N-Delta Amnesty program: E.K.Clark, PANDEF Raise Alarm, Allege Plan To Scrap program…

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…Divides Stakeholders 

  • Scrapping PAP ‘will wake up sleeping lion’, Edwin Clark, PANDEF War
  • Ex-militants, Others React

From Joseph Obukata (The New Diplomat’s N’Delta correspondent)

Leaked reports alleging that a presidential committee set up to appraise the activities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) may have recommended the scrapping of the programme this year have generated divergent reactions among Niger Delta stakeholders, raising concerns in the region.

According reports, a four-man investigative panel headed by Ambassador A. A. Lawal through the office of the National Security Adviser, Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd) allegedly made a recommendation for the scrapping of the programme in December 2020.Amnesty programme

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The New Diplomat gathered that the development has stirred up the hornet nest in the region as stakeholders including ex-militants in the region are currently divided over the alleged proposal.

While some backed the reported plan to stop the programme which they believed only criminalises the youths in the region, others think scrapping it without putting in place developmental structures and plans to sustain the fragile peace in the region, would further worsen the oil crisis brewing in the oil-rich but strife-torn region.

The New Diplomat recalls the programme commenced on Thursday, July 11, 2009 when a proclamation of amnesty was made for Niger Delta militants who had engaged in an armed struggle for a better deal in the nation’s oil benefits.

In granting unconditional amnesty for the agitators, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua opened a window for a period of 60 days for the agitators to lay down their arms in exchange for amnesty as a step towards redressing the adverse security situation and sabotage in the oil rich region which had brought the nation’s economy to its knees then as oil production plummeted to record low.

Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) during a zoom live press conference on Monday, warned that scrapping the programme would only reopen old wounds.

He contended that President Muhammadu Buhari would be waking a sleeping lion if the programme is scrapped, maintaining that the proposal has already inflamed the tense situation in the Niger Delta.

Clark, who is the convener of PANDEF, said, “Just about 11 (eleven) days ago, I held a Press Briefing advising and cautioning the Vice President, His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, to tread cautiously on Niger Delta Affairs, I have cause to, again, advice/warn the Federal Government, to desist from anything that will truncate the fragile peace that we have in the Niger Delta region.

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“I say this because, just yesterday, rumours were rife, that the 4-man investigative panel headed by Amb. A. A. Lawal, set up by the Federal Government, through the Office of the National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Mohammed Monguno (rtd), to look into the activities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), has recommended the scrapping of the Programme by December this year, 2020.

“If this is true, it will be an epic example of what we say in local parlance ‘trouble dey sleep, yanga go wake am’. This is not a threat; it is stating the obvious of what will actually happen.

“When I got this information yesterday, my temper was high because how can a region which contributes so much to the economic growth, and by extension, political and social growth of the country be treated with so much disdain and spite.”

“The Federal Government, like I said earlier, through the Office of the National Security adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno, rtd, set up a 4-man Investigative Panel headed by Amb. A. A. Lawal, from Bauchi State and other three northern as members, on 28th February, 2020, and the job of this Panel, which all through its sitting, I understand, sat in the Office of the NSA, which was to end on 24th April, 2020, has lingered until today, they have, uptill this moment, taken over the administration of the PAP, operating from the NSA’s Office. Now we are getting information, that this ‘Investigative Panel’ is recommending the scrapping of the PAP by December this year, 2020.

“The question is, did Amb. Lawal and his team ever travel to the Niger Delta region to find out if the objective of setting up the Programme such as infrastructural development of sand filling; building low cost houses, building roads, etc, which are to be carried out by the PAP as its Second Phase activities contained in the Proclamation, been achieved?

“As someone outside of the region does he really understand or feel the sufferings of the people of the region? Also, what measures have been put in place by the Federal Government to fulfill its promises to the region such as setting up modular refineries, the relocation of the operational headquarters of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the Ogoni Clean-Up as contained in the 16-Point Agenda of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) which we presented to Mr. President at the Presidential Villa on 1st November, 2017?

“Our living condition in the region has worsened. The PAP should be allowed to continue for some more time.

“Once again, I wish to advise the Federal Government to tread cautiously, except they have prepared another ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’. Wake not a sleeping lion. This is not a threat; it is a clarion call for peace”, he added.

