20 The amnesty worked

This was written in December 2010 in reaction to the success of the amnesty extended to Niger Delta Militants. It was published in 234NEXT newspaper as well as on my blog[1]

The rise of crude oil price in the market raises hope of boom time for producers of the resource and fears of high-energy costs for others. Price thresholds above US$80 per barrel also make investment in some forms of energy such as agrofuels appear attractive. For Nigeria, as the price of crude inches up, so must the gobblers of so-called excess crude funds be getting ready for the kill.

As the major supplier of government revenue, the crude oil price rise must be accompanied by an increase in production to ensure maximum benefit to the government and the oil corporations. This would mean keeping all oil wells pumping at full throttle. It would also mean ensuring that peace reigns in the oil fields, even if it means exerting maximum firepower in search of a handful of renegade post-amnesty militants.

The popular spaces in Cancún began to fill up over the last weekend, even as the climate talks got ready for the home stretch. The environmental justice movement believes rightly that fossil fuels must be left in the ground, as their use is responsible for the release of much of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Leaving the fossil fuels in the soil would translate less pollution and less toxic compounds in the environment. It would also mean rapidly transiting to renewable or less harmful energy sources and into a post carbon civilisation.

Negotiators in the climate talks are not listening to the clarion call to leave the fossil fuels in the soil. What is music to their ears, however, is how the carbon that is released when the fossil fuels are used can be captured and stored. No, they are not exactly debating the best technologies that can achieve this. So, what is on the table?

Climate negotiators are seeking to make carbon capture and storage projects eligible for carbon credits. Technologies for capturing and storing carbon are far from being ready for implementation at the moment. There are also issues over costs as well as doubts over their effectiveness. However, leaving the fossil fuels in the soil is undoubtedly effective carbon capture and storage. This option does not require technology transfer. Neither does it require any capital outlay.

Challenging the reckless nature of the oil industry, I was privileged to join a team of nature defenders to institute a case in the constitutional court of Ecuador against BP for their reckless activities and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.[2] The case opens a unique way for holding corporations and individuals accountable for their acts anywhere in the world. It is also a direct action in tackling climate change. Two of the key demands of the case is that BP should leave as much oil as they have spilled in the ground and should stop deep water activities.

Will the world’s addiction to crude oil allow the voice of reason to prevail? Will the climate negotiators pause to review all the false solutions plastered on the negotiating texts by corporate interests fuelled by greed as well as the creed that the market holds the solution to every problem?

Assaults in the creeks

While the price of crude oil increases and yields more revenue to both the government and the oil companies, the environmental and social impacts are still externalised to the poor communities. To ensure that oil must flow at all costs, it does not appear to matter how much human bloodletting happens in the process.

Over the years, conflicts have been orchestrated in the Niger Delta— and indeed other parts of Nigeria— either for economic reasons or for political ones. When the late President Yar’Adua announced an amnesty for the armed groups in the oil fields, popularly known as militants, critics doubted that the amnesty would work. Others simply prayed that it would work. And it did.

The amnesty programme had some foundational problems because of the nature of the conflicts on the ground. Usually, combats involve taking of territories or for political supremacy. The fights in the Niger Delta is not one for territorial control, neither is it for political power. It can be, and has been interpreted, as largely opportunistic and as means for capital accumulation.

However, it must again be stated that some sense of political disenchantment is also discernible. In all the expressions, the environment continues to suffer; the local communities continue to be carpeted through ground, sea, and air bombardments.

We remember what happened to Gbaramatu Kingdom in May 2009. After the assault, 3,000 women with their kids became refugees for months at a health facility in Ogbe Ijoh. Now, with the latest levelling of Ayakoromo community, Delta State, the same health facility has again become home for displaced local people. That health facility is a clear metaphor for the jaundiced development efforts in the region. If it were functioning as a hospital, as it was designed, would it readily turn into a refugee camp?

The resumption of open hostilities says something about the amnesty programme. That scheme was built on mostly accumulated military hardware and personnel in the Niger Delta, and spending a tiny fraction of the overall budget on training and reintegration of repentant militants.

Reports have shown that many youths who requested to be trained and rehabilitated could not be taken on because of some quota system that had already established a ceiling as to how many could be trained. According to Dutch media reports, companies such as Shell have hired some of the retrained militants as welders and fitters. That also tells a story on its own.

But the real issue of deep environmental pollution is yet to be tackled and unless the environment is safe for local people to return to their normal means of livelihood, any declared amnesty is a smokescreen and is bound to blow up in smoke. However, when all is considered, we can submit that the current amnesty has worked beyond what it was designed to achieve.


  1. http://nnimmo.blogspot.com.ng/2010/12/amnesty-worked.html?q=OIL POLITICS: The Amnesty worked: Over the years, conflicts have been orchestrated in the Niger Delta.  (accessed 31 May 2016). I also mulled over this issue also in my book, To Cook A Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa (Pambazuka Press, Oxford, 2012)
  2. Democracy Now! November 29, 2010. BP Sued in Ecuadorian Court for Violating Rights of Nature. http://www.democracynow.org/2010/11/29/headlines/bp_sued_in_ecuadorian_court_for_violating_rights_of_nature (accessed 31 May 2016)

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