Category Archives: BUSINESS COMMUNITY
Statements, Actions and Contributions of the business community
On 5 February, a group identifying itself as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), claimed responsibility for an attack on an oil pipeline owned by the Italian firm, Agip (Eni), in Bayelsa State. Witnesses had reported a fire on the company’s Nembe-Brass pipeline late the previous day.
In a statement sent to the media, the group said: “On Saturday, the 4th of February at 1930hrs, fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D) attacked and destroyed the Agip (ENI) trunk line at Brass in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria”.
The statement added that: “This relatively insignificant attack is a reminder of our presence in the creeks of the Niger Delta and a sign of things to come”.
MEND was the main militant group in the Niger Delta and responsible for years of attacks on the oil industry. However, following the Federal Government’s offer of amnesty in 2009, virtually all of its known commanders and thousands of its fighters dropped their arms and joined the government’s re-orientation and rehabilitation programmes, which also guaranteed them monthly stipends from the government. Several thousands have been enrolled in vocational and academic training courses, in Nigeria and abroad.
MEND purportedly sent several threats to the media in 2010 and 2011, but the threatened attacks never materialized. Oil industry sources said most of the recent damage to oil infrastructure in the region had been caused by gangs stealing oil, rather than insurgent militants. Security sources add that these gangs lack the capacity to cause the level of damage and disruption that was seen in early 2011, when attacks slashed the country’s oil production by more than 50 per cent.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta said: “JTF advices Niger Deltans to be mindful of people who are out to swindle them by wrongfully appropriating the identity of the erstwhile leadership of MEND to curry sympathy for their selfish and criminal interests”.
Nigerian Government, labour fail to reach agreement, but threat to halt oil production still on hold
On 14 January, talks between the Federal Government and labour union leaders, seeking to end the nationwide strike and street protests sparked by the government’s removal of petrol subsidies, failed to produce a deal, but a threat by workers to halt oil production was put on hold.
Labour officials said the talks could continue as early as Sunday 15 January, but also warned that the strike would continue on Monday if the negotiating parties failed to reach an agreement.
Comments by Senate President David Mark, who had been acting as a mediator, as well as some negotiators on both sides, suggest the Saturday talks made some progress, but stopped short of an agreement. Mark said the two parties were on the “right path”. The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Abdulwaheed Omar said: “The meeting is not deadlocked, but we have not reached a compromise”.
In a more sober assessment, the NLC secretary general, Owei Lakemfa, told the news agency, AFP, that the meeting “did not go well for Nigeria because we did not reach an agreement … because the country is bleeding”. He said while unions were demanding a return to the pre-January 1 pump price of 65 naira per litre, the government was insisting on negotiating on a price above that.
Earlier in the day, the executive councils of the two main labour unions, the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), had met and decided to stick to their demand for a return to the pre-January 1 price.
However, both parties appear keen on ending the strike and avoiding further hemorrhage to the economy. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), which had threatened to start shutting down production platforms if a deal was not reached on Saturday night, said it was staying action to give the talks some more chance.
A statement issued by the PENGASSAN spokesman, Babatunde Oke, said the workers expected further talks on Sunday morning, but added they would “execute the systematic shutdown, if the negotiation process breaks down”.
On 9 January, Nigeria’s labour unions and civil society groups started a paralyzing strike and street protests in several cities across the country. The protests initially appeared largely peaceful, but there have been reports of at least three protesters shot dead and over 30 others wounded in clashes with police in Lagos and Kano.
The striking workers and activists are demanding that the federal government reverse its 1 January decision which ended the subsidy on motor fuel and hiked pump prices by over 100 per cent overnight. That hike spurred further increases in prices of food, transportation and other goods and services nationwide. In a country where about 70 per cent of the 167 million population live on less than two US dollars a day, these sharp and sudden price increases have stung people really hard, fuelling angry protests.
The strikes and protests are being driven by two major unions – Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). The unions are supported by a loose network of activists called “Occupy Nigeria”, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.
