Fighting restiveness: The Okorocha example

Over 5,000 restive youths drawn from oil producing communities in Imo State, according to reports last Wednesday, surrendered their arms and ammunition to Governor Rochas Okorocha in a spectacular disarmament deal, while Okorocha, in return, granted them amnesty and gave assurances that their demands – the root cause of their violent agitations – would be forwarded to the appropriate authorities for immediateattention.

In the case of the Imo  militants, their grievances as were articulated by their various leaders centred on the insensitivity
of the government and the oil companies operating in their communities to their poverty, continued pauperisation, ecological degradation and underdevelopment in general terms. They, for example, accused oil multinationals operating in their axis of deliberately sowing discord among their people through some of their policies. The militants also complained of the lack of Niger Delta Development Commission’s (NDDC) presence  in the communities contrary to what obtains in some other partsof the region.

There is no disputing the fact that renewed restiveness in parts of the Niger Delta has contributed a whole lot to the economic quagmire of the nation orchestrated by of oil prices’ free-fall.

About three months ago, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke glowingly on his dream for the country against the backdrop of the re-emergence of restive Niger Delta militants and the grave harm they were visiting on oil facilities. The president spoke at a time when pipelines’ and oil facilities’ destruction by Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), the new face of violence in the region, had denied the country revenues amounting to N58.5 billion ($295 million) as a result of the loss of 6.5 million barrels of crude, according to officials.

The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who was visiting China at the time, equally disclosed that the government was planning a three-stage, newapproach to ensure a permanent solution to violent agitations in the region, which would involve militants, traditional rulers and a permanent Niger Delta Peace Committee. All were strong indications that the Federal Government was committed to a negotiated settlement of the Niger-Delta crisis. But the continued destructive campaigns of the restive youths compelled the FG to flood many parts of the region with military presence mainly for the purpose of protecting oil facilities. It has led to tough talks by President Buhari, like his threat to deal with the militants the same way he dealt with Boko Haram insurgents, for example. Nonetheless, there have also been attempts by the FG to dialogue with the militants and or their representatives, though largely contentious.

We have warned severally over the years on the futility of relying on force alone in the resolution of restiveness in the Niger Delta. Indeed, the heavy presence of the military in the area presently and the heat the security agencies are pilingon the insurgents have failed to totally curtail the damage they wrought on oil facilities as well as hostagetaking. While it is natural for the government to apply the carrot and stick approach in curbing militancy wherever it rears its monstrous head, recourse to the carrot method, such as granting amnesty to restive youthsand embracing dialogue, seem more fruitful in finding a lasting solution to the security breach.

The Okorocha example strongly suggests that much. For, how possible could it be for over 5,000 militants and counting to willingly surrender their arms without a sufficient degree of persuasion and the promise of hope and the better life in return? We feel strongly persuaded by the argument that there is a limit to the nature of peace the application of brute force to the Niger Delta dilemma can achieve without addressing problem clusters that revolve around equity, justice, fair treatment, environmental violation, poverty and development in the Niger Delta.

The late President Umaru Yar ’Adua set the pace in 2009 with the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP). It would, however, appear, from the grouses of the militants from Imo, that the PAP was not all-embracing.

President Buhari said lately that his government was studying the gazette on the late President Yar’Adua’s administration’s Niger Delta amnesty programme with a view to determining what had been fulfilled; promising that whatever was left would be addressed.

We think this is the right time to do so. Not to be forgotten, however, is the fact that globally, restiveness and crime among youths are powerfully nourished by large scale unemployment and the lack of productive engagement.