Friday 3 April 2009

Nigeria: A dereliction dressed as an amnesty

Relearning the meaning of amnesty

I had to check the meaning of the word amnesty again because I was afraid its common usage was losing it primary context.

The Chambers 21st Century Dictionary defines amnesty thus:

amnesty [1] noun (amnesties) 1 a general pardon, especially for people convicted or accused of political crimes. 2 a period of time when people can admit to crimes, hand in weapons, etc in the knowledge that they will not be prosecuted.

ETYMOLOGY: 16c: from Greek amnestia oblivion.

President offers amnesty

One should quote the Nigerian President verbatim [2] on this matter “We will grant amnesty to all those who are ready to lay down their arms. It will also include rehabilitating and integrating them into the system.” he said at a meeting of leaders of his political party.

The definition of amnesty suggests a number of considerations in the matter of militancy in the Niger Delta [3], the possibility that the brigands of lawlessness are also a political movement who are ready to admit to crimes and lay down their arms.

Well, it would appear the President has not read the situation well enough to appreciate what needs to be done.

The Genesis of the problem in the Niger Delta stems from the fact that the wealth of the nation derived from the lands, swamps and waters of that region has not benefited the indigenous people.

The leaders of an earlier political movement that included Ken Saro-Wiwa [4] agitated for recognition and compensation were murdered by the military regime of that time and since then the other groups that have supplanted that movement have menaced the region with militancy.

The problem still exists glaringly

The Federal Government has strong-armed and offered false hopes but failed to address the core issues either by engaging the oil companies constructively in corporate social responsibility or by taking away the premise that the militancy has of representing the people by offering the infrastructure and economic emancipation the people require.

The militants have a lucrative existence within that region, being able to trade arms, launch attacks that impact adversely on the oil producing infrastructure and engage in kidnapping for ransoms – the law enforcement and military authorities have ceded control writ large in the area.

Bereft of ideas and at the risk of one seeing every action of the government through the eyes of the inane rebranding Nigeria campaign the President is offering a well ensconced militancy an amnesty.

The idea of rehabilitating and integrating them into the system, whatever system means would have been plausible but there is no example of any of the indigenous people having been taken out of the quagmire of their suffering.

Offering pirates on the high seas paper boats in bowls of water is hardly a winning strategy, neither is compensating or appeasing militancy when the underlying grievances continue to exist, because other militants would rise to replace the ones that have been subsumed until the causative issues are properly tackled.

No confidence in the President

The main militant organisation has pooh-poohed the whole idea by first demanding the “demilitarisation of the delta, basic services for local communities, the release of jailed activists and compensation for oil pollution.”

Then in what shows as a complete lack of confidence or trust in what is supposed to be the legally constituted authority in Nigeria, they said that the context of amnesty, “will only be considered under a well co-ordinated peace arrangement, under the supervision of a respected international mediator.”

If President Yar 'Adua is able to rise this kind of challenge to both his authority and negotiating ability is left to be seen but I would contend that the issues in the Niger Delta would continue to hurt Nigeria until a visionary and pragmatic approach is adopted to alleviating the suffering of the people in whose name the militancy fights.

Honestly, I doubt the President has a clue and I would have to reluctantly concur with the militants, “MEND[5] will not lay down its arms because of a mere verbal statement from Mr Yar 'Adua.” It would appear Mr Yar 'Adua is not negotiating from a position of strength.


[1] Chambers Search Chambers

[2] Al Jazeera English - Africa - Nigeria offers delta rebels amnesty

[3] Conflict in the Niger Delta - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[4] Ken Saro-Wiwa - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[5] Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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