In the federal capital, Abuja, there were reports that youths camping in the city’s ceremonial parade ground, Eagle Square, were cleared out overnight, by police using tear gas. By morning, thousands gathered under tight security, some in cars and waving NLC flags. Banks and other commercial houses were shut. The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was also closed, preventing flights from landing or leaving.
In Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, thousands of people gathered outside Labour House in Yaba, waving NLC flags. Others waved placards challenging President Goodluck Jonathan’s record and bearing an effigy of the president with vampire teeth and devil horns. From there, they started marching and chanting “Solidarity forever”, closely followed by armed anti-riot police.
In most parts of the metropolis, roads and streets that are typically clogged on Monday mornings were empty, except for protesters on their way to rallies and police patrols maintaining public order. Shops, banks and offices were all shut. Riot police were on stand-by at the demonstration sites, though vastly outnumbered by the protesters. In some areas, protesters blocked roads with burning tyres and local hoodlums harassed motorists, stoning the cars of those still driving in spite of the strike.
Protesters and police clashed briefly in the Ogba suburb of the city, with one person killed and at least three others suffering gunshot wounds. Residents said the man was shot dead when the police fired to disperse a crowd. A statement by the NLC also said the protester was shot dead by police, but there is yet no police report on the incident.
In Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, protesters set two vans ablaze and also reportedly set ablaze the office of the Secretary of the State Government (the third highest officer in the executive arm of the state government), damaging it seriously. They also tried to torch the home of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, but police stopped them. Protest organisers said the security personnel killed at least one person, when they fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse a crowd. A Red Cross official reported 30 injured people, including 18 with gunshot wounds. A hospital source later reported that two of those injured had died.
The strikes and protests recorded mixed results in several other cities. In Kaduna, the streets were quiet, with all shops closed amidst a heavy police presence. In Jos, the military task force, Operation Safe Haven, outlawed all forms of street protests, in view of the volatile security situation in and around the city and some parts of Plateau State, since 2010.
Across the Niger Delta, the protesters were also restrained by heavy security presence. In Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, police prevented them from marching on the streets. In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, hundreds gathered but were largely confined to the Isaac Boro Square. In Calabar, Cross River State, most workers did not comply with the strike order and went about their normal work or business.
FAILED EFFORTS TO STOP THE STRIKE
The government had made spirited efforts to prevent the strike but failed. It had made strenuous efforts to justify its elimination of the subsidy, arguing that with the subsidy, fuel was much cheaper in Nigeria than neighbouring countries, encouraging the smuggling of the product abroad.
It had also promised that the 8 billion US dollars in estimated savings a year from scrapping the fuel subsidies, would be channelled towards improving health, education and the highly erratic electricity supply. But after so many failed promises in the past, nobody believes these new promises.
On 6 January, the National Industrial Court gave a late evening (5.30 pm) ruling, declaring the then proposed strike illegal. The labour leaders said they were not served any copies of the ruling. Many other protesters said they were not bound by the ruling as it was specific to the labour unions.
On 7 January, President Jonathan made a televised broadcast defending the removal of the subsidy. He insisted that the deregulation of the petroleum sector was the best way to curb corruption and ensure the survival and growth of the economy. He also announced a 25 per cent cut in the basic salaries of political officers in the executive arm of government, reduction of foreign travels in 2012 and plans to trim the over-bloated federal bureaucracy. Many analysts said the address offered too little too late.
On 8 January, President Jonathan inaugurated a mass transit scheme with 1,600 buses, as one of his government’s palliatives to cushion the effects of the hike in fuel and transportation costs.
The federal House of Representatives, in a rowdy and sometimes comical session in Abuja, also tried to stop the strike. Its members passed a motion calling on Jonathan to reconsider his action, but also calling on the unions to stop the strike and allow more time for consultations. Union leaders thanked the lawmakers for their intervention, but said the strike would go ahead as already planned. There was also no sign the government would back down.
Speaking shortly before the strike was due to officially commence, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the BBC’s Network Africa that she expected a low turnout. She said: “Everybody is going to work – that’s the information I got from the governors…Even in Abuja… most people are going to work. In Lagos, a lot of associations and schools say they’re going to carry on business as usual”.
