Another day another Nigerian functionary at Chatham House, in the past 3 months we have had Sanusi Lamido, Bukola Saraki, Buhari/ Bakare/ El Rufai and on 14th July it was the turn of Hon. Kingsley Kemebradigha Kuku, Special Adviser to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Niger Delta Affairs and Chairman of the Amnesty Committee. The event was oversubscribed according to Chatham House however there were sufficient empty seats for your reporter to sneak in despite having been initially turned away.
The event chaired by Bronwen Manby of the Open Society Foundation started a little bit late (or on time by Nigerian standards) due to a previous meeting Mr Kuku held with the press and oil and gas industry executives. Notwithstanding this delay he demonstrated an refreshing candour and strong grasp of the issues and statistics. Many interesting facts about the amnesty programme were mentioned which had troubled a lay man such as myself, namely that 22,192 militants respondents to the amnesty proclamation of whom 20,192 (including 882 women) registered and are currently going through the rehabilitation and reintegration program. According to Hon Kuku, 2009 weapons, 295, 000 rounds of ammunition and 18 gunboats were handed in and publicly destroyed on 25th May 2011 in Enugu.
Hon Kuku then elaborated on the benefits the amnesty had brought to Nigeria such as an increase in oil production, with production currently the highest on average since December 2007.
Of the ex militants he stated that 969 were in training in the USA, South Africa, Poland, Russia, Ghana, Malaysia to name a few places and that the oil and gas industry had volunteered to train 3000 ex militants with numbers from the second phase looking to rise to 26,358 persons.
He then expanded on the challenges that the programme faced, such as the lack of sustainability, and the need for funds from development and industry partners to set up training centres of excellence in the Niger Delta. He made the rather curious claim that the DDR programme in the Niger Delta was the most successful in the world as it had successfully completed all the stages from disarmament, demobilisation to rehabilitation and eventually reintegration. It remains to be seen.
He completed his presentation by decrying the United Kingdom’s failure to provide visas to the ex militants to attend training in the UK. He observed that the UK is a key ally and as the ex colonial power had a special place in the Nigerian psyche and it would be easier to administer the ex militants here than in the other far flung places mentioned.
After this presentation which significantly over ran its allotted time frame we came to the question and answer session. The first tranche of questions touched on Boko Haram and comparisons t o the Niger Delta issue. His response to this question was quite long but basically boiled down to the assertion that the two were fundamentally different and that an amnesty was not the answer to the Boko Haram issue and that comparisons were flawed as the Niger Delta activists have been agitating since pre independence having gone from dialogue to protest to violence.
Your reporter then asked how the programme could be considered sustainable if it only dealt with those who had taken up arms leaving the over 2 million peaceful youths uncatered for. The response was again quite frank in that he was limited by law to only deal with those who registered for the amnesty thus it was the responsibility of the Local and State Governments to do their jobs properly and address the underlying issues of under development and poor government. He made the curious statement that ‘The country is now lawful’ thus he could not go beyond his remit. The concept of a lawful Nigeria now or at any other time drew a lot of derisive guffaws from the audience.
Another member of the audience questioned the destruction of Ayakoromo, which he agreed was unnecessary, however he said the blame was to be shared between the Army and John Togo (whose claims of death he seemed to consider to be gross exaggerations!) had accepted amnesty and then gone back to the creeks to fight again. He stated that Jonathon had been angry (the phrase used was ‘Got Presidential’) and insisted the reconstruction of Ayakoromo would be by the Army from Army funds. Other questions touched on gas flaring (it was the Governments responsibility to enforce the laws), why the training seemed focussed on oil and gas (apparently this wasn’t the case, there was a contingent training in Israel who would return to take up a Rivers State government scheme) and whether processes and structures were in place to ensure the amnesty continues if he is removed.
The presentation was impressive in terms of Mr Kuku’s grasp of the fundamentals of the issues, knowledge of facts but more importantly his candour in stating the problems of the Niger Delta. Although the obligatory statements about the oil and gas industry were present most of the blame and venom was reserved for the lack of development that had been perpetrated by governments state and local in the Niger Delta.
While Mr kuku seems to be a straight shooter who has the confidence of the people one must question how much one straight shooter can do in a system as corrupt and rotten as Nigeria’s. The problems of the Niger Delta are not particularly complex, they boil down to greed, environmental degradation, corruption and under development. None of these problems are hard to fix but all require the political will to do so and the political interest to defeat the corrupt vested interests. When the President surrounds himself with such people as Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who along with the Odili’s, Ibori’s and co are the root cause of the militancy and the Anenihs and co who are directly responsible for the under development one wonders how exactly the political will or capital can be generated. In the same vein Mr Kuku lauds the appointment of Diezani Alison-Madueke as Minister of Petroleum and states the 7th NASS is capable of doing a good job, however neither the NASS or the Honourable Minister of Petroleum have shown any level of competence or capability at their jobs.
Throughout the presentation there were outbursts of clapping from the audience which had the slightly disconcerting effect of turning the event into a political rally which was reinforced by Mr Kuku constantly talking about the Presidents support, determination and electoral mandate etc. As has been said it is difficult to see how the President can bring a sustained peace to the Niger Delta when the primary architects of insecurity are his closest advisors and the key elements of legislation that should help resolve certain issues such as the PIB are in the hands of people of questionable integrity and competence such as Diezani Alison-Madueke.
While Mr Kuku appears to be a well liked man doing his best in his post, this presentation was interesting in what was said but also for what it implied. The 26,358 persons who managed to hold the country to ransom have been ‘rewarded’ with trips abroad and stipends, functionaries and ministers grow fat, bow and go in the senate, traverse the worlds and wax lyrical about the novel successes of the amnesty.
So if you are a young man or woman sitting in the scorched light of the gas flare next to your polluted creek, in your powerless, roadless, clinicless, schools, jobless state it doesn’t exactly take the brains of a Petroleum Minister to figure out what you need to do to get your slice of the pie.