The Agreement to End the Violence in Rivers State
The federal government initiative, headed by President Obasanjo to bring Asari and Tom to the negotiating table resulted in the signing of the October 1, 2004 agreement between the two armed groups. This agreement called for an immediate ceasefire, the disbandment of all militias and militant groups and total disarmament. Since then there have been several meetings between government officials, leaders of the various armed factions, and civil society representatives. The parties drafted a more comprehensive agreement which addressed two major issues: the disarmament of Asaris NDPVF, Toms NDV, and their affiliated cult and youth group members, and the re-integration of these groups into society. In addition, numerous local committees have been established to monitor progress on these issues and examine the underlying causes of violence.
To encourage disarmament, the state government offered U.S. $1800 for the return of each assault rifle surrendered. The state government also offered members of the armed groups amnesty from prosecution and the release of members held in detention in exchange for weapons. Although at this writing disarmament was progressingas of mid-December the army claimed some 1100 weapons had been turned in--this number is a small fraction of the weapons believed held by the armed groups. There are also reports that very old weapons are being traded to claim the financial reward, while newer, more sophisticated models remain in the hands of the fighters.
To help rehabilitate and re-integrate former fighters, the government has embarked on a process to register youths for a program of employment generation, which thus far has meant interviewing youths about their employment or schooling preferences. Although the state government has pledged over 4000 jobs to the youth, officials have not developed specific proposals to create these jobs.
Human Rights Watch commends the governments effort to address the violence that dramatically escalated in 2004 but two issues of concern remain about the agreement:
1) The granting of amnesty to individuals responsible for serious human rights abuses, including killings, will contribute to the culture of impunity and jeopardize the prospects for peace in Rivers State. To effectively establish the rule of law and ensure lasting peace, all individuals, including government officials, responsible for murder and other serious crimes must be held fully accountable.
2) The agreement fails to address the root causes of the violence, in particular the sponsorship and manipulation of youth groups by political leaders, traditional elites, and networks of oil bunkerers, as well as the tensions created by the impact of oil company payments to communities. As the 2007 elections draw closer and local politicians jostle for positions, it is likely that frustrated youth will be easily re-mobilized unless these underlying issues are addressed.