HRW A displaced child in front of her home, which was destroyed in regional conflictIs there any logic to the Nigerian Federal Government’s latest offer of amnesty to armed insurgents in the oil-rich Delta region? The offer follows one of the largest military offensives in the region, in which hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed and many thousands displaced. The government’s idea of winning the hearts and minds of the region is to bombard villages from the land, sea and air and then to prevent the displaced and homeless villagers from accessing to humanitarian aid. If anything, this strategy has hardened resolve amongst some elements of the insurgency.

Under the amnesty scheme, announced on Thursday 25th June, the President of Nigeria will officially pardon ‘militants’ who surrender their weapons and sign up for a reintegration programme. Details of the amnesty were published by Reuters, who had spoken to a senior official.

The government estimates as many as 20,000 militants could participate in the programme… Under the plan, the screening of gunmen and collecting of weapons will begin on Aug. 6 at 15 amnesty camps located in Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and other southern states in the Niger Delta. [President] Yar’Adua was expected to ask state governments in the Niger Delta, oil companies and international organisations to share the costs of the amnesty programme. It was not clear how much money was needed.

The cracks have already begun to show, and the unclarity of the government’s message was met with consternation by the Ijaw Elders and Leaders Forum. The Nigerian news service, NEXT, reported that:

Ijaw leaders have queried the offer of amnesty to Niger Delta militants, pointing attention to section 175 (1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution. According to them: “there has been no conviction against any of the alleged militants to warrant the granting of amnesty.”… The forum noted that that seven months after the submission of the report of the Technical Committee on Niger Delta, the Federal Government had taken no concrete step to implement any of its recommendations.

Despite the fact that the Nigerian army still occupies the region, militants have retaliated by blowing up pipelines and oil infrastructure belonging to Shell, Chevron, Agip and Exxon, a move which helped push the world oil price up to $69. Come 6th August, the government may be less optimistic that insurgents from the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) will be getting in line to handover their weapons.

Urgent action is needed from all sides to halt the killing of innocent civilians. The conflict is exacerbated by the joint failure of multinational oil companies and the government to respect the rights of local communities, many of whom suffer the daily impacts of gas flaring and oil spills on their land and health. A better way to fight the cycle of violent conflict is to address people’s long-standing grievances: invest urgently in local development and povery alleviation, compensate communities for violations of their rights and enforce protection of the environment.