Nigeria in amnesty talks with militants

26 July 2016, Week 29, Issue 649

The Nigerian government is holding talks with militants in the Niger Delta, the president’s office announced on July 21. The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), though, denied that it was involved in such discussions. 

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said discussions were being held with militants “through oil companies and law enforcement agencies” in order to reach a “lasting solution” to regional insecurity. 

Buhari made the acknowledgement during a farewell audience with the outgoing German ambassador, Michael Zinner. 

“We understand their feelings,” Buhari said. “We are studying the instruments. We have to secure the environment, otherwise investment will not come. We will do our best for the country.” The instruments referred to by the president include the amnesty programme, explicitly noting commitments made under this which were undelivered. 

The programme was introduced by the previous administration, in 2009, and has been seen as playing a major role in reducing militancy through direct payments to combatants, and with a sliding scale of more cash to higher-ranking militants. The amnesty was criticised as being ineffective and the 2016 budget reduced payments made, from around US$400 per militant per month, to US$100. Spending cuts were instituted as a result of fiscal pressures related to low oil prices but the move appears to have triggered an increase in sabotage. 

Buhari also thanked the German government for its part in tackling problems stemming from Boko Haram’s activities in the northeast, going on to call for further investments from German companies in Nigeria. 

While Buhari appears to be taking a more conciliatory approach to the militancy problem, the NDA does not appear to have been swayed. “We are not aware of any peace talk[s]”, a statement from the group said, going on to say that those with whom the government was talking were “mercenaries set to disturb the genuine struggle of the agitators”. Peace talks with the government must involve the international community, the NDA said. 

The presidential statement is particularly interesting on two fronts, first in that it raises the possibility of restoring amnesty payments or making the programme work better. While the 2009 initiative was broadly effective it was also open to abuse, with some claimants not actually having been involved in the militancy. Furthermore, payments were often delayed. 

Secondly, though, Buhari’s comments that talks were being held through oil companies in the region. One of the shortcomings of the Nigerian government has been that it has relinquished its governance role in the Niger Delta, requiring companies to provide social benefits, such as schools, housing and water, to locals via corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. Furthermore, the move to award pipeline and surveillance contracts to militant-connected companies has forced further links between companies and insurgents. 

Abuja is far removed from the Niger Delta and insurgency flare ups are one of the ways in which this is manifested. The government’s reliance on companies to act as mediators, therefore, highlights this distance – both literal and metaphoric. 

 

Kachikwu

In related news, Buhari also issued a statement on allegations in which he rejected claims that Nigerian Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kachikwu was being investigated on links to oil swap deals. 

Kachikwu was also the head of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. (NNPC) until early in July. Suggestions had surfaced that Kachikwu was involved in corruption during his tenure. 

“Terrible and unfounded comments about other people's integrity are not good. We are not going to spare anybody who soils his hands, but people should please wait till such individuals are indicted,” Buhari said in a statement on July 19. Nigerians should ignore allegations of corruption without concrete evidence, the statement continued. 

Transparency is “a watchword”, the statement continued, with the government committed to “probity, accountability and integrity”. 

Buhari’s administration has made much of its commitment to tackle corruption, which was seen as a particular problem under previous governments. The petroleum minister under the previous government, Diezani Alison-Madueke, for instance, is being investigated in the UK over money laundering charges. 

While Buhari’s statement demonstrates a commitment to supporting his officials, it is notable that not every member of his administration has received such strong support from the president.