But a United State-based Niger Delta human and environmental rights activist, Mr. Smart Ajaja, agreed to the proposal to scrap the programme, arguing that the programme which he said has “criminalized the genuine agitation of the people of the region”, should end for a new phase of quest for development in the region.

The convener of “Nigeria Now” and the “Nurses Arise” programmes respectively on Nightingale Radio worldwide that broadcasts live from Houston, Texas, USA, posited that the Amnesty programme right from day one was a wrong step in the wrong direction because according to him, it was a government vote of no confidence and the criminalization of the genuine agitations by the Niger Delta people for socioeconomic and environmental justice for the wanton exploitation of their mineral resources.

He said that the people of the region who were genuinely agitating over the environmental degradation of their homestead brought about by the oil multinationals. were mislead to accept amnesty for their youths without a clear understanding of the meaning of  the word “amnesty”.

Ajaja averred that unconsciousness on the part of leaders to accept the programme, has made the region an epic center of corruption, orchestrated by some of their own high-profile politicians with inordinate access to the power grid at the highest levels through the Niger Delta Ministry and the Niger Delta Development commission, (NDDC)

“Amnesty is granted to criminals who have accepted that they are criminals and never to those who are fighting against the destruction of their environment, exposure of their people to the cancer-causing radio-active particles being released into their atmosphere every minute and the loss of their primary source of livelihood arising from drilling and removing of crude oil from their soil for which they are not appropriately compensated by the Government and the foreign oil majors who pay off a few individuals to have their way at the expense of the majority people who live under extreme poverty”.

“How can the criminals be granting amnesty to the victims”, he queried.

The Amnesty programme, according to him, failed because it was an ill-conceived fraud that has worsened the overall living conditions of the people.

“Yes, the program should be scrapped to create an enabling pathway to the genuine development of the region via the proceeds from a compelling 60-years reparation for all the oil taken away from the region since independence.

“All those including Niger Deltans who have the opportunity of managing the Niger Delta Ministry, NDDC and the Amnesty program should be investigated and prosecuted for corruption where appropriate, to the fullest extent permitted by law.

“The amnesty was a wrongful indictment of the whole people of the Niger Delta and not just some known criminal elements who hid behind the Niger Delta struggle to steal crude oil.”, he opined.

Meanwhile, a former leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDPF), Bristiah Columbus, has warned the Federal Government against alleged clandestine moves to jettison the Amnesty Programme, saying it will engender dare consequences.

“He said the Ijaw nation has been reliably informed that there are clandestine moves by power players within the corridors of power at the presidency to abruptly terminate the Presidential Amnesty Programme.

“The move, if materialized by the enemies of peace, will be viewed as an ethno-phobic propensity of the present government against the Niger Delta people”

“In case the plotters of the evil coup fail to know, the Amnesty Programme is a mutual agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Niger Delta people.

“The bargain is for the agitators to lay down their arms to accept the offer of Presidential Amnesty which has hitherto outlined terms and conditions to be complied with by both sides.

“The Amnesty Programme is a well-thought-out developmental programme of the then government of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua with different segments.

“The Programme was phased into three segments which are: Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration for the first segment; Rehabilitation for the second segment while Strategic Implementation Work Plan (SIWP) for the third segment.

“Granted that the first segment has successfully been carried out. However, we are still in the second segment which is the rehabilitation process.

“Engaging the youths on vocational training or sending people to school as well as the empowerment programmes are all part of the rehabilitation processes.

“There is no time limit as to when the Programme will be terminated especially when all the segments have not been executed.

“The third phase has not been attended to which is strictly for the massive development of the region. None of the developmental master plans initiated in the Programme has been implemented.”

The Ijaw leader further lamented unfulfilled promises to develop the Niger Delta with infrastructure, saying the agreement the region had with the FG was beyond the monthly stipend N56, 000 being paid ex-militants who embraced peace.

“Where is the N1.5trn Coastal Highway already awarded before Yar’Adua’s unfortunate death in 2009? What about the East-West Road which is now abandoned by this present government?

“What about the Federal Government and Multinational Oil Companies and Private Sectors tripartite agreement to massively develop the riverine communities which was duly incorporated in the Amnesty offer?

“The agitators did not accept the Amnesty offer simply because they agreed to be paid N56,000 for a period of time. May we remind those in government to check their records?

