Promise of war

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Nigeria’s 2009 peace deal to end amnesty in the oil-rich Niger-Delta region may never be devoid of controversies. For apparent reasons, the 2009 Presidential Amnesty Programme for repentant ex-militants have been widely adduced as unsustainable. First, as part of the amnesty package, the Nigerian state has been paying ₦65,000 monthly stipends to ex-militants, in addition to scholarships and vocational training to the group. Second, the infrastructural deficits, environmental degradation and other inherent factors that triggered violent militancy in the area before the 2009 amnesty are yet to be adequately addressed. Thirdly, the amnesty programme and ex-militant groups have, arguably, been politicised with factions of ex-militants’ groups making demands for stipends or change of the leadership composition of government agencies working in the region. Also, a further peek into the future, Nigeria’s oil reserves are set to dry up in 2045, even as global oil prices continue to drop. In light of these, what implications will it pose for Nigeria’s material-induced peace in the Niger Delta?

Building sustainability in the Niger Delta region should remain at the core of national discourses as promises of violence periodically arise from the area. According to a report, 13 militant groups in the Niger Delta that had earlier accepted a ceasefire on account of the Federal Government’s amnesty programme have threatened to resume hostilities. Under the aegis of Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators (CNDA), the groups have faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to accede to their demands which includes sacking the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, dissolution of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which according to them reeks of massive corruption under the current leadership. Also, the groups have faulted government appointments in the oil and gas sector, which they perceive to have marginalised people from the oil region.

Undoubtedly, government agencies set up on account of the Niger Delta region may not have achieved their objectives. According to a technical audit report on the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs approved by the Federal government, about ₦423 billion have been spent from 2009 to 2015 by the ministry with only about 12 per cent of projects executed. The issues within and among government agencies working in the Niger Delta will continue to expose the weakness of the 2009 amnesty deal, and further puncture the weakening ceasefire the ex-militants’ groups have upheld for over a decade. In light of these trends, the Nigerian government must move to secure its revenue pot.

Nigeria is currently Africa’s biggest oil exporter. Oil contributes about 75 per cent of the nation’s total budget. Data from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) show that Nigeria derives 95 per cent of export earnings and 70 per cent of government revenue from the oil sector. Although the country has other viable sectors, the oil sector has, rather, unfortunately, grown to be the mainstay of the economy. For instance, Nigeria’s 2020 budget was revised from ₦10.594 trillion to ₦10.523 trillion. The reduction is as a result of a drop in global oil prices and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nigeria cannot afford to witness a relapse to violent militancy in its revenue base. First, government must seek dialogue with protesting ex-militant groups to ensure that grievances do not lead to warfare. Second, it is about time government in collaboration with relevant actors in the Niger Delta region, conflict and development experts review the 2009 Presidential Amnesty Programme. These efforts should be hinged on the premise that the amnesty programme is not sustainable. As such, there should be an alternative path that will end the unrealistic payment of stipends, address the promises of war in the area and engender comprehensive development. In essence, the Nigerian state must commit to a holistic Niger Delta review plan that will end the notions of renewed conflict.