An Amnesty Doomed To Failure: Working Class Solution Urgently Needed
An Amnesty Doomed To Failure: Working Class Solution Urgently Needed
Suddenly, peace in the Niger Delta has become the most sought after commodity, almost placed at par with oil. No more war, the hundreds and thousands killed or uprooted from their communities in Gbaramatu area of Delta State through military assaults, never existed! All that matter now is peace. The refrain now is: we need peace, first and foremost to be able to carry out the required development of the Niger Delta area! All militants that are willing to lay down arms and renounce militancy will be paid certain monthly monetary allowances under government’s Amnesty. In addition, government has freed from jail, Henry Okah, a prominent leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), currently the most active militant group in the Niger Delta. On its part, the Niger Delta militants have announced a 60-day ceasefire. A major question now being asked is whether government latest approach to the Niger Delta crisis is the best response to resolve the crisis in the long run? To correctly evaluate the amnesty programme being packaged by the Yar’Adua government, the best point to start with is the motive behind the entire programme.
To say that the militants’ activities since 2006 have had serious negative effects on Nigeria’s economy will be stating the obvious. To start with, the Nigerian state relies, for up to 80% of all its incomes, on the exportation of crude oil and natural gas of the Niger Delta nation. Thus, the Niger Delta oil wealth is absolutely crucial to the sustenance of the Nigerian state itself. In consequence of the still unravelling global economic crisis, the incomes being earned by Nigeria from oil and gas exports have already experienced a sharp decline as a result of global economic meltdown. Very worrisomely too, the activities of the militants are said to have caused about 20% fall in oil output. Nigeria is said to have the capacity to produce 3.2million barrels of oil per day (mbpd). It was in fact producing about 2.9 mbpd at certain periods in 2008.
However, owing to increase in militant acts of sabotage, oil bunkering, hostage taking, etc oil production actually fell to between 1.2 and 1.3 mbpd. The number of persons reportedly kidnapped or held hostage increased from 353 in 2008 to 512 in the first 4 months of 2009. In addition, the continued disruption being caused by the militant activities has also been cited as major threats to the operations of the electricity projects and the local refineries. Therefore, the point ought to be clearly underlined that it is the combination of these economic factors that has forced the government to come up with its amnesty package in the hope that it will pacify the militants and enable the multinational oil companies to resume full exploration and exportations of crude oil and gas.
The Government’s amnesty package is not a product of any change of hearts or signs of remorse for all the past and on-going economic and political atrocities being perpetrated in the Niger Delta. Shortly after President Yar’Adua announced its amnesty package, Henry Okah was released from a 23-month prison detention. The charges of treasons and sabotage preferred against him were also withdrawn. In consequence of this development, MEND, one of the most active Niger Delta militia groups announced a 60-day ceasefire. Amongst other issues, MEND has demanded the withdrawal of the army and the Joint Task Force from Gbaramatu area of Delta. In addition, it has also demanded that processes be put in place that can facilitate discussions and dialogue on the main issues that gave rise to armed militia activities in the first instance.
Responding to these demands, Nigeria’s Defence Minister, Godwin Abebe stated thus, “They cannot give conditions to government. Government would make decisions on the effective deployment of troops when the conditions become ripe enough. And when the law and order is comfortably established”. Within this context, the amnesty package is clearly a device to dodge the major issues at stake and not to tackle them. Also evident from this is the fact that government is not prepared to relent from its strategy of using military force to have its way in the Delta region.
Of course, this is the characteristic of the Yar’Adua government’s response to agitations by mass organisations. The nation’s public universities have been closed down for over 8 weeks now. Instead of striving to meet demands of the education workers, government has instead pulled out of negotiations with the striking workers, insisting that their strike must first be called off. In the same arrogant and fashion, government has now stated that unless the militants stop their activities, it will not be able to carry out necessary development programmes in the region. It is however very instructive that despite the prevailing war-like situation which exists in the Delta, excavation and exportation of crude oil and gas have never stopped for a day and that no government official has proposed the stoppage of oil export, just for a day, in order to sort out the problem!
As presently packaged, Yar’Adua’s amnesty is thoroughly saturated with the spirit of “Ghana Must Go” mentality. Blindfolded by the Niger Delta oil wealth, Nigeria’s capitalist ruling elites have over time, developed the attitude and habit of using money packed in “Ghana Must Go” bags to bribe over their opponents and allies. Therefore, the government apparently believes that the lure of money stashed in “Ghana Must Go” bags will be strong enough to make significant number of militants, especially key leaders, to come forward, to go to the pay centres and to renounce militancy
From the beginning, this strategy was doomed to failure precisely because the militia organisations through their own independent activities are in position to guarantee more money for their members than the paltry and uncertain amounts being promised by the government.
