The amnesty deadline has passed. With all the furore over the surrender of weapons ( or at least some of them) by some of the key militants ( I still don’t like that name), the big question on everybody’s lips is what next? Are we going to see long lasting peace and development in the delta or are we going to see a brand new set of militants? This is not the first amnesty deal that has been brokered in the delta though. There was a similar cash for guns scheme in Port Harcourt 3 or 4 years ago and that did not turn out so good. So what hope do we have this time around?
First off its important to differentiate between two fundamentally different types of militants. The first group are the genuine freedom fighters. The ones who are fighting for a greater share of the oil wealth in the region and an end to the environmental consequences of the oil industry. To this group nothing has changed. They probably still do not trust the government and its only a matter of time before they take up arms if nothing changes in the way the oil wealth is distributed.
The second group are just the plain old criminals, some who started out as election thugs and have since moved into the kidnapping and oil theft business. So why accept amnesty now? Did they have a sudden change of heart, have they given up on change in the niger delta, or is the oil bunkering industry just not as profitable as it used to be? My money is on the third option. Sale of stolen crude is the major source of income for most of these groups in the delta and they, like the rest of the country, have taken a huge hit since the crash of the oil price. Militancy doesn’t pay as much as it used to. The true test of this amnesty deal will come when the price of oil once again rises to some mind boggling amount making it even more tempting for an unemployed 22-year-old to get ideas.
There is an opportunity before then for the government to make some real changes in the way things are done in the delta. The policing of the delta needs to improve and corruption, especially at the local government level, needs to be looked into. Then again these are issues which bedevil the whole country. The severity of the issue is much worse in the Niger delta because there is a lot more money at stake there. There is also the issue of resource control……….but I’ll save that for another day.
By the way, what happens to the hard working young men and women who choose not to pick up arms and fight the government? I guess they will make the right decision next time.