Aug 21, 2009

Ogoni: Federalism, not Amnesties Are The Solution

Sample ImageAn amnesty is not enough to solve Niger Delta crisis according to The Guardian, which calls for true federalism to be implemented.

Below is an article published by The Guardian (Nigeria) :

As the deadline given to the Niger Delta militants over the amnesty offer by the Federal Government draws close, I actually wonder if the end of the crisis plaguing the region is at hand and yet looking closely at the facts in issue and the history of the agitation in the oil rich region, I honestly do not think so.

When I heard about the amnesty deal from the President in the month of June [2009], I realised that as a country we were yet to learn from history. The 60-day deal was almost like patting a person with gnawing hunger on the back and telling him to go to sleep. For me, it was an inadequate solution to the problem in the Niger Delta. It was also quite interesting to hear people's views on the matter and the newspapers were even more informing as Nigerians expressed their views on the "olive branch" offered to the militants in the Niger Delta.

The move by the Government to offer unsolicited amnesty is being critically appraised all over the world, some laud the government's approach but on this other side of the divide with a lot of Nigerians, I shake my head. Let's look at the history of the Nigerian economy critically. Nigeria is a country abundantly blessed with people and natural resources, a country that focused on tilling its rich soil until agriculture became an important sector of the economy accounting for more than one half of GDP and more than three quarters export earnings before gaining independence in 1960.

Then the nation discovered oil in the Niger Delta in 1958. And pronto, the country ushered in a new era, it began exporting its newly discovered "black gold" and by the 1970s the agricultural sector was completely disregarded and discarded as businessmen and the entire citizenry focused on the new source of wealth. A country that previously had a derivation formula of 50-50 suddenly had the bright idea to centralise resource control. Then without warning the country moved from a position of self-reliance in basic food stuffs to one of heavy dependence on imports and sluggishly lumbered two steps behind the same country that only yesterday came to collect palm nuts from it as the third largest producer of palm oil as Malaysia became the leading producer.

As for the Niger Delta, this is an area of dense mangrove rainforest in the southern tip of Nigeria comprising nine states out of the thirty six that make up Nigeria - Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. The same region that accounts for more than 20% of GDP, more than 97% of total export earnings and over 70% of all government revenues, a region that is responsible for producing the country's main source of revenue as studies have shown that Nigeria's economy is always directly affected by international prices of petroleum so that the budget which is based on projected earnings from petroleum exports is inevitably affected when oil prices surge or collapse, a region that remains poor despite its rich oil deposit.

Never has there been an outright degradation of the environment and subjection of the people to the worst form of existence in their own homeland no thanks to incessant oil spills, gas flaring, national neglect and corrupt leadership. We have seen the government's lackadaisical approach years after in handling the Niger Delta as it does a dim-witted dance of indecision round the subject of the Niger Delta. We lived through the warnings of writers who foresaw a possible conflict in the region if government continued to neglect the people.

After all it was Ken Saro Wiwa who wrote an article titled "the coming war in the Delta" published in the Nigerian Sunday Times in the 1990s. We lived through an era of lip service by the oil companies involved in oil activities in the region, even playing an indirect role in the killing of the Ogoni Nine and joining the government to ensure that it only parleys with indigenous collaborators who are all too willing to enrich themselves and their families at the expense of the majority who bear the burden of poverty and lack of infrastructural development.

We have seen the rise of militancy in the region which veered off track into the dark woods of kidnappings and murders. We have seen strong advocacy for the development of the region while the government looks the other way and continually enriches itself and the oligarchy that has managed to entrench itself in the modern reality of the Nigerian economy and politics.

We lived through all these ills until the waking call came in the series of pipelines bombings, failed military operations in the region and unnecessary loss of civilian lives.

Then the Federal government began to take reconciliatory measures to curb the Niger Delta "evil" after several punitive measures seemed to be heading nowhere. The first public gesture was seen in 2004 when the Federal and Local governments paid as much as 2,800 USD for each surrendered weapon by militants regardless of quality or condition. At that time, a new AK 47 cost 350 USD. So it was a lucrative time for the militants who sold just one weapon for enough cash to buy eight new ones. The unrest continued till the invasion of the region again by the Joint Task Force to flush out militants and end militancy in the region. It is not that this writer is blind to the fact that the struggle in the Niger Delta has been hijacked by criminals seeking to gain from the crisis. But it must be borne in mind that had the government listened to non-violent protests in the region in decades past, Nigeria would not have been faced with this unwholesome problem.

The President needs to consider his decision to offer amnesty carefully so that his efforts are not mocked by his inability to effectively address the issue of gross underdevelopment plaguing the region. In concentrating on militancy and amnesty, the government is losing sight of true development in the Niger Delta. If the Government is sincere, let there be true federalism and popular democracy not the jaded democracy "of the few, for the few and by the few" as practised in Nigeria. Let the government take a definite stand against the activities of oil companies in the region who engage in practices that are not allowed in their home countries. Not only is the government allowing foreign companies to get away with environmental degradation and unemployment of the youths in Niger Delta, it is allowing its own people to be enslaved in their own lands. Whatever happened to national pride?

Is amnesty enough? I do not think so. The government must take a dispassionate look at the problem of the region and distance itself from sycophants who claim to be the leaders of their people but do not represent the collective interest of their people. It should desist from name calling as there are people who don't see themselves as militants but emancipators of the region. It must show sincerity in tackling the problem once and for all. For a government that seeks to find a solution to the crises, it must take out the log in its own eyes before trying to remove the speck in the eyes of the fighters and take responsibility for its own actions in the past and now. In my opinion, amnesty is not the final solution to the Niger Delta crises.

If the government does not approach this issue objectively, there is likely going to be another uprising in the Niger Delta. The agitation for resource control by the people of the region must be listened to. The people want to take responsibility for the development of their land since the government has failed to. The President must be transparent in seeking to end the problem suffered in the region once and for all otherwise his efforts will be undermined. Decentralisation of resource control should be considered and the derivation formula increased to give room for true fiscal federalism. Degradation of the environment must stop and the government must be committed in allowing the other sectors of the economy grow otherwise the region will continue to hold Nigeria to ransom and push us off the goodwill list of our industrialised customers as we help oil prices escalate out of control.