Amnesty: Restructuring will address militancy – Bebenimibo
Yes, the programme has been politicised and it has derailed. Consequently, it has not achieved its aim. That is why we still have pockets of issues in the Niger Delta area. Originally the programme was proclaimed to enable the Federal Government to engage agitators in the Niger Delta in a round table manner.
It was to re-direct the people from violent struggle or agitation to a non-violent agitation, and by that, it was seen as reintegrating the agitators into the society by providing education and skill acquisition for them because at some point, it was noticed that these two issues were fuelling the violence agitation in the Niger Delta region so the amnesty programme was like a vehicle that would have taken the people to a point that so many good things would have happened in the Niger Delta, but the programme did not get to that point before this change of government and the change of government has greatly politicised the programme.
As I am talking to you, the programme has been directed to the North. Imagine few days ago, I saw a publication by Arewa Consultative Youths that the coordinator of the programme and the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs should not be removed. So, I don’t know where the Arewa people have come to play a role in amnesty programme that was proclaimed for the Niger Delta people.
The programme is now put under the Office of the National Security Adviser and they have been using it to settle politicians and some other persons
that work for the APC government. So the programme has missed its point, that is the truth, and that is why we are seeing all these pockets of
violence and agitation coming up again.
The time President Goodluck Jonathan was in charge, the programme was still caring for students, there were overseas students, there were students in Nigerian universities and it has trained so many of them.
There were overseas skills acquisition programmes for the beneficiaries, as well as, the ones that were done locally. Since the present administration came on board, they ignored these programmes that were designed to reintegrate the agitating youths into the society. These programmes were supposed to be in phases, but the reintegration phase had not even completed before it was politicised.
The second phase would have been looking into developmental issues in the Niger Delta; how to create jobs for the people and so on, we have not even got to that stage in the programme so there is still a long way to go.
What specifically enabled you to arrive at the conclusion that the programme has been politicized?
It is because the present government doesn’t share the idea of the amnesty programme as started by late President Musa Yar’Adua. It is anytime their attention is drawn to this fact that they come up with military actions.
That is why we have heard of Operation Crocrodile Smile, Part One and Part Two. That is not how to resolve issues. When people say there is a problem, you look into the problem and not to quickly move in military hard wares and military men to the place; harass innocent people; disturb the villagers; kill them and so on.
Most of the money that have been used to finance all these military operations, would have been geared towards developmental programmes in the region and that would have paid off than the military actions.
Can restructuring truly address the many issues plaguing the Niger Delta?
Yes. For instance, one of the recommendations of the El-Rufai committee is that states should control natural resources in their domain, so if that is on ground, states will be able to address some issues because they are definitely closer to the people than the Federal Government.
So, it will be easier for the people to channel their grievances than waiting endlessly for the Federal Government to meet their complaints and demands. Other important issues including education, provision of health facilities, recreational facilities and so on would be reasonably addressed.
Funding of the amnesty programme appears to be currently challenged?
Before this time, it was properly funded because President Jonathan’s government, as part of the Yar’Adua government continued the dream of the proclamation, but now, most of the money is being directed to settle political affiliates of the present government.
We still have the Niger Delta Avengers and other militant groups threatening attacks, what do you think is responsible for that?
That is part of the failure of the programme, but like I have said, this programme is in phases, after the reintegration phase, which of course will train people in terms of education and skills acquisition, the other part should have been the provision of infrastructural development and employment opportunities, but that aspect has not been addressed.
What is the way forward?
The way forward is for the present Federal Government to engage genuine agitators from the Niger Delta and not just politicians. Let it be irrespective of political affiliation because that is where we are having the problem as the government perceives some people to be its enemies, whereas they are not. Such people are leaders in their own respect and so many followers are looking up to them.
So, if such people are engaged, definitely they will be able to take the message down to the people, and also to convince the people to line up behind this Federal Government in order for it to succeed. Like I mentioned earlier, people like High Chief Government Ekpemukpolo, are being looked up to like messiahs by the people of the Niger Delta, and he is respected by both the old and young.
If such a person is engaged by the government because he has an eye for development, this will open up the coastal areas. If what we are seeing in the urban areas are seen in the rural areas, certainly these people are going to lay their arms down in order to enjoy the amenities.
For instance, the establishment of the Maritime University in Okerenkoko is part of the second phase plan by the previous administration and such an institution will certainly create employment and also create educational opportunities for the people.
There are some people that cannot cross over from that place to other places but when the school is close to them, they will certainly take advantage of such institutions and programmes instead of going to make trouble.
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