Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Amnesty: To Give, Or Not To Give

Amnesty is a pardon extended by a government to a group of individuals usually for a political offence. It is an act of sovereign power which officially forgives a certain group or class of people who, though not yet convicted, are subject to trial.

In June of 2009, the late former President Umaru Yar'adua - in a bid to curb the damage inflicted on Nigeria's economy by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) - announced a 60-day amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta. MEND, hitherto, had attacked and destroyed oil pipelines and kidnapped oil workers most of whom were expatriates. This reduced Nigeria's oil production to 1.3 barrels per and our country was unable to meet its quota of 2 million barrels as a member of the Organisation of Petroleum-exporting Countries (OPEC).

Nigerians were sceptical about Yar'adua's decision to grant amnesty to Militants with most calling him a weak President and comparing him to his predecessor, Ex-president Olusegun obasanjo. It can be recalled that Obasanjo had in 2006, ordered a total clampdown on militant youth in the Niger Delta when they resorted to kidnapping expatriate oil workers. Nonetheless, Yar'adua went ahead with the amnesty programme which came packaged with rehabilitation, education and training of involved militants and N65,000 as monthly allowance per militant. This 'appeared' to solve the problem and the Niger Delta region now enjoys relative peace.

Great one! But the offshoot of the militancy now plagues the south-south, south-eastern regions as hapless Nigerians are kidnapped now and again and huge amount of money demanded as ransom for their release; some even get killed by their abductors.

Ironically, in July of 2009, the same Yar'adua ordered the clampdown on Boko Haram; a dreaded sect in the Northern Region of the country; which resulted to the death of about 700 members of the sect and their then leader -  Muhammed Yusuf. In this case, there was no offer of amnesty.


Chief Priest, answering that question would mean my deviating from today's divination... One step at a time please...

It's alright, Great One...

Fast forward to this day; MEND, a Terrorist group, which enjoys amnesty, has been relatively calm and; Boko Haram, another terrorist group, which was heavily clamped down on have become increasingly devastating especially in the Northern part of the Country.

Is it safe to now say that Amnesty is the answer, Great one?

I have not said so Chief Priest...Please shut up!

Speak on, the Great Oracle!

You all may be surprised that I classed MEND as a Terrorist group along sides Boko Haram. Yes, it seems harsh to do so, but going by the commonly accepted definition of Terrorism/Terrorists, MEND ticks most of the boxes. Terrorism refers to actions that are violent in nature which are borne out of religious, political or ideological reasons and which are invented to create fear and to coerce, with total disregard for the safety of civilians.

One can argue that MEND has shown some significant regard for human lives, especially as it concerns civilians by announcing attacks before they take place; however, there have been incidents where they have kidnapped or even intentionally or mistakenly killed citizens. So, in all fairness, though MEND perpetuates acts of terrorism; it is safe to say that by Comparison to Boko Haram, it is less a terrorist organisation.

Should Government dialogue with Terrorists?

Now, terrorists are criminals and pose several challenges to the unfortunate countries that they are up against. Their dastardly acts affect security of lives and properties; affect economic growth; affect diplomatic relationships and perception of the host countries by the outside world; affect structural and infrastructural development...the list goes on and on.

Terrorism, like other crimes, is a penal offence and much more so because of its far reaching consequences. But as has been noticed, hunting down, imprisoning or killing terrorists all over the world has not really put an end to terrorism; so one cannot really say that punishment has served well as a deterrent in that regard. These terrorist organisations have complex structures and are hydra-headed that even when an obvious leadership structure is dented or struck down; there is always an instant replacement.

This makes it obvious that since force has not worked perfectly, there should be a plan B. It also suggests that governments around the globe should be proactive rather than adopting a stereotypical stance in the fight against terrorism. Nigeria took the bull by the horn by toeing an unpopular path called ‘amnesty’. The county had once 'successfully' stopped a 'Terrorist group' (MEND) by mere dialogue and proposition of amnesty to the 'terrorists'; and Nigeria is presently considering adopting the same dialogue and amnesty proposition to an even deadlier, more complex Terrorist group (Boko Haram).

Did Nigeria's offer of amnesty to MEND really work?