Judging by the large turn-out in Lagos, the minister was grossly mistaken. Said one commentator: “That shows you just how totally disconnected these people are from the real heartbeat of the Nigerian people”.
The protesters say the action will continue indefinitely. Many citizens say the government needs to find a quick and satisfactory response, in order to prevent further damage to the country’s economy – and her image.
On 6 January, about 20 people were killed when gunmen suspected to be members of the militant Islamist sect widely known as Boko Haram attacked Igbo traders in a town hall in Mubi, Adamawa State. At least another 15 people were wounded.
Mubi, the second largest city in Adamawa State, is about 175 km south of the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, which had been the base of Boko Haram and the epicentre of its attacks.
According to the Commissioner of Police in Adamawa State, Mr Ade Shinaba, the attack targeted a town hall where Igbo traders were holding a meeting before opening up their shops for business. The meeting was called to raise money for transporting the body of an Igbo man shot dead by gunmen on motorbikes the previous evening, back to his hometown for burial. The Igbo traders, some resident in Mubi for decades, are known to be Christians. Survivors said the attackers chanted: ‘God is great, God is great’ as they were shooting into the hall.
From Yola, the capital of Adamawa State, the BBC’s Abdullahi Tasiu reported that in the aftermath of the shooting, many Igbo traders in Mubi had closed their shops and were planning to flee the town.
The police say no arrests had been made and no group had claimed responsibility, but both police authorities and local residents believe the gunmen must have been members of Boko Haram. The sect had claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church in Madalla near Abuja, which killed more than 40 people.
After President Goodluck Jonathan’s 31 December declaration of a state of emergency in 15 local government areas across four states, a Boko Haram spokesman, on 2 January, gave Christians and southerners a three-day ultimatum to leave the majority Muslim northern states of the country or face death. On 2 January, the Police Headquarters in Abuja dismissed that ultimatum and urged all law-abiding citizens to get on with their normal businesses wherever they lived in the country.
Three days later, on 5 January, unknown gunmen attacked a Deeper Life Bible church in Gombe, capital of Gombe State, killing at least six worshippers including the pastor’s wife, and wounding about 10 others. Less than 24 hours later, the attack on the Igbo traders in Mubi followed.
Gombe and Adamawa were not initially considered high-risk states and none of their local government areas were covered by the declared emergency.
Many Muslim leaders have condemned Boko Haram’s attacks, stressing that Islam does not tolerate attacks on non-Muslims, and especially their places of worship.
On 27 December, the Sultan of Sokoto and spiritual leader of all the Muslims in Nigeria, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, declared: “There is no conflict between Christians and Muslims, between Islam and Christianity. It is a conflict between evil people and good people and the good people are more than the evil doers”.
The year 2011 was a security nightmare for most Nigerians. In various parts of the country, terrorists, armed robbers and kidnappers kept citizens under siege. Yet, while the risks of conflict and criminally grew in many parts of the country, the Niger Delta, once notorious for battles, bullets and blood, grew remarkably calm.
The relative peace in the delta was, partly but undoubtedly, the result of the sustained and diligent implementation of the Federal Government’s Amnesty Programme for former militant youths in the region. For very ably steering that programme – refocusing the youth on constructive life, improving human safety in the region and boosting the economic fortunes of the nation – Hon KINGSLEY KEMEBRADIGHA KUKU, Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Office, is SAFER AFRICA MAN OF THE YEAR (NIGERIA) 2011.
The Niger Delta Amnesty Programme began as an off-shoot package of the presidential pardon granted to Niger Delta militants through a proclamation by then President Umaru Yar’Adua on 25 June 2009. The programme offered transformation training and skills acquisition opportunities for any militants who laid down their arms.
The Presidential Amnesty Office chaired by the Special Adviser to the President on the Niger Delta was mandated to administer the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of the ex-militants, as a pre-condition for medium and long term development in the Niger Delta. Specifically, the Office was to groom the 26,365 ex-militants who accepted the offer of amnesty in 2009, to become key players in the emerging economies of the Niger Delta.
