Amnesty programme: The issues in appointing retired military officer as Chief Executive By LAW MEFOR

Grave errors of judgment often occur by default, and so is the appointment of retired military officers to the role of Administrator/ Chief Executive of the Federal Government Amnesty Programme. There is a reason products of the military institution have registered underwhelming performance in sustainable transformational, socioeconomic development that reaches the grassroots of the Niger Delta Region. The factors are rooted in distrust arising from the history of conflict in the Niger Delta region and the role of the military in containing it.

This phenomenon must be properly evaluated given the growing demands to restructure the region’s economy in line with the strategic focus of the government. While it is important to recognise the excellent service provided by our military, entrusting them with such a unique civil role has negative effects for several reasons. This exposé intends to shed light on the potential risks and drawbacks of such an appointment while also emphasising the successful record of civilians who have previously held this position.

The main objective of the amnesty initiative is to maintain the Niger Delta’s post-conflict peace and prosperity. The amnesty project provided several strategies, such as the training of ex-militants in academic and vocational fields as alternatives to violence and militancy in the area.

Due to the Niger Delta’s huge crude oil reserves, reckless and cruel exploitation, and neglect of the area in the years before the implementation of the Amnesty Programme, conflicts and violence had been rife there. The great environmentalist and author Kenule (Ken) Saro-Wiwa was executed by the Sani Abacha military administration, marking the pinnacle of the Niger Delta people’s struggle for justice during the military era. The oil exploration activities of international oil firms in the region led to environmental pollution and degradation of the region, which robbed the people of livelihoods and ecological life.

The people’s resentment over perceived injustices and their victimisation by oil companies in the area gave rise to the conflict. These injustices included a lack of amenities, a lack of employment possibilities, and a reluctance to pay or a delay in paying communities’ compensation. Later, the conflict widened to encompass demands for sovereign Niger Delta to give political and administrative autonomy as well as a larger share of the federation’s income than had previously been provided to them.

The tactics used by the people in this “struggle” included disagreements, dissent, violence, civil unrest, militancy, insurgency, opportunistic criminality, kidnapping, speculation, and misinformation, as well as blockading the main access to the site, stopping dredging activity, holding protests, picketing the offending oil companies, stopping the rig from entering the location site, and stopping pipeline construction.

Since the first uprising led by Isaac Adaka Boro and Chief Owonaro in 1966, Niger Delta youths have been at the forefront of the conflict. In 1966, the Isaac Adaka Boro group attacked government and Shell-British Petroleum facilities and demanded that schools, traditional courts, and other institutions be shut down. Additionally, it nullified all contracts about Niger Delta oil production and exploration.

Since that initial uprising, further pressure organisations soon emerged. They included, among others, the Chikoko Movement, the Ijaw National Congress, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).

Youth and community unrest in the Niger Delta had reached an all-time high by the time the nation returned to democratic rule in 1999. The Niger Delta’s residents had grown accustomed to successive military regimes using force against them since the nation’s independence. This skepticism was also held towards civil administrations, particularly the Obasanjo administration. His government was charged with deploying force and counterforce (military action) to resolve the Niger Delta conflict.

The Joint Task Force (JTF) was established in the Niger Delta in 2003 by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, to protect oil production, secure oil installations, quell community protests, and deal with any activities that pose a threat to the operations of oil companies or personnel within the oil industry.

Also in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo gave the order for military men to level the riverside town of Odi in the Bayelsa state. Around 2,000 individuals were thought to have perished in that military operation, according to a 2002 report by Human Rights Watch. Militant leaders particularly of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF) and of the Niger Delta Vigilantes organised militant organisations in the delta to retaliate violently. The Niger Delta militant leaders proclaimed an all-out oil war against the Nigerian government and nearby oil firms in 2004, the reason Asari Dokubo was detained and accused of treason in 2005.

The Niger Delta was in this situation before Umar Musa Yar’Adua took office as president in May 2007. When he took office, the late President realised that youths were the ones who committed acts of violence, and that militancy in the Niger Delta needed to be addressed and discontinued the military option for the peaceful, civil Amnesty Programme which cannot be effectively implemented with a military mindset. That is the reason appointing former military personnel to head is not advisable.

The amnesty programme is to ensure the successful reintegration of ex-militants back into their society and how the empowerment process of ex-militants can promote peace and development in the post-conflict Niger Delta. This is not a job to be done with a military mindset as results have shown.

From the foregoing history of the Niger Delta conflict and the5 Amnesty Programme remedy, one can see why choosing a former military officer to lead the Amnesty Programme is not advisable. The military personnel would not always be compatible with the diplomatic and humanitarian approach necessary for the discharge of the Amnesty Programme’s objectives.

In practice also, the programme’s socioeconomic development objectives have frequently been misaligned by the retired military leadership of the social intervention body. On the other hand, their civilian counterparts have proved better equipped to achieve the desired overcomes for the reason that they are better disposed and have shown a better understanding of the complexities and intricacies of the Niger Delta region and the Amnesty Programme itself.

The Amnesty Programme therefore needs a civilian with the expertise in community involvement, economic development, and entrepreneurship, which are essential to the current phase of the Amnesty Programme, which aims at Reconciliation and Reintegration.

Also, beneficiaries will need long-term support, mentorship, and guidance to become self-sufficient and positively contribute to their communities given that the primary focus has shifted from ensuring national security (Disarmament and Demobilisation) to socioeconomic development (Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Reintegration). If the scheme will deliver on its core mandate, it is therefore not expedient to saddle former military personnel with the headship of the Amnesty Programme, which prioritises demilitarisation and focuses on socioeconomic development based on the acquisition of business and life skills.

When compared, the terms of office and performance of the two Special Advisers with civilian backgrounds, Chief Timi Alaibe (2010–2011), Hon. Kingsley Kuku (2011–2015), and Prof. Charles Dokubo (March 2018–date), with Maj. Gen. Godwin Abbe (Rtd) (2009–2010), Air Vice Marshall Lucky Ararile (June 2009–Dec 2009), and Brig. General Paul T. Boro, Rtd. (2015–March 2018), one could see the staggering difference in performances and can further see the need to favour appointing civilians with cognate experience and training to head the Amnesty Programme.

By naming personnel without military history as a national security adviser in the person of Nuhu Ribadu, for the first time, the current democratic dispensation is moving away from militarism. Other areas, including the Office of Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Amnesty, need to be in this civil direction.

· Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor. 

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