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Niger Delta: Kidnapping Continues, Says Group

Akanimo Sampson,

Port Harcourt

Niger Delta: Kidnapping Continues, Says Group

STAKEHOLDER Democracy Network (SDN), a civil society group, says more than two months after the expiration of President Umaru Yar'Adua's amnesty to militants, acts of kidnapping are still on the increase but largely unreported.

Gaia Sprocati, Co-ordinator of the group, in an on-line report to our corresp[ondent on Thursday, claimed that there appears to have been a marked reduction in crime, but measuring this improvement objectively has been made more difficult by deliberate news suppression in all of the major oil producing states.

''Known incidents of crime and kidnapping have gone unreported as State Governors apparently compete to cast a rosy image of their achievements'', SDN said, pointing out that the rate of kidnappings may well have reduced, but the ease with which unreported kidnappings are identified by local organisations is disturbing.

In Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State, a medical doctor, who is also a pastor with the Redeemed Church of God, was allegedly abducted by armed youths last weekend while driving out of his private clinic.

According to SDN, ''state governments will need overwhelming public support to end this debilitating criminal practice. This is something that cannot be achieved if they continue to suppress anything perceived as bad news. International actors, who are being encouraged to return to the region, could do well to remind states that evidence of both openness and concerted action on kidnapping will be more reassuring than simple pledges of safety''

Continuing, they said the apparent willingness of all sides to maintain a ceasefire despite the glacial pace of rehabilitation follow up is an indicator of a collective desire for peace that could be built on in coming months. Although President Y’Adua’s absence has further slowed decision making, it has also helped the case of those who argue for further patience over the Federal Governments intentions.

''The stand down that followed the amnesty agreements of October has continued to hold despite the lack of substantial follow up from the Nigerian Government. There have been incidents, such as the violent protest at Aluu in Rivers State over unpaid allowances that hint at the fragility of the process, but no major breakdowns'', the group said.

Thats not all. SDN says there are many issues to iron out. The rehabilitation plans that have been mentioned to date are almost farcically brief – consisting of a few weeks of "skill acquisition" when lessons from elsewhere indicate a process of years is needed. The present amnesty also says little or nothing about the much larger mass of the un/under employed, who have not opted into the conflict as a means of extracting their own share of resources. Any holistic and long lasting solution for peace in the region must also address their needs.

''Much could be done by state governments with economic and employment stimulus aimed squarely at rural communities. These could range from localised public work schemes, long advocated in the Niger Delta Technical Committee Report, to broader assistance in developing viable small businesses. In this regard both State and Federal Governments would also do well to address their often promised delivery of electricity to the region. The constant failure of power has decimated both small and large businesses and is a critical macro change that would have widespread impact and be a truly visible change for the region'', they said.

''The international community'', they went on, ''whose offers of assistance during the disarmament process were rebuffed, could provide technical assistance and resources for neglected issues. However this is only constructive where it is clear that they are supporting well thought through plans for delivering peace and development. As the funds at donors disposal are marginal compared to States and the Federal Government, the main political asset they bring is legitimacy for government initiatives, a commodity that should not be sold cheaply''.

Adding, they said, ''the potential for the present situation to be exploited by politicians acquiring small political armies (as happened in 2003 and 2007) has been apparent for some time. Under all scenarios the international community should make it clear that there will be serious repercussions for any political actors who use the present process to secure readymade armed groups ahead of the 2011 elections''.

ENDS

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