Kuku was appointed Special Adviser to the President and Chairman of the Amnesty Office on Niger Delta in January 2011 and formally took over from his predecessor, Chief Timi Alaibe, on 3 February 2011. As they say, he hit the ground running, completing the disarmament and demobilization processes, and forging ahead with the task of reintegration.
On 25 May 2011, Kuku and his team achieved closure in the disarmament phase of the Programme. In collaboration with the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu, the Amnesty Office publicly destroyed the arms and ammunition that were submitted to the Federal Government by the ex-militants in 2009. The weapons destruction exercise which took place in Lokpanta, a boundary town between Enugu and Abia States, was carried out in conformity with the extant DDR codes as spelt out by the United Nations.
The next major challenge Kuku and his team had to tackle involved the demobilization and re-orientation of the ex-militants, away from violence and crime, towards constructive and productive life, and in line with the second core objective of the Amnesty programme.
Former militants who enrolled in the programme were taken through non-violence transformational training at the Amnesty Demobilization Camp in Obubra, Cross River State. The curriculum at the camp, delivered by experts from Nigeria, South Africa and the United States of America, was designed to “extinguish the belief of the ex-agitators in violence and provide them a more powerful alternative: non-violence”.
On 24 September 2011, the final batch of 616 out of the 20,192 ex-combatants that enrolled in the first phase of the Amnesty Programme left the camp. With the successful completion of that demobilization process, Kuku and his team wrote Nigeria into history as one of the few countries of the world that achieved successful closure to the Disarmament and Demobilization phases of its DDR programme, following the cessation of armed conflict.
The next challenge has been that of reintegrating the ex-militants into peaceful, productive society. Kuku once observed that: “The phase of reintegration, for me, is more difficult than the disarmament phase”. After taking the ex-militants through their non-violence training and career classification at the camp in Obubra, the Amnesty chief and his team painstakingly placed them in study and training institutions in Nigeria and abroad.
To ensure that they would be of good conduct throughout their training, Kuku, on 11 March 2011, introduced a Code of Conduct which every trainee was required to sign. By this Code, the trainees committed to abide by the laws of their host country and to avoid any form of disorderly conduct before, during and after the training programme. The penalty for violating the Code was expulsion from the Amnesty Programme. The trainees’ subscription to this Code has gone a long way in ensuring their good conduct, particularly in training centres and institutions abroad.
By the end of September 2011, the Amnesty Office had successfully placed a total of 5,349 former combatants in skills acquisition/training centres as well as in formal educational institutions, both in the country and offshore. The courses for which they were enrolled included pipeline welding, underwater welding, ocean diving, crane operation, oil drilling, automobile technology, fish farming and entrepreneurship, as well as formal academic courses leading to the award of degrees in various disciplines.
As at the end of September, a total of 3,482 beneficiaries had been enrolled in 77 training centres in the country. The offshore placement quota, as at that date, was as follows: South Africa: 933; Malaysia: 172; Russia: 64; Benin Republic: 42; Israel: 22; Sri Lanka: 34; United States: 56; India: 65 Poland: 21; and Philippines: 129. However, on 20 November, another 247 trainees were sent off to Malaysia and South Africa for six months vocational courses.
Furthermore, on the persuasion of the Amnesty Office, key operators in the nation’s oil and gas industry (OGI) set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to help with the reintegration of 3,000 of the ex-combatants. As at the end of September 2011, members of OGI, using the modules and templates developed by the Amnesty Office, were sponsoring about 1,000 trainees in skills acquisition centres across the country.
IMPACT OF THE AMNESTY PROGRAMME IN 2011
Throughout 2011, the Amnesty Office under Kuku’s leadership made considerable progress in reintegrating the ex-militants. It refocused many of them towards becoming key players in the emerging economies of the Niger Delta. Equipped with new skills and knowledge, a growing number of these youths have now been empowered to work not only in the oil and gas sector, but also in the many new construction sites, town development projects, railway projects, agriculture and pipeline protection projects that are expectedly underway in the Niger Delta.
However, the impact of Kuku’s work has gone well beyond the primary mandate of his office, which was to refocus the ex-militants and reintegrate them with normal society.