“The first meeting between the top echelons of the Niger Delta freedom fighters and late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua which had heralded the smooth kick-off of the Amnesty Programme, the agitators tabled their demands to Yar’Adua who beat his chest that he would not disappoint the Niger Delta people.

“All terms and conditions discussed in that meeting were documented by the Federal Government and they formed part of the Amnesty Programme.

“The government has not fulfilled its own part of the bargain since the boys laid down their arms for oil to flow freely into the nation’s coffer,” he stated.

Columbus, however, reiterated that any attempt to discontinue the programme “without fulfilling the conditions stated therein is a breach of trust and agreement and it cannot go scot-free without being visited with dire consequences.”

“The world is watching us. Niger Delta crisis is a global issue. This was the reason why the agitators had earlier insisted that they wanted UN representatives to witness the truce. People should not pursue a personal ambition to endanger the corporate existence of Nigeria. Hope that Niger Delta people will not be blamed for any breakdown of law and order. Let us be wary of our actions lest we will jeopardise our corporate coexistence,” the group warned.

Also reacting, a former Chairman of Ijaw Youth Council Western zone, comrade David Reje we Reje said, we are even pained that the Amnesty office is now occupied by northerners and other person that doesn’t understand the problems and sufferings of our people.

“I urged President Buhari to name a substantive Presidential coordinator for the Presidential Amnesty, warning that the Ijaws would not tolerate an alleged appointment of a person of non-Niger Delta extraction to head the office.

“We have also been briefed that the committee set up by National Security Adviser (NSA) to oversee the office for the past few months has submitted their recommended that the Amnesty scheme should be ended. We don’t want to draw conclusion yet because we know president Buhari will not accept such dangerous report from the said committee.

Comrade David said, they are angry as a people because the Federal government is pushing them to the wall, especially in the light of the recent sack of Prof Charles Dokubo, and the Presidency’s refusal to name a substantive coordinator for the programme.

The former IYC leader further said “As Ijaw Youths, we will shut down the Oil sector if Buhari allows these desperate elements in the presidency to hijack the Amnesty Programme like what they are doing to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the NDDC. Our demand is that Mr President should for the sake of peace in the Oil sector appoint a coordinator immediately from among competent Ijaw people. We are watching how events unfold as we will not hesitate to shot down all the Oil platforms in Ijaw lands. Do not blame us should there be break down of law and order in the region.”, he warned.

In a similar statement, another ex-militant leader, Ogboro Clement, alleged that the Federal government is provoking the Ijaw people to anger, warning that “we will not accept the government turning the Amnesty programme to a northern affairs in order to pay political followers”, and “the boys will go back to the creeks.”

Nigeria’s current oil production stands roughly at about 1,955,000 barrel per day which has shown a steady and consistent progress in recent times. However, crude oil production in the country fell for the third month in a row in December 2019 to a new low of 1.5m bpd, against a target production level of 2.18 million bpd at $57 per barrel, which was used as benchmark for the 2020 budget.

It would be recalled that the last time militants in the Niger Delta issued similar threats, oil production went down to an all-time low as 750,000 per barrels, in 2016. This culminated with the period when a recalcitrant group, Niger Delta Avenger (NDA) reportedly claimed responsibility for the crisis in the oil rich region and the larger Gulf of Guinea region.

Then, militants had attacked oil facilities, gas infrastructure and installations listing a number of terms as conditions for cessation of hostilities including continuation of the presidential Amnesty programme.

Consequent upon this, Vice- President Yemi Osinbajo in his dynamism shuttled to the creeks in the Niger Delta, calming down nerves and helping to restore normalcy to the region and oil production.

In the 2020 budget, the federal government projects that about N3.73 trillion would account for accruals oil revenues out of total revenue of N8.1 trillion revenue projections.

The country’s output however declined drastically by 95,000 bpd between November and December, 2019 following figures released by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

“Producing below the OPEC production quota and below the benchmark of 2.18 million bpd is not good for Nigeria’s revenue,” Charles Akinbobola, an energy expert said in Lagos.

Following this development, Mr. Peter Iseimokumo, an Ijaw energy analyst from Bayelsa State, according to reports, pleaded with President Buhari to listen to the stakeholders, youths and put in place the necessary structures required in the Niger Delta to guarantee peace, including naming a substantive Coordinator for the “Presidential Amnesty programme.

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