Re-posted from IRIN News
WARRI, 25 November 2011 (IRIN) – Two years after the Nigerian government granted amnesty to militants fighting mainly for development and job opportunities in the oil-rich Niger River Delta, violence has diminished, and oil revenues – which dropped at the height of the conflict – have increased. But analysts argue that the amnesty programme is flawed and will not lead to long-term peace. In the delta, former fighters are picking up their guns again, and resentment brews among those not included.
Under the amnesty, which ran from August to October 2009, militants who handed in their weapons were pardoned for their crimes, trained in non-violence, and offered vocational training in trades such as welding, in Nigeria or overseas. After attending non-violence training they are paid US$410 per month until they find work. Just over 26,000 young people have taken the amnesty package.
Most of the participants had been directly or indirectly involved in crimes including attacking oil infrastructure, oil bunkering, and kidnapping oil workers.
Amnesty was granted after record levels of violence in the Delta in 2008: in the first nine months of the year, 1,000 people were killed, 300 were taken hostage and the government lost $23.7 billion to attacks, oil theft and sabotage.
Carrying guns again
Those in favour of the programme say the reduced violence and improved flow of oil is a clear sign of success, but others worry the calm will not last. “Boys who accepted amnesty later went back to the creeks and carried guns again,” said Casely Omon-Irabor, a lawyer based in Warri, a major city in Delta State, who has represented militants groups for nearly six years.
His clients include John Togo, leader of the militant Niger Delta Liberation Front, who took amnesty but later returned to fighting. Omon-Irabor said the precarious peace could crumble. “[The militants] are already back – they just don’t have enough arms yet.”
Recent local and international news reports also cite “ex”-militants who say they are preparing to fight again.
Violence has declined but has not disappeared. Three civil society leaders in the Niger Delta told IRIN they were aware of cases where militants who had taken the amnesty later returned to fighting.
Other former militants are turning their skills to piracy. “A lot of the militancy has simply moved offshore – piracy is the new site for the armed militants’ activities,” Ben Amunwa, a researcher at Platform, an international human rights NGO, told IRIN.
WARRI, Frustrated by a lack of development and environmental degradation caused by oil extraction in the Niger Delta, Jeffrey James joined a militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, (MEND) and fought with them for seven years. Full report
An article in Africa Confidential magazine on 21 October supports this, saying many of the pirates in the maritime area off Nigeria and neighbouring Benin have links with militant groups in the Niger Delta. Other reports highlight the intricate knowledge of the oil industry some pirates appear to have, which could have been gained in the Niger Delta.
Root causes overlooked
By not addressing the root causes of the conflict the amnesty programme could not lead to sustainable peace. “Why did they go to the creeks? Why did they carry guns? Because we believed there was a monumental neglect of the region that produced the oil,“ said Delta lawyer Omon-Irabor.
“There was no infrastructure, no roads, development, schools, bridges or employment for the youth, and this was the region that produces the wealth of the nation,” he pointed out. “When the government wanted to reconcile, we thought they would address the issues [but] they started paying the boys as if that was the issue in the first place.”
Ledum Mittee, president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), told IRIN: “There has been no improvement in livelihoods in the region.”
Photo: Wendy Bruere/IRIN
In Delta State’s Oporoza community people say they still need development, including access to clean water