Perhaps the most critical indicator of its impact beyond that mandate is the improvement in public safety and security which it has brought to the Niger Delta. Prior to the programme, kidnapping and hostage taking targeting both expatriate and local workers, as well as sabotage and outright damage of oil and gas infrastructure, were rampant across the region. The sustained implementation of the Amnesty programme and the non-violence transformation of many former members of cults and gangs has had a calming effect on the region. The improved climate of public safety and security contributed significantly to curbing electoral violence in the region, in the run-up to the April 2011 polls.
Peace in the Niger Delta is also creating an environment for revival of economic activities, return of foreign investment and improvement of economic security. By 2009, the conflict in the region had greatly eroded the confidence of both foreign and even local investors. But with the effective end of armed conflict and the progress in peacebuilding, that confidence has been greatly restored, and is now attracting new investment, particularly to the upstream sector of the nation’s oil industry.
Peace in the region has also enabled an increase in the production of crude oil and boosted the revenue accruing to the nation’s Federation Account. In 2008, it was estimated that Nigeria lost over 3 trillion naira due to militancy in the Niger Delta. By mid-2009, the conflict in the region had virtually crippled oil production, cutting output down to only 700,000 barrels per day. Today, following the improved security situation in the region, production has bounced back to about 2.6 million barrels per day. This amounts to an estimated N6 trillion more revenue in 2011 than what the country would have earned if production had continued at the 2009 level.
Furthermore, the improved security situation in the region has also created an enabling environment for the implementation of several infrastructure development projects, planned by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and various state governments across the region.
On 24 September 2011, as the 17th batch of ex-militants graduated from the Obubra camp, President Goodluck Jonathan observed that the amnesty programme had succeeded far beyond expectations. Again in his New Year message to the nation on 31 December 2011, the President counted progress on the Amnesty programme as one of the positive developments recorded in the country during the year. Jonathan said: “We have, with the astute and diligent implementation of the amnesty programme, fully restored peace in the Niger Delta and boosted the production and export of crude oil which had plunged to record lows in the dark days of militant agitation in the region”.
The success recorded by the Amnesty Office in 2011 owes largely to a number of personal attributes which Kuku brought to the job.
First, he is a true believer in the cause of the Niger Delta, having paid his dues at various points in the region’s struggle for a better deal in the Nigerian nation. He therefore came to the office with a clear understanding of the tasks and challenges at hand.
John Idumange, a Certified Business Analyst, and Fellow of the Institute of Public Management in Nigeria observes that: “He (Kuku) has been involved in the Niger Delta struggle and that has given him first class knowledge of the needs of youths in the region. Thus, in managing the process, he gets the youths emotionally involved to appreciate the essence of the programme and what they stand to gain when they painstakingly undergo the required training and acquire the requisite skills”.
Secondly, the Amnesty Chief is a good manager of men and other resources. “My verdict as a stakeholder and a social critic”, says Idumange, “is that the Amnesty Chief is generously endowed with a team-building spirit, the right organizational skills, the passion and, above all, the right strategy”. Idumange further notes that, in terms of timely decision making, Kuku is “not only alert, but consults widely before taking actions”.
Thirdly, those who have worked with Kuku, say he is a tireless workaholic who pays good attention to every aspect of the programme. Kuku is keenly involved in networking with training institutes across the world to identify those with appropriate and credible training programmes; and he keeps a close eye on everything from the processing of trainees to their studies and welfare. As the need arises, he visits them at various training centres, tracking their progress and ensuring that they remain focused on their goals.
Fourthly, Kuku’s success also owes to what a former colleague describes as the “high sense of discipline” and zero tolerance of shoddy work, which he brought to the office. Several incidents have repeatedly underscored these attributes. In seeking to maintain a high level of discipline in the programme, Kuku has had no reservations in showing the red card to any trainee who violates the Code of Conduct or abuses the opportunities offered by the amnesty programme.
For instance, in February 2011, when some of the 212 trainees initially sent to the National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) in Ghana heckled a hotel attendant and held their coordinator hostage in Takoradi, Kuku immediately deported five of them. Other trainees who misbehaved, in such countries as Sri Lanka and Russia, have also been recalled, instantly.
