In a declaration of amnesty on June 2009, President Umaru Musa Yar’adua did something unprecedented which stamped his name in the golden annals of history and which generations will continue to benefit from. It was a huge strategic and political move, the kind so drastic no government or leader ever pushed for, where subjects regarded plainly as terrorists and anti-progressive were offered an olive branch.
Ever since the beginning of the Nigerian 4th Republic back in 1999, insurgent groups unhappy with government’s lackadaisical attitude from the days of the junta began to take up arms; kidnapping oil workers and/or expatriates in the region while blowing up oil vital installations in the Niger Delta region. Security was beefed up, negotiations were made, tempers flared often between community leaders, militants and government operatives seeking for peace; but many innocent citizens lost their lives instead.
Militants blew up oil installations and crippled operations, thus effectively hampering output and the total maximum supply Nigeria could export in its OPEC quota. Sometimes it was as bad as Nigeria managing to export just barely 2/3 of its maximum production and supply capacity. The economy was getting crippled, revenue targets were not being met, states which sat still and waited for oil revenue allocations largely generated from the Niger Delta states groaned endlessly. The people got frustrated as tales of oil installations being blown up and workers being kidnapped lurked in the news day in day out.
This violent situation was a great distraction for the federal government as it could not concentrate on other core areas of badly needed development than conflict resolution. The cycle continued for about a decade until 2009 when the presidential committee on amnesty stepped up work on negotiating terms for the militant’s surrender of arms.
In an explicit, transparent and unconditional speech simple enough for even the militants to understand, as shown below, the president won the hearts of the doubtful ones of the intention of the amnesty programme with the force and confidence of the declaration:
“… I, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, hereby grant amnesty and unconditional pardon to all persons who have directly or indirectly participated in the commission of offences associated with militant activities in the Niger Delta;
The pardon shall take effect upon the surrender and handing over of all equipment, weapons, arms and ammunition and execution of the renunciation of Militancy Forms specified in the schedule hereto …”
This was a huge turnaround of events considering the hostilities which had been the order of the day between the militants and the military forces where several military operations found itself falling flat at the feet of the militants. As expected, the failure of the military forces to secure the vast Niger Delta area despite several tries was due largely to a lack of strategic knowledge of the creeks which was usually the battleground. So even this amnesty declaration would be a relief for military personnel who have had to endure posting for several years to this unfamiliar and ‘unfriendly’ environment.
The president gave an ultimatum of 24th October 2009 to willing militants who are ready to be captured into government relief programmes such as sponsored schooling, jobs, allowances and so on once they lay down their arms. Of course, most of the militants numbering about 30,000 and even the hardened criminals among them, considered this great effort at lasting peace and for their own personal development – they laid down their arms by the deadline date.
The gains the government had from this arrangement was quite impactful. The federal government began to meet up to oil export quotas, revenue was growing as well, spending on peace and conflict resolution for the military dropped drastically, the approval rating of the government shot up, among others.
Roughly ten years after this concise and well thought out effort by a serious presidential effort, we as a nation are still benefitting as a result of that extra-judicial effort at lasting peace. The present administration once muttered a similar drive for ending the Boko Haram menace but it was met with stiff resistance by the public. Perhaps the government needs to ensure such plans is not going to be exploited by opportunists before championing such great initiatives.
That the amnesty programme for the Niger Delta militants has been a success so far shows evidence that not all wars are won with boots on ground, but by altruistic consensus at peaceful co-existence, Nigeria can have its place among top nations on earth once again.