BY SONI DANIEL, REGIONAL EDITOR, NORTH
ABUJA—Recent spike in kidnapping and oil theft in the Niger Delta is pure criminality, the Presidency has said.
The Presidency’s reaction followed a sudden and inexplicable surge in abductions of foreigners and locals by gunmen in the region in recent months, leading to concerns over whether the amnesty offered Niger Delta militants by the Federal Government in 2009 had achieved its aim.
Oil theft in the Niger Delta, popularly known as bunkering, was reported to be costing the government at least $14billion yearly, while locals and foreigners are said to have parted with billions of Naira in ransom to kidnappers even with amnesty in place.
The illicit trade has also cut Nigeria’s oil output by 17 percent or the equivalent of 400,000 barrels per day, according to Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
No fewer than 30,000 Niger Delta ex-militants, who claim they had renounced violence and returned their weapons of war, are currently being reintegrated by the Amnesty Office, which is being coordinated by the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Mr. Kingsley Kuku.
The lucky ex-militants are being placed on a monthly pay of N65,000 in addition to local and overseas training for many in special skills capable of securing them jobs in the oil and gas industry upon completion.
But the Presidency said yesterday that the renewed incidence of oil theft and kidnapping had nothing to do with the amnesty programme, describing the twin evil as pure criminality by some elements out to blackmail the government.
The Spokesman for the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, which coordinates the amnesty office, Mr. Daniel Alabra, told Vanguard that it was wrong to attribute the renewed wave of criminality in the Niger Delta to ex-militants, whom he said, had denounced violence before signing up for the programme.
“How do those who blame every atrocity in the Niger Delta on ex-militants know that they are responsible for the crimes?
“As far as the amnesty office is aware we have no record of any ex-militant who has gone back to commit havoc in the Niger Delta. To us, the rising wave of oil theft and kidnapping for ransom are the handiwork of criminals.
“We are also aware of those who want to blackmail the amnesty programme by saying that they want to be included in the programme many years after the deadline for accepting amnesty had ended”.
“We will not allow these people who simply want to cause avoidable problem, to blackmail us or distract us from our clear vision and mandate given by Presidency,” Alabra stated.
Asked to comment on the claim that amnesty was still registering new persons for the programme, which was to end on October 4, 2009, Alabra explained that the registration was further extended following an explicit approval by President, which enabled the office to register additional 10,000 repentant militants, bringing the total figure to 30,000. The programme was no longer registering new repentants although there has been renewed agitations for that.
Alabra said however that the programme was not an open-ended one and that the training and reintegration of ex-militants would finally come to an end in 2015 unless the Federal Government decided otherwise.
Competent security sources told Vanguard that the alienation of hordes of militants, who spearheaded the Niger Delta violence from the lucrative pipeline surveillance contracts awarded by the Federal Government to trusted Ijaw militant leaders, was responsible for the resurgence of violence in the region.
“Those who fought along with the Tompolos, Atekes, Boyloafs and Dokubos of this world are angry that the government only gave the huge oil contracts worth billions of Naira to these militant leaders without taking care of the ‘foot soldiers’.
“What the aggrieved militants are doing is simply to return to their old tactics of kidnapping foreigners and high net worth locals possibly to draw government attention to their plight and compel it to include them in future oil pipeline contracts,” a source working with security agencies in Niger Delta, explained.
The source said security agencies were concerned about the fate of many foreigners already in the hands of unidentified militant groups in the Niger Delta.
The fate of an Indonesian kidnapped over a month ago and taken to a hideout in the Niger Delta off the coast of Bayelsa by armed militants, is said to be giving security agents sleepless nights.
The adductors of the Indonesian insist on negotiating directly with his family in Jakarta for a huge ransom despite being trailed by security agents.