In April 2011, when six of the 38 trainees he took to train as marine mechanics in Florida, USA, got there to say they didn’t want to be mechanics but Marine Captains, “a field that does not exist” as he said, Kuku lost no time in shepparding them home.
He said: “We brought them back, passed them through Immigration. I told the security agencies: Pick up their passports from them, because I don’t want them to find their way back to the US with the visas. We wrote to the American Ambassador: 38 visas issued but six returned with me on issues of the course they will like to go through, which is not existent in Wyotech Technical Institute, Florida. We are back. Here are the passports, you may cancel their visas”.
Some of those who have worked with him over the years say Kuku has a no-nonsense approach to the job. In May, Mr Ekpein Appah, a senior staff of the Amnesty Camp in Obubra, granted an unauthorised newspaper interview accusing the Bayelsa State Governor, Timipre Sylva, of harbouring the fugitive militant leader, John Togo, in his Government House. “That allegation”, Kuku told The News magazine, was “a very terrible statement…the most severe embarrassment the amnesty programme has faced ever since we commenced”. He lost no time in sending Appah on indefinite suspension, for “fundamental breach of the rules of his engagement”.
Later in the year, when it was established that a South African company, Westgate Unique Alliance Limited, which had been contracted to facilitate the professional training of 87 trainees in crane operation and pipeline welding, had failed to abide by its contractual obligations, Kuku sought and obtained President Jonathan’s approval to terminate its contract on 25 November 2011. He warned that he would not hesitate to take similar action against any other training provider whose services fell short of the Amnesty Programme’s contractual expectations.
This firmness in dealing with issues has won Kuku the respect, not only of his staff, but also of all the stakeholders which the Amnesty Office collaborates with, in carrying out its mandate.
In spite of his successes and achievements, Kuku’s office still faces several challenges in 2012.
First, groups of youths going by various names, are still popping up in the Niger Delta, seeking for inclusion in, or indeed claiming rights to the benefits of, the amnesty package. Explanations by the Amnesty Office, and even categorical statements by President Jonathan, that they cannot now be included in the programme as they did not come forward on or before the 4 October 2009 deadline, are still falling on deaf ears.
Clearly, these youths cannot now be admitted to the amnesty programme, but they also cannot be ignored. Federal, State and Local Governments, along with relevant ministries and other agencies of governments, need to work out modalities for training and empowering them within a framework of programmes for human capital development.
There are also concerns about the fate of the programme’s beneficiaries on graduation from skills acquisition centres and other training institutions in Nigeria and abroad. As Kuku himself readily admits, “The success of the amnesty programme will be determined by our ability to provide gainful employment for trainees”. On 2 August, the Amnesty Office took a lead in this regard, partnering with Century Energy Services Limited (CESL), to provide placement for a first batch of 500 trainees either within the Century Group of Companies or in third party companies in the sector.
The Federal, State and Local governments as well as the major oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta must follow that lead and work out creative ways of employing the graduates or giving them robust starter packs to go into self employment. The Nigeria Local Content Office should also streamline policies on how to accommodate the youths, not only in the oil and gas industries, but also in such other areas as the marine, tourism and ICT industries.
Thirdly, going by the budget proposals which President Jonathan presented to the National Assembly in December 2011, the budget of the Amnesty Office is being slashed from N96 billion in 2011 to N76 billion in 2012. This colossal reduction, if approved by the federal law makers, could undercut the Amnesty Programme significantly and jeopardise the sustained achievement of its stated goals.
Other persisting challenges have to do with the slow paced processes which the Amnesty Office continually has to go through in sending trainees offshore, due to the complexities of immigration matters and fund transfers. Furthermore, the programme is still manoeuvring between the lack of specialised vocational training centres in-country and the limitations on resources for sending trainees abroad, especially with its budget severely slashed in 2012.
There are also lingering doubts about the sustainability of the programme and the durability of the relative peace currently prevailing in the Niger Delta.