Only the myopic would fail to see that the ‘Peace’ which presently reigns in the Niger Delta region is not going to last for long and that the region sits on a keg of gunpowder which might explode in no distant time. The reason for this assertion is not far-fetched. It becomes even more obvious when one considers the fact that the root-causes of the agitations in the Niger-Delta region have not been addressed. There were and still are demands made by the Niger-Deltans which have not been met. I would want to point out here that these demands are two-pronged; some from the elites and some from the commoners. For the most part, the elites articulate both set of demands and the commoners, especially jobless youth are mobilised to fight for these demands.

The elites want an upward review, by the Federal Government, of the derivative fund which the Niger Delta region currently receives from 13% to 50% to enable them "tackle the various havoc which oil exploration has brought to the region". The elites are also demanding that the Federal Government scraps individual ownership of all oil blocs and re-allocates them fairly. This demand stems from the feelers that 83% of oil blocs in Nigeria; majority of which are located in the South-south region of the country; are owned by Northerners.

On the other hand, the commoners simply decry the spate of unchecked oil spillage and gas flaring which has negatively affected their health, ecosystem and their source of livelihood as hunters, farmers and fishermen and also elevated poverty. The commoners decry lack of development and unemployment; they decry bad governance and corruption as it concerns their remote and immediate leaders; they decry intimidation by resident oil companies and their workers using security forces; and they decry the connivance of these oil companies with corrupt local chiefs who receive huge sums of money from them in exchange of undue support and protection to the detriment of the commoners.

With all these bothering the Niger-Deltans, it was not difficult for opportunists to make the best of the situation by articulating these problems; magnifying them; drawing sympathy from the people; inciting them to take up arms against their oppressors and providing the needed logistics...hence MEND and other smaller militia in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

When the activities of MEND and its cohorts started telling on Nigeria's economy, amnesty was offered to the militants. Amongst several benefits they currently enjoy from the Federal Government include a monthly wage of N65,000. Their leaders have been awarded multi-billion Naira contracts to secure NNPC pipelines. They have also become envoys in diplomatic matters.

Putting it the way it actually is, the Federal Government has succeeded in bribing the militants to silence through the amnesty program; but the truth still remains that the root causes of the agitation for which these militia groups were formed still remain. The fighters have been assuaged and asked to put down their weapons while the reasons for which the fight started at the first place still remains unattended to. The Federal Government, as usual - devoid of strategic thinking- have failed to understand that the sufferings of the people made the militants and not the other way round and that as long as these sufferings remain, more militants would be made.

This amnesty program is not enshrined in our constitution nor is it sustainable and is only operational because the present administration has allowed it to. What happens when there is a change in power and the new President decides that s/he would not go ahead with the program? We would then not have people taking up arms mainly because their region is being degraded and their people suffering, we would have people fighting the state because their free source of livelihood had been cut off.

Again, these militants believe they did Nigeria a great favour by accepting the amnesty and not the other way round. They have tried and are presently trying to blackmail the Government into granting them more benefits especially by demanding an increase in their monthly payment of N65,000. They also, at one point, demanded for the release of Alamieyeseigha, a former Governor of Bayelsa State, who was convicted and imprisoned for large-scale money laundry and misuse of public funds. The man has recently been pardoned by President Goodluck Jonathan and who knows for what reason?

What this may lead to in the near future is very is either we would have a gutless government which has subjected itself to blackmail by criminals; or we have Militants back in the street because their selfish demands were not met.

Amnesty and Boko Haram

Boko Haram needs little or no introduction. Unlike MEND and other Niger-delta militia who are or were only demanding for better living conditions for their people; who had accessible and known leaders and whose major target were oil pipelines and not human lives; Boko Haram is a group of religious bigots and fanatics whose demands are inarticulate; whose leader is seen sparingly only on YouTube and a group that has openly admitted their love for wasting human lives and have done so over and over again. Boko Haram is a group that seeks to impose Islamism even on non-Muslims but still go ahead bombing both Churches and Mosques and killing both Muslims and non-Muslims. They have been linked to Al-Qaida, a world renowned deadly Terrorist organisation; they are Nigeria's worst nightmare in recent times and from their inception till date have wasted between 3,000 and 10,000 lives.

