Amnesty in the Niger Delta: vertical movement towards self-determination or lateral policy shift?
The inhabitants of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta region have engaged the State in long-drawn disputes over the ownership and control of oil resources and revenues. While the country’s Constitution vests the absolute ownership and control of oil resources as well as the distribution of oil revenues in the federal government, the Niger Delta communities claim that they are entitled to participate in the industry that exploits resources from their environment. Simply, they claim that the country’s extant laws and the actions of the federal government infringe on their rights to self-determination. The conflicting stance is one of the fundamental causes of violent conflicts that have besieged the region; particularly in the last decade. Coming off the backdrop of peaceful struggles of the Ogoni peoples considered to be largely ineffectual in achieving the desired objectives, ethnic groups have embraced militancy as a means to force the government and oil-multinationals reckon with their demand for self-determination. The consequent breakdown of law and order in the region and the impacts of shortages in production prompted the federal government to initiate the amnesty initiative in June 2009. Under the amnesty programme, militants were offered a presidential pardon, training opportunities, promises of infrastructure development in the region and direct payments of oil revenues to host-communities. This paper seeks to examine the recent developments vis-à-vis the government’s amnesty initiative to determine if this policy has bridged the gap in the longstanding selfdetermination demands of the Niger Delta communities.