Hon Dakuku Peterside, a Federal legislator from Rivers State and Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) says he doubts whether the “relative peace in the region” achieved by the amnesty programme is sustainable, considering that the more fundamental issues of resource control, infrastructure development and environmental restoration have not yet been addressed.
Dr Timiebi Korimapo-Agary, a retired federal permanent secretary and one-time media coordinator, Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament for Militants in the Niger Delta, says she is impressed that the amnesty programme has brought “peace in the Niger Delta” and that “income from oil and gas has gone up tremendously and the country is better for it”; but she also adds that “the downside is that not enough is being done to address those fundamental issues that raised activists that metamorphosed into militancy”. Many would agree with Hon Peterside and Dr Agary on the persistence of the “fundamental issues”; but they also agree that these issues are outside the mandate of the Amnesty Office and must fall into the courts of other stakeholders.
A COMMON VERDICT OF SUCCESS
Thus, the common verdict is that judged strictly by the provisions of its mandate, the amnesty programme, under Kuku’s leadership, had been one of the most successful conflict management and youth transformation programmes ever implemented in the history of Nigeria. Nwokedi Nworisara, a policy and media consultant based in Port Harcourt, observes that: “The success of the Kingsley Kuku-led Amnesty programme is just a pointer that this is actually the direction government should be going, if she is serious about ending youth unemployment and its inherent instability in the polity”.
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo used to say that “The great man is not he who comes home to distribute bread, but the one who comes home to distribute hope”. Kuku, by his dedicated service to building peace in the once-violent Niger Delta, offers us the hope that someday peace and progress will be possible in all other troubled parts of the Nigerian nation.
On 1 January, the federal governemnet finally removed the controvercial subsidy on motor fuel, announcing that the pump price of Petrol (Premium Motor Spirit, PMS) across the country, will now be N141 per litre, as against the erstwhile N65 per litre. The increase, a hike of over 100 per cent, is drawing angry protests, especially from labour and civil society groups.
A statement by the government’s Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) said the removal followed “extensive consultation with stakeholders across the nation”, and was undertaken in accordance with the powers conferred on the agency by the law establishing it, the PPPRA Act 2004.
It said: “By this announcement, the downstream sub-sector of the petroleum industry is hereby deregulated for PMS. Service providers in the sector are now to procure products and sell same in accordance with the indicative benchmark price to be published fortnightly and posted on the PPPRA website”.
The statement, signed by the agency’s Executive Secretary, Reginald Stanley, informed petroleum products marketers that “no one will be paid subsidy on PMS discharges after 1st January 2012”. It added that: “In the coming weeks, the PPPRA will engage stakeholders in further consultation to ensure the continuation of this exercise in a hitch-free manner”.
Early reactions from labour and civil society leaders have been of anger and dismay. The Joint Action Front (JAF), the umbrella body for pro-labour civil society groups in the country, has denounced the government’s action and called for mass protests that would force President Goodluck Jonathan to rescind the decision.
In a statement titled “NIGERIANS, ARISE NOW TO RESIST THE WICKED HIKE IN FUEL PRICES”, and signed by JAF’s Chairman and Secretary, Dr. Dipo Fashina and Comrade Abiodun Aremu respectively, JAF said: “We strongly condemn the Jonathan presidency for this wicked hike in prices and its decision to inflict unnecessary suffering and punishment on Nigerians”.
It urged citizens not to buy petrol above N65 per litre and to shut any filling station that sells above that price.
In anticipation of the government’s action, JAF had, at a media briefing on 21 December 2011, called on citizens to prepare for a “mass action”. In the wake of the PPPRA’s announcement, the group said the government’s action had reinforced its own resolve to forge ahead with the planned nationwide protest, scheduled to start in Lagos on 3 January.
On 28 December, about 15 people were injured in an explosion at a hotel located on the outskirts of Gombe, capital of Gombe State.
Reporting the incident which occurred at around 10.30 pm, the manager of Tumfure Resort, Mr Ojiego Nelson, said: “Three gunmen came and an argument ensued between them and the security guards at the entrance”.
