Niger Delta Militants
The Amnesty Programme came under scrutiny last week as the local and international media went to town with reports that some prominent ex-militants from the Niger Delta have joined the class of wealthy Nigeri ans courtesy of the mouth- watery contracts they allegedly secured from the Federal Government. Onwuka Nzeshi reviews the issue and the reactions from the lawmakers...
The Wall Street Journal, an international newspaper published in New York, United States, recently unearthed the alleged mouth watering sums of money the federal government has been paying ex-militants in the Niger Delta. The ex-militants who held the oil rich region to ransom for several years are said to have been receiving such sums in hard currency in exchange for security of the oil pipelines. Under the pipeline surveillance contract, these self-styled generals of the creeks and waterways, according to the report, receive a cumulative sum of about $35million annually. The contract is part of the Amnesty Programme launched by the government to end hostilities and economic sabotage in the oil rich region.
Some have argued that the ex-militants should not be paid at all while others felt the amounts paid were outrageous. Hitherto, the region was gasping for breath in the hands of several armed groups who unleashed a prolonged season of pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft and kinapping of oil workers. In spite of the amnesty programme, Nigeria is still losing at least ten per cent of its daily crude oil production to oil thieves who constantly parade the country’s extensive coastline for the stolen commodity. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Nigerian government plans to spend $450 million on the amnesty programme in the current year. This means more money for the repented ex-warlords such as Mujaheed Asari Dokubo of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force; General BoyLoaf as well as the highly dreaded Government Ekpemupolo (General Tompolo) all of whom laid down their arms in the wake of the amnesty programme.
On the other hand, the huge slush funds making its way into the Amnesty Programme has also become more or less an incentive to more militancy in the Niger Delta.
Not a few youths in the Niger Delta have learnt that militancy in the oil rich region has its own rewards. If the publication by The
Wall Street Journal was meant to stampede the Nigerian government into reviewing or cancelling the contracts it signed with the
ex-militants, it has failed to achieve this goal. The federal government of Nigeria promptly defended its actions, arguing that the
benefits of peace and uninterrupted oil production in the Niger Delta far outweigh the cost of paying the ex-militants to secure the
pipelines and other oil infrastructure.
Hon. Uchendu: Condemnation of Contracts Misplaced In the National Assembly, reaction also came swiftly in defence of the
contracts. Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Public Service Matters, Hon. Andrew Uchendu, joined the fray, arguing that the condemnation trailing the award of multi-billion naira pipeline surveillance contracts to some ex-militants in the Niger Delta was misplaced. Uchendu, an erstwhile Leader of the South- south Parliamentary Caucus in the House of Representatives, acknowledged that while the issue had polarised the polity, people were entitled to their o pinions. He said that while he would not hold brief for either the ex-militants or the federal government, Nigerians should consider the cost benefit analysis of the situation. Uchendu expressed concern that critics of government had forgotten so soon, the security situation in the Niger Delta and how the disarmament, demobilisation and empowerment of these ex-militants saved Nigeria’s oil-driven economy from total collapse. He recalled that in the hey days of militancy in the Niger Delta, oil production fell from 2.2 million barrels per day to below 700,000 barrels per day. At that time, he said, the total revenue that accrued to the Federation Account could not meet up with the immediate financial obligations.
“For many years, the issue of resource control took the centre stage in our public discourse. Much later, some younger elements in the
Niger Delta, joined the clamour and became more aggressive and violent in the pursuit of resource control.
“Total national reserves were being depleted; oil pipelines were being blown up; very senior officials of the international oil companies
left the country; there was insecurity of lives and property in the region and kidnapping of both local and foreign personnel became the
order of the day,” he said. Uchendu said the situation could have grown worse but for the amnesty programme initiated by the
Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration part of which was engaging the ex-militants in meaningful economic ventures.
“Today, insecurity in the Niger Delta has been significantly reduced.
Oil production is at an all-time high, even above the 2012 Budget threshold of about 2.4 million barrels per day. As part of sustaining
the current business environment in the Niger Delta, government contracted out the security of the oil wells, flow stations and the
entire network and labyrinth of oil pipelines to some of the ex-militants. To do this job right will entail the recruitment and retention of hundreds of youths in the entire region and this is enormous. I therefore would advise that before anyone argues against the continued payment being made to ex-militants, it is important we stridently endeavour to conduct a realistic cost- benefit analysis of
this issue,” Uchendu said.
He said during his tenure as Leader of the South-south Parliamentary Caucus in the House of Representatives, he joined other leaders of the region to plead with the ex-militants to accept the Federal Government’s amnesty programme at that time. He challenged those against the engagement of the ex-militants in the pipeline surveillance contracts to put forward an alternative strategy that could keep the youths meaningfully engaged, protect the oil economy and safeguard the region from insecurity all at the same time.
Demand for Inclusion in Amnesty Programme But while the federal government and some parliamentarians may be thumping their chests over the success of the amnesty programme and defending the contracts to the ex-militants, we must not lose sight of
the renewed agitation by some groups of militants who claim that they were excluded from the programme. Aside the numerous groups of self-acclaimed ex-militants seeking an inclusion in the amnesty programme, a new wave of militancy is brewing in the Niger Delta.
About a forthnight ago, youths of Isoko, Urhobo and Ndokwa ethnic nationalities in Delta State launched a new kind of agitation.
They are itching to have a showdown with multi-national oil firms operating on their land because of an alleged plot by these firms to
shortchange the oil-bearing communities through a divestment deal. In a petition c o-authored by the Delta State Youth Leaders of Oil
Producing Communities, the youth leaders drawn from the three ethnic blocs accused Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of unlawful sale of oil blocs in their communities. The group, in their protest letter routed to the National Assembly through the House Committee on Public Petitions, alleged that have sold three major oil blocs namely OML 26, OML 30 and OML 34 which run across the territories of the three ethnic groups.
According to the petitioners, SPDC resolve to sell off it forty five per cent (45%) stake in these oil blocs and onshore facilities because
declining yields from the oil wells, vandalisation of their facilities and frequent attacks on its personnel.
The divestment came on the heels of the new drive by multinational oil firms in Nigeria to concentrate their search for oil and gas in the deep offshore waters where they hope to be as far away as possible from the pestilence of youth militancy.
The petition read in parts: “We are protesting against the undue farm out/sale of OML 26, OML 30 and OML 34 across the three ethnic
groups. It is pertinent to mention here that SPDC , NNPC and the Federal Government of Nigeria connived against the hapless and
impoverished. peoples of Isoko, Urhobo and Ndokwa ethnic nationalities when they farmed out these three oil blocs without regards to law, due process and the Local Content Act, 2010.
“For the avoidance of doubt, SPDC has carried out oil exploration and production activities in Isoko, Urhobo and Ndokwa communities for over fifty years without a written Memorandum of Understanding with the landlords. Furthermore, there was no formal or informal introduction of the purported new buyers of these oil blocs whose intendment is to enslave our people for the next fifty years.”
Twelve youth leaders endorsed the petition, affirming that the sale of these oil blocs was suspect, shrouded in secrecy and unacceptable to their respective communities. In a subtle threat, the group said it would mobilise men, women and children to occupy all the wells in the affected oil fields if government failed to halt the sale of these oil blocs.
They argued that the local communities where these oil blocs are situated deserved the right of first refusal in the sale of the oil
blocs and urged the National Assembly to intervene on the matter.
The youths warned that the government must not hold them responsible for “any consequential variables arising from the anger of the people” if they failed to get justice. Before now, the Isoko, Urhobo and Ndokwa ethnic nationalities were largely peaceful in their
engagements with the oil multi-nationals.