Insecurity, attacks on oil companies, corruption, poverty in the Niger Delta, the disbanding of many armed groups, amnesty to Boko Haram members. We talked with Ukoha O. Ukiwo, director of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at Port Harcourt University.
What has president Goodluck Jonathan achieved and what has he failed to achieve?
The current administration has been advertising its commitment to transformation. There are clear signs of commitment to economic reforms in power generation, agriculture, banking, pensions, and air transport infrastructure. The president is performing poorly in combating corruption and ensuring security in different parts of the country. Crime rates have increased. There are massive oil thefts in the Niger Delta region and the government’s measures to tackle them have not been effective. President Jonathan got off to a good start in petrol distribution but then lost steam. Long fuel queues in Abuja, the capital, ensued. Many link the scarcity of petroleum to corruption. Continued insecurity is undermining foreign investments in real sectors and in the tourism industry – key economic objectives of Jonathan’s administration.
What do you think about the proposed amnesty to Boko Haram members?
Hostile reactions to the government’ former reluctance to consider amnesty for militants forced it to propose a possible amnesty. The government is conscious that its refusal to commit to amnesty made the crisis escalate.
It is also aware that parties and politicians opposed to President Jonathan’s reported interest in a re-election in 2015 benefit from the view that the president isn’t sensitive to the sufferings of those living in areas affected by the worst violence. 2015 is fast approaching – the government is likely to be more serious about amnesty if it thinks it could bring the north’s public opinion to favour the president.
It still isn’t clear if the amnesty will be administered like it was for the Niger Delta militants in 2009. Clearly, those seeking amnesty want something similar. They are asking for an amnesty commission, to acquire skills, and for wages for the militants. Given the political and economic interests at stake, it is likely that the amnesty will be similar to that of the Niger Delta – it will entail a transfer of wealth to leaders and stipends to militants.
How has the Niger Delta changed since the amnesty programme?
The main change since the amnesty in 2009 is the reduced number of attacks on oil companies. This has lead to an increase in the volume of oil production and export. Many armed groups have disarmed and demobilised. Ex-militants have benefited from resettlement programmes in the form of skills acquisition and payment of monthly stipends. Ex-leaders were awarded contracts, especially security contracts to protect oil pipelines and other important oil exploration and production infrastructure.
Piracy and kidnappings are not linked to politics but to money… What is left of MEND and of the fight for the justice for the Niger Delta people?
The dominant faction of MEND has disarmed and been disbanded. Its leader is a major stakeholder in the amnesty process and has been working with the government to make the Niger Delta safe for oil production. Some elements within MEND are not satisfied with the outcomes of the amnesty. One faction that has continued to threaten attacks is linked to Mr. Henry Okah. In October 2010, during Nigeria’s 50th anniversary celebrations Okah was implicated in the bombing of some areas in Abuja. His brother was alleged to be complicit in the attack and was arrested – since Henry Okah resided in South Africa. Both Okah and his brothers have since been convicted by South African and Nigerian courts. What appear to be remnants of his followers threatened to resume hostilities following the prosecution and conviction. They aren’t considered a major threat to security. Okah’s arrest and conviction point to the success of the amnesty programme. The groups that disarmed seem to have provided relevant information facilitating Okah’s arrest. Before the amnesty, the dominant militant groups, especially those within MEND, would have supported the bombing.
From an economic and social viewpoint what has changed in the Niger Delta since Goodluck Jonathan became president?
Nothing has changed for ordinary people in the Niger Delta. The president cannot and has not given preferential treatment to the people of the Niger Delta. Perhaps this is why there is disappointment and anger among those in the region who expected greater benefit from his administration. No doubt, some elites from the region have, through increased access to state power, benefited from contracts and lucrative appointments. (V.G.)