As we write, the amnesty centres have been opened to would-be repentant militants for over 2 weeks. So far, government expectations have woefully failed. However, going by the culture of corruption, which reigns supreme in all government institutions and commissions, it will not come as a surprise if at the end of 8 weeks period given for this exercise, tens of billions of naira is claimed to have been paid to “repentant” militants without anybody ever being able to determine the veracity of such a claim. Even if real and prominent militia members and leaders in fact accept government amnesty, this could at worst, only have a temporary effect on the scope and activities of armed militia. Sooner than later, a new and more daring generations will evolve to carry on with the campaigns especially against the background where little or nothing has been done to address the fundamental issues of mass poverty and economic decay which dominate the region.
It is not a matter of if, but when, government’s amnesty package will be seen by all and sundry, as a total failure. MEND on its part has announced a 60-day ceasefire, which is to expire about September 28, 2009. On the other hand, government’s amnesty exercise is expected to run from August 6 to October 6, 2009. Going by events so far, government is not likely to succeed that much with its amnesty “carrot”. And, without addressing many of the fundamental issues giving rise to militant activities, it therefore, should be clear that the grave-yard like peace which presently exists in the Niger Delta will soon be shattered sooner than later. This scenario of course raises once again the necessity of charting out a working class socialist perspective for what has certainly become a political quagmire for both the militants, as well as the Nigerian state.
Firstly, the government’s recourse to the amnesty package is partly an admission of the futility of its age-long “force option” approach. But it would be mistaken to believe that government would now concentrate on purely peaceful options and a substantial economic development of the entire Delta region. In fact, government’s propaganda is that without total stoppage of militant activities, they would not be able to carry out needed economic and infrastructural development in the Delta region. There are also those whose still wrongfully believe that the capitalist elites can be relied upon to carry fundamental development of the Niger Delta region and by extension, Nigeria as a whole.
In its editorial statement of July 30, 2009, Vanguard newspaper made the following submission: “Amnesty for the militants is a good idea. However, the Federal Government must have the political will to muster resources for development of the area. Government so easily finds funds for peripheral matters on the Niger Delta and not the core issues”. Frankly speaking, this kind of sentiment completely betrays a deep misunderstanding, or covering up, of the workings of capitalism in general and the especially short-sighted, kleptomaniac characteristic of Nigeria’s capitalist elite. Despite all the noises that have been made to accelerate the development of the Niger Delta area through special commissions like OMPADEC, NNDC, only a paltry sum of money, compared with what is usually voted for military expenditures as well as salaries and allowances of a few thousand federal political office holders, is usually budgeted for developmental projects in the Delta. Between 2004 and 2007, a total sum of N436.54 billion has been appropriated for the NDDC but only N110.31 billion of this sum was actually released.
Meanwhile, most of the little resources ever received are usually looted by the capitalist elements in charge of the NNDC. Here, the creation of the Niger Delta ministry would only exacerbate the orgy of corruption and competition going on in the Delta as the various capitalist elements in NDDC, the newly created bureaucracy, Niger Delta ministry and the governors intensify the war of supremacy. A central point also needs to be made, it is not the lack of resources that has been preventing sufficient development of Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole but the inherent wasteful and elitist approach of capitalist system which often inflate, outrageously, the actual costs of projects at the expense of dire needs of the economy and the masses.
In the given situation, it is almost certain that far from diminishing, the armed militia acts of sabotage, bunkering and hostage takings will become more pronounced in the coming period. Already, it is being alleged that the militants possess limited powers to refine petroleum products including kerosene, which is being sold at cheaper prices to consumers in the creeks. This and the necessity to survive will most likely make militancy a very attractive preoccupation for the Niger Delta youths who otherwise would not have a future under the Nigerian state. Nevertheless, the militants, based on campaigns of bombings of oil installations, bunkering and hostage takings, etc, exclusively by trained militia, not connected or accountable to the ordinary masses and their organisations will most likely never be able to defeat the Nigeria state together with their oil multinationals allies.
Faced with the prospect of an endless warfare, there is the tendency for the militants to become more desperate to try and extend their activities beyond the Delta creeks to major Nigerian cities like Lagos, Abuja, Kano, etc. In fact, shortly after the release of Henry Okah, MEND carried out an attack on Atlas Cove jetty depot, the main oil facility serving Lagos, the industrial heartland of Nigeria. This attack temporarily created a big political firmament from which sections of Yoruba bourgeois elite tried to profit from. If such activities become more pronounced, there is the danger that it will give the opportunity to the bourgeois elites across Nigeria to once again exploit any local anger at attacks to mobilize and divert ordinary people’s rage along ethno religious divide against the struggle of the Niger Deltan people.
