2009 - Operation Restore Hope

In 2009 the Federal Government reconstituted the Joint Task Force, which hitherto existed in Rivers and Delta states, and tasked it principally to defeat militancy which had threatened the nation’s economic survival.

Decades of neglect, persistent poverty, and environmental damage caused by the oil and gas industry left Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta region vulnerable to renewed violence. The 2009 amnesty of Delta militants significantly reduced attacks on pipelines and other petroleum facilities, increasing oil production from 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) at the peak of militancy to 2.4 million bpd today. However, egregious onshore and maritime oil theft, substandard infrastructure, and the lack of an economic growth engine outside the petroleum sector remain persistent challenges. Though the region provides nearly 80 percent of the government’s oil revenues, the Niger Delta suffers from endemic poverty and dismal federal government services.

Corruption siphoned off oil revenues, while the environmental devastation caused by decades of oil spills remains largely unaddressed. The limited scope and timeframe of the amnesty program (set to expire in 2015), a shortage of sufficient employment opportunities for thousands of amnesty beneficiaries and other underserved youth, and the federal government’s failure to address the region’s underlying grievances could result in a resumption of broader and more violent criminal activity without concerted government action.

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has a mandate to implement social and economic development projects in the Delta region, but the NDDC proved largely ineffective. State and local governments offer few social services, and Niger Delta residents continue to seek direct payments and other assistance from oil companies, who cannot meet demand. Some oil companies have implemented their own socio-economic development programs to assist local communities, but the virtual absence of concerted government attention to the needs of these communities means many of them remain angry and resentful of oil production activities in their region. In 2009, the GON established the Ministry for the Niger Delta to oversee development projects in the region, but most observers assert that this entity had done little to improve the lives of Delta residents.

By October 2009, the GON had persuaded all major militant leaders to renounce violence and surrender arms in exchange for amnesty, government stipends, training opportunities, and pledges of greater development for the Delta. Nigerian officials followed up the amnesty program with a series of consultations with Delta stakeholders, including ex- militants. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) partners sent a letter to Minister of Defense and Amnesty Committee Chairperson Retired General Godwin Abbe in December 2009 offering to engage on the Niger Delta. Concerns existed that ex-militants may become impatient before the full implementation of rehabilitation programs occurs. Allegedly speaking for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), self-identified spokesperson "Jomo Gbomo" announced January 30 the end of MEND's October 25, 2009 cease-fire. To date, security has improved considerably in most areas of the Delta, but ex-militants have staged protests in Bayelsa, Rivers, and Delta States over lack of progress on rehabilitation and reintegration.

Most militant groups in the Niger Delta accepted then president Yar’Adua’s offer of amnesty in 2009, and the overall level of violence there declined. Although the amnesty led to a sharp decline in attacks by militants, kidnapping for ransom, armed robberies, gang wars, and fighting connected to the theft of crude oil, known as illegal oil bunkering, continued and contributed to the region’s general insecurity and lack of economic vitality.

There had been several ceasefires over the years. They were typically nothing more than a tacit and temporary agreement by Nigerian security forces and "militants" to stop shooting at each other for a while, and get back to the business of stealing oil, kidnapping oil workers, and, during the election season, intimidating voters.

The new Nigerian Government (GON) Amnesty Subcommittee on Niger Delta Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) purpose was to monitor the full implementation of the Disarmament Process and mop up all outstanding illegal weapons in the hands of recalcitrant militants and criminals; monitor the security situation in the region and assist Security Agencies to restore normalcy; undertake inter- and intra-community mediation to resolve amicably all lingering disputes and misunderstandings; assist in reconciling former militants with their local communities to ensure their complete integration as full and bonafide citizens of such communities; monitor and advise on the conduct of skills training and employment generation for the engagement of ex-militants and non-militants youth in the Niger Delta region; and carry out all the necessary endeavors to promote conflict resolution, reconciliation, and peace building in the region.

Complaining that the training did not relate to job opportunities, Niger Delta ex-militants remarked that "the militants don't want to be barbers and soap-makers." Discontent also arose over the slow pace in implementation and problems in making timely stipend payments. Observers feared ex-militants would slowly begin returning to the creeks and previous criminal activity.

Under the program, the government handed out multimillion-dollar contracts to the top leaders of the last round of militants, paying them to guard oil infrastructure. The rank and file were compensated with stipends and job training. "Essentially, the amnesty was a massive payoff system," said former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell. "The leaders of MEND, of the insurrection, were paid off essentially with government contracts. The rank and file were supposed to be paid off with vocational training. Of course, there aren't any jobs in the area," he told CNBC 20 May 2016. Midlevel commanders were left without opportunities that matched their expectations and sense of their own standing, said Akin Iwilade, a research student at Oxford University who studies why Nigerians join gangs. Buhari extended the program through 2017, but he reduced payouts, circumvented the former militant leaders who previously distributed them and stopped funding security contracts.

By the end of 2012, at least 26,368 former militants had benefitted in some way from the amnesty program. Many former militants received vocational training and stipends. At year’s end 5,280 former militants were undergoing vocational training, with 1,538 attending courses abroad. The amnesty program resulted in a sharp decline in militant violence in the region. Some observers expressed concern, however, the militants used amnesty payments to purchase more arms.

The government’s amnesty program reduced the level of conflict for much of 2012. Disagreements arose between former militants and the government concerning who qualified for the amnesty program, the amount of cash payments, the availability of vocational training, and continued possession of arms by former militants. On multiple occasions groups claiming to be former militants protested to the federal government over treatment of former militants. For example, on July 30, hundreds of former militants staged a mass protest in Benin City, Edo State, demanding payment of their allowance. On August 22, a group claiming to be former militants protested outside the Federal Secretariat in Abuja demanding to be included in a new phase of the amnesty program. There was widespread suspicion many of those demanding inclusion in the program were probably not militants.

In September 2013, the U.S. State Department launched a conflict mitigation initiative in Nigeria’s Delta region. Nigeria plays a critical role in Africa’s stability, and the United States has a strong interest in the country’s peace, prosperity, and security. The resource-rich Niger Delta is vital to Nigeria’s economic health and its stability is a top priority. The U.S. initiative in the Delta aims to address the risk of destabilizing violence and increase confidence in the power of nonviolent problem-solving among citizens, government, and other key actors.

Niger Delta militants known as the Niger Delta Avengers claimed responsibility for a major attack on a crude oil pipeline in Nigeria’s Bayelsa State run by Eni’s Agip subsidiary. The attack on the Obi Obi Brass trunk line occurred on 10 June 2016. The attack is one of several in recent weeks by militants in the region who are targeting Nigeria’s oil infrastructure. The militants accuse the government of stealing the resources in the Niger Delta region.

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Page last modified: 16-02-2019 19:17:46 ZULU