described the payments to pacify the ex militants’ leaders as scandalous and a demonstration of the fact that the agitation in the Niger Delta was not about the plight of the suffering people: “There is nowhere in the world where freedom fighters are paid for fighting. The diversion of billions of naira that should be ideally spent on health, education and infrastructure for the appeasement of the militants is an act of irresponsible governance and a recipe for political and economic disaster.” He added: “The undeserved appeasement of the ex-militants by the Federal Government amounts to a state in perpetual payment of ransom. The Niger Delta agitation has become a big and lucrative business draining the economy of the country and delivering no good to the ordinary masses of Niger Delta.”
The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN described as illegal, unconstitutional and indefensible the $40 million being paid annually to some ex- militants, ostensibly to guard the country’s pipelines. A statement issued in Abuja by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, its National Publicity Secretary, the party said one of the main causes of the overheating of the polity “is the reckless manner political power is exercised and monopolised by a few individuals.” Some actions and inaction of the present administration have, according to Mohammed, lent credence to the widely held belief that it “is waging and exerting power only for the benefits of a section of the country, the party added.
“We state again emphatically that it is totally unacceptable and unconscionable – even unprecedented especially in a fragile federation like ours – for any government to hand over the security of its entire maritime domain to a private firm, a group of ex-militants for that matter, given the far reaching implications of such a decision for trade, security, ports and shipping of the country,” the ACN protested.
The party asked: “What is the agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan in allowing this to happen? Why would a government so willingly abdicate its responsibility of ensuring the security of its maritime domain? What were the ministers thinking when they approved this dangerous memo?” The party further protested that a decision as momentous as this ought to have been a subject of rigorous national debate, but “the entire transaction lacks transparency and due process.”
Anyakwee Nsirimovu, Executive Director of Port Harcourt-based Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, IHRHL, also said the contracts awarded to the ex-militants will only encourage other youths in the area to take to arms. “With the award of N5.6 billion contract to the ex-militants, there will be no value for money in the country. The funds belong to all Nigerians. Contracts should not be on patronage basis. The contract to ex-militants is not part of the amnesty programme. The amnesty should not be monetised,” said Nsirimovu, who added that being ex-militants should not be the criterion for blind award of contracts.
This magazine’s investigation also revealed that while amnesty programme may have achieved the desired goal of increased oil production and consequently, higher revenue for the country, it has not translated to the good of the oil producing region and the majority of its people. “We hear the youths are being trained. That is the only thing we hear, and we have not even seen anyone of them that has returned from the training. The government has continued to neglect the oil producing communities up till now. It is only those boys who laid down their arms that are eating the money,” said Prince Philip Tomfawei, an octogenarian community leader in Gbaramatu, Delta State. He however confessed that Tompolo has done so much for the Gbaramatu kingdom, where he hails from.
According to him, the militant leader single-handedly built a palace for the Pere, the paramount ruler of Gbaramatu kingdom, and is also building houses for others across the different towns in the kingdom. “Our villages are still as wretched as they were before the granting of amnesty in 2009. We have no health centres, no electricity, and no befitting buildings for the communities from where the crude oil that feeds the nation is taken,” said the octogenarian, arguing that enriching few individuals is not enough for the development of the oil producing communities which have suffered various forms of environmental degradation as a result of oil spillage over the years. “The federal government should declare emergency in the Niger Delta region. We want them to make us feel the good things of life. We too can enjoy the beautiful things of life that they use the oil money to develop in cities like Abuja, Kano and Lagos. We see them on television. They should come and do them here too,” he said.
When confronted with the issue, Dan Alabarah, Head of Media Department of the Amnesty Programme in the Presidency, said developing the Niger Delta region is not part of the mandate of the programme. “Our mandate is to train these former agitators and re-integrate them back to the society. The responsibility of developing the region lies at the doorstep of the Niger Delta Ministry,” he told the magazine.
Leaders of the region are not oblivious of the danger posed by the continued neglect of the region. Dr. Chris Ekiyor, a prominent Ijaw youth leader, described the relative peace now enjoyed in the area as a time bomb that is ticking away and could explode anytime, unless something drastic is done to permanently put a stop to it: “I am very disappointed with the performance of government, because the high spirits with which we negotiated the amnesty was not just for the government to begin to train militants and provide for them stipend. That is like a bribe. Asari said it is like a bribe and I want to agree. So they bribe to keep the peace. It was what Shell was doing by giving money to keep the peace. The government has now toed that line.”
—Oluokun Ayorinde/Abuja , additional reports by Jethro Ibileke. Published on TheNEWS Africa