This is because the ordinary/innocent Nigerians that would have their relations killed and or have their means of livelihood destroyed or disrupted as a result of attacks by the militants are more likely to be susceptible to government, or chauvinist ethnic leaders, propaganda of waging the proverbial war on terrorism rather than strengthening the struggle in the Niger Delta.
There is also the fallacious assumption being echoed by the militants which gives the impression that once Fiscal Federalism (a situation like that which obtained in the First Republic when the regions used to control the revenues being generated in their respective areas and only contributed a percentage to the Federal Government) is embraced by the federal government all in the plights of the people of Niger Delta will become a thing of the past.
This idea absolutely contradicts the reality of life in Nigeria as a whole and even in the Niger Delta itself. The super abundant natural and human resources, which Nigeria possess has never translated to a quality life for its citizens who still belong to the world’s group of most impoverished and deprived. Here, it should be underlined that the Niger Deltan capitalist elites have equally shown that they are not any better than their counter-parts nationally and internationally, especially when it comes to sacrificing peoples basic needs on the alter of personal greed and aggrandizements. Most of the additional resources received by the Niger Delta, courtesy of the 13% derivation provided under the 1999 constitution of Nigeria are being routinely looted by its leaders.
Unfortunately, whenever this point is debated, militants’ spokespersons tend to dismiss it as a secondary point that would be resolved after the battle for full “fiscal federalism” is won. This approach, must be pointed out, is a variant of the bankrupt bourgeois perspective put forward by the majority of political activists during the struggle against the military in the 1980s and 1990s. It used to be stated that once we get rid of the military, every other thing would fall in place. But ten years after, and despite the stupendous money made during this period, the overall state of health of Nigeria’s economy and the masses’ living standard are in worse shapes today than before. While the ending of Abacha’s military dictatorship was welcome, the civilian rulers that have held power since 1999 have not behaved any better as there has been a continued battle at the top between the competing elements of the ruling elite on how best to loot the country. The struggle in the Niger Delta cannot be allowed to sink to the level of battles between rival gangs of exploiters to get their own hands on the country’s wealth.
As Marxists, the DSM right from its inception has always defended the right of nationalities, including those in the Niger Delta, to self-determination, up to secession, if democratically resolved by the majority of people of a given nationality. Within the seceding nation or the federation we will always insist on full freedom and democratic rights to all minority tribes, creeds or religions. However, the achievement of this kind of aspirations would remain mere pipedreams as long as the colonial contraption called Nigeria remains under the rule of the capitalist elites who would forever continue to use ethno-religious divides to maintain the prevailing unjust socio-economic order.
To be able to successfully defeat the alliance of oil multinational and their local capitalist allies would certainly require a working class strategy which is primarily built around the mobilization of ordinary Nigerians of all nationalities living in and around Niger Delta. This approach, combined with necessary armed activities, under the strict control of democratically elected committees of workers, youths and grassroots activists represents the only viable way to defeat the Nigerian state and their imperialist backers with the cheapest cost, materially and in human casualties. However, to inspire and sustain this kind of political force, an outright socialist programme and strategy is an imperative. All over the country the ordinary working masses need to know, from the beginning that the struggle is about using the Niger Delta oil wealth for the development and needs of all Nigerians unlike the present practice where this wealth only helps in sustaining a tiny layer of the rich.
Specifically, such movement has to be prepared to fight against the privatization of the oil wealth together with other major resources, by the neo-liberal capitalist elements under whatever guise. As against privatization, deregulation and all other neo-liberal policies, the kind of movement being canvassed has to be able to boldly fight for the nationalization of the commanding heights of economy including banks, finance institutions, the oil sector, etc. under a government of workers and the poor. On the basis of a central plan and strict democratic control by the elected representatives of the trade unions and community people a real basis and foundation can then be established for the achievement of genuine peace in Niger Delta and across the rest of Nigeria. The DSM members would continue as before to campaign and argue in the labour, youth and community movements for the adoption of this kind of programme and approach towards permanent resolution of the Niger Delta quagmire.
All this points to one thing: working and poor people need a fighting organization that will raise the demands of the working people for a genuine government in Nigeria. This is the time for labour and pro-masses’ organizations to build a working class political party with a socialist orientation which will demand public ownership of commanding height of the economy under the democratic control of the working people themselves and provide adequate resources to make lives better for the poor people. Labour Party, which was formed but abandoned by NLC, should be built as a mass-based working class party that campaigns on a programme against neo-liberalism to wrest power from the thieving ruling elites. Without such political alternative, the poor masses ultimately would seek other ways and you can be sure Boko Haram and such reactionary groups would arise. There is also urgent need to restructure the labour movement across the country (especially the state chapters and affiliates) so as to serve as a fighting platform of the working people which will link the anger of the poor people across the country rather than being diverted to reactionary ethnic lines. All this is the central challenge now!