Damn, it’s good to be a gangster!

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

Email: oiyanda@yahoo.com Twitter: @mightyng

The article below was written in August 2012. With former Niger Delta militants are beating the drum of war ahead of the February 14 presidential election, not much seems to have changed. Read and let me know if you agree with me.

We have always known that the Federal Government pays and pampers former oil bandits to maintain an uneasy calm in the Niger Delta but the figures in a recent report by The Wall Street Journal must make otherwise normal young men and women contemplate a life of crime.

According to the report, Abuja paid Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) $9 million last year for his 4,000 foot soldiers to protect oil pipelines. The man born Melford Dokubo Goodhead Jr must have spoken the minds of his paymasters when he said “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Two other repentant militants, Gen. Ebikabowei Boyloaf Victor Ben and Gen Ateke Tom, got $3.8 million each. The man with the lion share is Government “Tompolo” Ekpumopolo with $22.9 million.

Presidency aides say it is better to pay the men to keep the peace than to ignore them and return to the terror days of kidnapping, bombing and gun attack in the Niger Delta.

True, nobody wants to go back to the days when young men from the creeks routinely launched attacks on government and private institutions, but the message from the Federal Government is that those who chose a life of crime are better off at the end of the day. There is perhaps no better proof of that than Dokubo-Asari.

Born in 1964 to a middle class Christian family headed by a court judge, the young Melford received primary and secondary education in Port Harcourt. He dropped out of the University of Calabar because of problems with the school authority. An account of his life said he later studied guerrilla warfare in Libya.

After receiving what proved to be takeoff grants from politicians, Dokubo-Asari built an army with an arsenal that could rival that of some African countries. From breaking pipelines to stealing petroleum products, they soon moved to illegal refining of crude oil. While he did not succeed in his attempts at holding elective offices, the former president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) got money from politicians who wanted a share of the illicit oil trade.

As such trades go, Dokubo-Asari and his men soon launched full scale war on oil installations in the Niger Delta. Some of his sponsors later withdrew their support and transferred same to Ateke Tom’s Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV). Both men were eventually arrested by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and released in 2007 by late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

One of the major programmes of the Yar’Adua administration was amnesty for militants who surrendered in 2009. Ateke Tom surrendered to Yar’Adua at the State House on October 1, 2009 prompting the President to declare: “Today, Chief Tom Ateke you have given me my 49th independence anniversary gift and I cherish it so much.”

The Federal Government has since shown how much it appreciates the militants who surrendered their arms. Although a Niger Delta governor was vocal in his condemnation of the amnesty programme, Abuja went ahead and a peace of the graveyard has been the lot of the area.

It is impossible to know the number of those who stayed back at the University of Calabar to travel the path of peace when Dokubo-Asari left who are anywhere as rich or popular as he is; what is clear is that the man has made a name from terrorism and his activities encouraged many other groups to take up arms against the country.

Yar’Adua did not live long enough to see what became of the amnesty programme but his deputy and Niger Delta man, Goodluck Jonathan, has been calling the shots since 2010. While the fortunes of the region has not matched its status as the chief producer of Nigeria’s foreign exchange, that of the former militants have.

Almost all the Niger Delta militants back then argued that they chose that path because of the decades of criminal neglect of the region. They pointed to the opulence of Abuja and the squalor in the creeks as proof of the neglect of the goose that lays the golden egg.

With a son of the soil in Aso Rock, Dokubo-Asari, Ateke Tom, Tompolo and co, have simply traded the mosquito-infected and brackish waters of the creek for the five-star hotels in different parts of the world. They now live a champagne lifestyle with almost everything at their beck and call.

Investing in the militants rather than the region may pose a serious risk for the region someday. By the time Jonathan leaves, the people may start their agitation for more development, and a president from another region may have to answer to another set of armed men.

The amnesty programme is a heavy burden on the government but Abuja can’t seem to think of a better option. Beyond the money given to the “boys” to watch over pipelines and go for training abroad, other handouts are given to them depending on their nuisance value.

That perhaps is where another problem is brewing. Former foot soldiers are graduating and they want a bigger share of the amnesty cake. Some of them consider the N65,000 monthly allowance given to them inadequate  and want to fly first class like their bosses.

When you consider the fact that N65,000 is more than what some university graduates earn after many years of employment then you will know how much we value the repentant militants over law abiding citizens. I just wonder how you can convince the next young man who wants to drop out of the University of Calabar that there is greater dignity and reward in making a living honestly?

Honestly, dishonesty pays in Nigeria.