He said the gunmen “manhandled” the security guards and made their way into the premises. As two of them fired shots into the garden where some guests were drinking, the third threw two gas cylinders into the hotel – one to the reception area and the other under cars parked by guests. He said the cylinder thrown into the reception exploded and damaged the building, forcing staff and guests to flee through the back fence. He said 15 people were injured but that none of the injuries was life-threatening.
Nelson said immediately after the attack, all the guests hurriedly vacated their rooms in the hotel and fled. He said the incident was promptly reported to the police.
Addressing newsmen later, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in Tumfure, Mr Hassan Bappa, said he came to the scene with his men, but that the gunmen were already gone before he arrived. The DPO said no one was killed and nothing was stolen from the hotel, but that he was still awaiting the arrival of bomb experts before the debris could be cleared.
He also said no arrest had yet been made, but that investigations were continuing. The authorities could not yet say whether the attack was staged by the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram, or by a group of common bandits.
On 5 December, armed robbers shot and killed a Police Sergeant and four other persons in two robbery incidents in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Local sources said in one incident, the police officer and two staff of Multi-Net Communications Limited, a GSM recharge cards dealer, were in a Volkswagen Jeta car when they ran into an ambush mounted by the robbers in the Rumuola area of the city at about 8.45am. The sources said the gang, led by a woman, shot them to death instantly and carted away recharge cards and an unknown amount of cash.
Other sources report that in the second incident, some gunmen shot and killed two persons in front of a new generation bank located at the junction leading from the Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway into the GRA. They also dispossessed their victims of cash which they had apparently just withdrawn from the bank.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Mr. Benjamin Ugwuegbulam (DSP), confirmed the Multi-Net incident to newsmen. He said a passer-by was also hit by “stray bullets sprayed by the hoodlums” and was receiving treatment in a clinic. He added that the police was sparing no effort to hunt down the robbers.
On 6 November, the United States embassy and the Canadian High Commission in Nigeria both warned their citizens in the country that three luxury hotels in Abuja could be the next targets of attacks by the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram.
In an unusually specific warning, they said the attacks on the hotels, which are the choice places for hordes of Nigerian politicians and business people, as well as foreigners, may come as the country celebrates the Muslim festival of Eid el-Kabir. They instructed their diplomats and staff to avoid the hotels.
Ms Deb MacLean, a US embassy spokeswoman, did not disclose the source of the information. She also declined to offer any further details about the threat.
The Canadian High Commission, in an unsigned message titled ‘Notice to all Canadians in Abuja – Avis aux Canadiens à Abuja’, said it had “received information that Boko Haram may plan to attack several locations and hotels in Abuja”, during the Sallah holidays. It said the “potential targets may include the Nicon Luxury, the Sheraton Hotel, and the Transcorp Hilton Hotel”. The message said the High Commission had “no additional information regarding the timing of the possible attacks”.
On 23 August, armed robbers attacked a vehicle that was conveying cash to a branch of Equatorial Trust Bank in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State, killing five people including two policemen, and snatching millions of naira.
Local sources said the incident occurred around 11.50am near Ukana Offot junction on Abak Road, a short distance from the bank’s premises.
They said the robbers waylaid a Peugeot 504 car conveying money to the bank and shot all the occupants of the car dead, including two policemen, a staff of the bank and the driver. As they shot their way to the vehicle, a stray bullet also hit and killed a passer-by.
The robbers then carted away about seven sacks, popularly referred to as ‘Ghana-must-go’ bags, loaded with cash. Some witnesses said they saw a lady wearing a bullet proof vest, who joined other members of the gang in removing money from the Peugeot car, before they escaped without encountering any challenge from security officers.
The raid is the third major armed robbery incident in Uyo, involving the killing of policemen, within the last two months. On 7 July, robbers attacked a bullion van a few meters from the Government House, killing two policemen and escaping with millions of naira. On Friday, 19 August, a gang also pursued a bullion van to the entrance of the State House of Assembly, shot and killed two mobile (anti-riot) policemen and snatched cash.
Rattled by the rising tide of bank robberies and kidnappings in the state, the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly has passed a resolution demanding that the Inspector General of Police redeploy the current Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr Felix Uyanna, immediately.