The Presidential Amnesty Programme, which mandate included the disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation of ex-militants in the Niger Delta region, was unveiled on June 25, 2009, by Late President Umaru Yara’Adua, allowing a grace period of sixty days (August 6, to October 4 2009), to enable the militants in the region to give up all illegal arms in their possession, renounce militancy in all its ramifications unconditionally and depose to an undertaking to that effect.
Amnesty, derived from a Greek word, amnesia, meaning forgetfulness, is a legislative or executive act by which a state restores those who may have been guilty of an offence against it, to the positions of innocent people.
In this context, amnesty is a pardon granted to members of all militant groups in the Niger Delta, that were involved in different nefarious activities that made the nation looked insecure and un-conducive for foreign investment, which activities impinged on the growth and development of the nation’s economy, putting the nation’s international reputation in very bad light.
This unconditional pardon was extended to all persons who directly or indirectly participated in committing offences associated with militant activities in the Niger Delta, as well as all persons that were being prosecuted for offences associated with militant activities at the time of the proclamation of the amnesty.
The late President Umaru Musa Yara’Adua’s amnesty proclamation, which legalised the federal government’s grant of amnesty to the ex-militants in the Niger Delta region, followed an earlier recommendation of a 45-member Committee, inaugurated on September 8, 2008, to collate and review all past reports on the Niger Delta, appraise their recommendations and make other proposals that would help the Federal Government to achieve sustainable development, peace, human and environmental security in the Niger Delta Region.
The Committee, chaired by of the president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, Barrister Ledum Mitee, submitted its report to the Federal Government on December 1, 2008, with recommendations that: a mediator be appointed to facilitate discussions between government and militants; amnesty be granted to some militant leaders; a disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation campaign be launched, in addition to an upward increase in the percentage of oil revenue to the Niger Delta from the 13 percent to 25 per cent.
Other recommendations made by the committee, included, the establishment of regulations that compel oil companies to have insurance bonds; make the enforcement of critical environmental laws a national priority; expose fraudulent environmental clean ups of oil spills and prosecute operators and end gas flaring by December 1, 2008, as was previously ordered by the Federal Government.
Just as Late President Umaru Yara’Adua, included the Niger Delta conflict in his seven-point agenda, President Muhammadu Buhari, in his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015, at the Eagle Square, Abuja, specifically promised to invest heavily in projects and programmes of the amnesty for Niger Delta ex-militants, with a view to streamlining such rehabilitation programmes to make them more effective.
To achieve this, President Buhari had appealed for maximum cooperation from the people of the region in promoting peace building efforts, even as he promised to listen to the grievances of the people of the Niger Delta.
According the Report of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, “about 1,000 people lost their lives, 300 were taken hostage and the government lost $23.7 billion to attacks, oil bunkering and sabotage, in the first nine months in 2008.
“Apart from the inability of Nigerian government to meet up with its OPEC quota and other negative economic effects, the oil Multinational Corporations, MNCs, on their part, reportedly lost billions of dollars to the conflicts. For instance, between 2003 and 2007, Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC), estimated that it lost US $10.6 billion, with a total loss of not less than US $21.5 billion by the oil MNCs as a whole, since 2003,” the report stated.
It can be seen that a major drive for the use of amnesty in the management of oil-related conflicts in Nigeria is the belief that it is only through peace that sustainable development can be guaranteed in the Niger Delta.
Between August 6, 2009 when the disarmament (the first phase of the amnesty programme) commenced and October 4, 2009, when it ended, 20,192 militants, comprising 20,049 males and 133 females, respectively across the nine states of the Niger Delta, denounced militancy and registered for the amnesty programme.
Those that accepted the amnesty offer surrendered their weapons of war to security forces at different designated collection centers. The amnesty offer gave the militants the opportunity to renounce violent agitations.
Consequently, this remarkable achievement of peace and security generated considerable goodwill for Nigeria among many international partners and friends.
Hostage taking and general insecurity, not only affect the nation internally, but is also a threat to diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and other countries, especially home countries of the expatriates that work in the oil companies.
Thus, the amnesty programme rebranded and gave Nigeria a positive image among the comity of nations, but for the spate of kidnapping for ransom that became pervasive in the South-East geopolitical zone of Nigeria at a time.
It is no doubt that the violent agitations of the militants had a negative effect on the economy of Nigeria. With the conditional amnesty granted by the late Yar’Adua’s administration, the economic forecast that looked depressed prior to the amnesty offer, began to witness a near instant turn around.
The export figures improved from 800,000 barrels per day that it was, during the hostilities between 2006 and 2008, to 2.3 million barrels per day in 2010.
This increment of 1.5 million barrels per day means that the revenue to national coffers increased by a whopping 120.45 million dollars every day. This enormous wealth was gained as a result of the amnesty programme that brought relative peace into the region.
The amnesty office is said to have successfully placed a minimum of 17,500 out of the 26,358 ex-militants who accepted amnesty and have subsequently enrolled them for various degrees and vocational skills acquisition training programmes in Nigeria and abroad.
The vocational and technical training programmes include: seaman training, welding, aviation, computer technology, leadership training, marine technology, entrepreneurial skills, information technology, employment/placement opportunities development activities and so on.
How much of the mandate of the Presidential Amnesty Programme has been achieved, is a topic for another day. However, stakeholders from the Niger Delta region have severally expressed confidence in Brig.-Gen. Paul T. Boroh (rtd), the new Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, given his background in peace building and conflict resolution. It is expected that the new amnesty boss will certainly bring his wealth of experience to bear on his new assignment.
Kiyaramo writes from Yenagoa