Little wonder many Nigerians desire the extermination rather than the pardon of this group by the Federal Government. They are criminals and wanton killers. Unfortunately, the Federal Government, seemingly resigned to not being able to meet the security challenges posed by this group, have toed the path of offering them amnesty. This triggered at one point, and rightly so, a statement from the group stating that it is the Federal Government that needs pardon and not them;the group had bragged about their being in the position to grant the Federal Government amnesty and not the other way round. The offer of amnesty had done nothing but boost the ego of this group, it had done nothing but suggest to them that they hold all the aces and are in charge of the situation. This had resulted to their making outrageous demands in exchange for the amnesty; they have repeatedly refused the offer of amnesty. It is obviously a pardon which this group does not deserve and one which they are presently using to toy with the Federal government and people of Nigeria.

Amnesty and the big picture

It is foolhardy, in a period when Nigerian youths are heading into various crimes and violent acts, to suggest, whether implicitly or explicitly, that crime does pay. That, to me, is the grand-meaning of this amnesty nonsense.

There are graduates out there, law abiding and trying so hard to make a living in a very unfavourable and uncaring environment, and there is little or nothing offered as help to them by the government. Even when a bill was proposed for the payment of stipends to unemployed Nigerian youths, it was discarded before one could say Chief Priest. Yet N65,000 is being paid monthly to those youths, who have taken to violence, most of whom never went to school nor even wanted to. They fill positions in government that are meant for the educated and they execute contracts that are worth billions.

Law abiding but unemployed graduates are out there struggling to make a living and the Federal Government is almost begging Terrorists to get unto their wage bill.

Yes Great Oracle! They pay militants allowances and beg terrorists to join their payroll, yet law abiding citizens and graduates remain unemployed and without support.

Recently, the clueless people in Abia State Government House and House of Assembly called on the Federal Government to provide amnesty and carter for repentant Kidnappers from the state; and surprise! Surprise!! The House of Representatives is currently considering that request. Do you not notice the unfortunate trend of events following the use of amnesty?

These fools think they are encouraging repentance, they think they are preaching "Repent and we would grant you amnesty, repent and we would pay you a monthly stipend for doing nothing", No! These fools are preaching that the wages of violence and crime is amnesty and monthly stipends! If this amnesty crap is allowed to continue, in no time you would see Nigerian Youths who never really wanted to get into crime take to it like duck to water just because they want the attention of their Government. The psyche of an average jobless Nigerian youth would have become that "since struggling and staying law abiding yields me nothing and makes me invisible to the government; and since violence and group-crime does the opposite, I would take to the latter".

The Government should be called to order because granting Boko Haram amnesty would do more harm than good in the long run, no matter how good it looks in the short. I wouldn't really be surprised if they go on with the amnesty plan because it is this same government that chose to pardon Alamieyeseigha- a renowned criminal convicted of siphoning public funds- at a time when the nation is crumbling to her knees as a result of corruption.

The advice

  • Nigeria as an entity should say no to terrorism and all other forms of crime in its entirety and should meet their challenges head-on. Instead of toeing the seemingly easy path of amnesty which has long term dire consequences, more effort should be made towards restructuring the Country’s Security outfits.

  • The root causes of agitations should be addressed for lasting solutions. Granting amnesty and benefits to agitators without addressing the reasons for the agitation is more like painting a sepulcher; it is like sweeping filth under the carpet – sooner or later, there would be another agitation.

  • The Federal Government should employ dialogue and sensitization once there are signs that its subjects are uncomfortable with certain policies; it shouldn't wait until the situation has degenerated into violence and other unlawful acts before calling for dialogue.

  • Dialogue and negotiations with criminals are only acceptable when it is done by a professional negotiator from the Police Force in hostage or similar situations. The Federal Government should show some dignity by tackling and not negotiating with criminals and terrorists.

  • Only patriotism should be rewarded and not repentance from a crime for which one was supposed to be convicted and even jailed or executed. The amnesty idea is more or less a reward for criminals and terrorists.

  • People may wonder why it is easy for unscrupulous elements to recruit Nigerians for their many wicked schemes against the Government and people of Nigeria. It is because there exists in the average Nigerian, a deep seethed hate for the Nigerian Government which has utter disregards for the welfare of the citizens while at the same time embezzling huge amount of money. Due to this, people with ulterior motives only need to incite their targets to take up arms against the State by reminding them of and magnifying the wrongdoings of the Government. To check this, the Government should increase living standards of its people; this would endear them to the government and they would refuse any advances by anybody or group of persons to rise against the state and its people.

A word is enough for the wise.

The Oracle Has Spoken!!

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