“Since our people’s livelihoods have been destroyed through oil spillage and gas flaring, coupled with the poor quality of human potential owing to poor education, the easiest option is illegal business such as oil bunkering,” said Ebipade.Failure to address longstanding grievances such as a chronic lack of development and environmental degradation, and the reintegrating of former fighters into peaceful society, risk reigniting violence in Nigeria’s oil-rich delta region five years after it was contained through a government amnesty.
“The reasons for the armed actions that necessitated the amnesty five years ago – mass unemployment and deep socio-economic injustices – still beg for a response,” Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, told Anadolu Agency. “Those who are classified as militants, and to whom the amnesty program has been directed, are a minority in the army of the discontented.”
Under the 2009 amnesty, as many as 26,000 fighters who renounced violence were pardoned and offered vocational training in Nigeria or abroad.Each pardoned person receives a $410 monthly allowance until they find work. There is no official data as to precisely how many of them have since secured jobs.
Daniel Alabrah, a media aide at the Amnesty Office Abuja, was not unavailable for comment on the issue until the filing of the report. Ledum Mittee, president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), agreed, accusing the government of failing to adequately address longstanding socio-economic grievances. He said what the government did amounted to “surface-scratching which to my mind does not guarantee long-term stability.” “There has been no improvement in livelihoods in the region,” he told AA.
“What has happened…is that we have been able to buy peace (but) it is not sustainable – you can’t sustain paying that amount of money. Armed resurgence is as certain as daylight.” The government first proposed the amnesty following a record spike in violence in the delta region in 2008. In the first nine months of that year, some 1,000 people were killed in attacks and 300 taken hostage. During the same period, the government lost an estimated $23.7 billion due to attacks, oil theft and sabotage, accordng to official data.
Bassey, who is also chairman of the Environmental Rights Action (ERA), a renowned environmentalist agency fighting to end gas flaring and oil spillage, said the amnesty deal had neglected longstanding development and environment-related issues. “Some of the armed groups clearly stated environmental concerns as one of the major grouses. That has not been addressed,” he insists. “That to me is the greatest violence in the Niger Delta, indeed in the entire Nigerian environment. Our environment poisons and kills our people.” Citing a United Nations Environmental Program assessment, Bassey insisted Nigeria’s Ogoni region should have been declared a disaster zone.
“The president ought to have declared a state of environmental emergency in Ogoniland and the Niger Delta,” he said. “This would have required the oil companies, including the NNPC, to halt their oil spills, gas flares and pollutions,” he explained. “But these acts of aggression against our people and the environment continue unabated. This remains a major flaw in the amnesty exercise.” Bassey went on to assert that a safe environment supports the local economy by ensuring that the livelihoods of the people are supported.”As we see clearly, neither farming nor fishing thrives in polluted and severely degraded places like the Niger Delta. This entrenches unemployment, poverty and disease.”
Mittee, the MOSOP president, cites several worrying signs in the delta region.”We’re seeing this already with the rise in militancy, kidnapping and killings.” Acts of kidnapping and other violent crimes are gradually returning to their pre-2009 levels.
In April, unidentified persons killed 11 policemen in Bayelsa, President Goodluck Jonathan’s oil-rich home state, which was a hotbed of militancy. “That incident, which was just a tiny part of the brewing crisis, points the way for what to expect in the future unless the government truly addresses the main issues,” ex-fighter Christopher Muoka told AA.”It also tells you there are still a large number of unemployed and disenfranchised young men very eager to take up arms.”
There are claims that most of the amnesty participants had been directly or indirectly involved in crimes including attacking oil infrastructure, oil bunkering, and kidnapping oil workers- charges the Amnesty Office had denied in the past.Oil theft and illegal bunkering currently account for the loss of some 400,000 barrels of oil a day. Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recently admitted that mounting oil theft had led to a 17 percent drop in the country’s international oil sales.According to a high-level official at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), who asked not to be named for fear of official retribution, militant attacks on oil pipelines is gradually returning to pre-2009 levels. “Nigeria has lost at least 2.9 million barrels of oil over the last three years to vandalism of oil pipelines alone. That is in the delta,” he told AA.
“Despite the presences militancy remains rife, although it may not be as deadly as it was in 2008. But it is a case of a falling rain, no one knows to what extent it could last.”
Former fighter Anthony Ebipade is not surprised. “Since our people’s livelihoods have been destroyed through oil spillage and gas flaring, coupled with the poor quality of human potential owing to poor education, the easiest option is illegal business such as oil bunkering,” he told AA.
Abiodun Aremu, secretary-general of the Joint Action Forum (JAF), a prominent pro-democracy group, seems to share the same opinion. “I didn’t expect anything less. The amnesty was just window dressing,” he told AA. He believes that the recent resurgence in violence and illegal oil bunkering “confirms that the whole amnesty deal was just a jamboree.””The armed conflict at that time was just a symptom of the diseases which were – and are still – known to all,” he said. “This will continue for as long as issues of development and environmental degradation are not addressed.”