Thursday, 7th December 2023

‘The real story of how hoodlums looted, vandalised Kaiama Vocational Centre’

By Marcel Mbamalu
18 March 2019   |   3:20 am
Against the backdrop of destruction and looting of the Kaiama Vocational Training Centre in Bayelsa State by yet to be identified persons, Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Professor Charles Dokubo, spoke to senior journalists at the weekend, just as he shared challenges and…


Against the backdrop of destruction and looting of the Kaiama Vocational Training Centre in Bayelsa State by yet to be identified persons, Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Professor Charles Dokubo, spoke to senior journalists at the weekend, just as he shared challenges and projections for the programme.
News Editor, MARCEL MBAMALU was there.

What is the real story behind the recent Kaiama looting and vandalisation?
I don’t just want to state it in words; I want you to see pictures of what happened. I am saying this because of people who have been indicting me for what I don’t even know. That is why I will like to play the clips of it.

I was in Port Harcourt waiting to commission the training centre in Kaiama the next day when someone called me to say that they have started destroying the place. I had to go there. The compound was littered with things that have been there for a very long time. I have been in office for just one year. I addressed these people, because I cannot just stand aside to see the foundation that Federal Government money had been spent on destroyed. A lot a things were destroyed and (the place) littered.

I called the security agencies and said I would even pay them so that it would not continue. But looking at the number of people there, you could see (why) they overpowered them. They could not shoot; we don’t want any narrative to come out of the Niger Delta (because of the election), saying that we shot people and all that, so I told them not to even shoot in the air; they should just prevent them, but they overpowered them.

As I said on that day, I was ashamed to be a Niger Deltan. The narrative of the Niger Delta is that we have been marginalised, ostracized, repressed and depressed; that is the identification we have — we are an internally colonized people, at least, that is what we talk about. But now when things are built for us to better our lives, people will go and destroy it. Is there no better way to make money than to destroy something that has been there all these years? What point is there in removing the roof as well? Who can ever imagine that this is happening in Niger Delta?

When I assumed office, I questioned the establishment of a centre in Kaiama; it was so far away from the centre of Yenagoa. If it had been in Yenagoa urban, it won’t have been destroyed. I don’t want to know the reason for the stationing of that facility in that place, but if it were to be in Yenagoa, the security agencies will be able to checkmate it. Kaiama is far away; that is why they could do what they did.

For me, it was a planned and well-executed act; they knew what they wanted and what they want to do, but the shame of it is that these things belong to the Niger Delta people.

The fact that we have a warehouse in Kaiama does not mean that those things belong to the people of Kaiama; it is for all the states in the Niger Delta. That is where we take goods from to go and do our empowerment. From hindsight, we can say it was misplaced; we could have set up centres in every part of Niger Delta so that when you finish training anyone they can just go and collect their starter packs. Now, that is going to be our next step.

Would it be right to say that you have plans to decentralise the Amnesty Office?
That is just one aspect. I went to Gelegele, where we are setting up a new vocational centre.

Gelegele is in Edo State. I didn’t know that it was that far, but we travelled by road, from Port Harcourt to Benin, then to Gelegele, to lay foundation for that centre. It is an excluded area. But at the back of it, there is gas flaring.

So, if there is gas flaring and the environmental devastation that comes with it, then they (Edo State) must benefit from the Amnesty Programme. Before I took office that decision had been taken; contractors had been paid to take care of that, but nothing was done.

I believe that, in all the states of the Niger Delta, there must be an Amnesty Programme facility that will cater for the demands of the people and bring the government and the programme back to the communities where they truly belong so that if there is a problem, instead of rushing down to Abuja you can go to your local liaison office and then from there, the issues are addressed. It is when the issue cannot be handled by the liaison office that we can go there and deal with it.

Also, to decentralize functions to various parts of the Niger Delta, I have started setting up liaison offices. The Port Harcourt one was commissioned shortly before the last presidential election. I was there to commission it so that issues will be lesser. If local governments were established to bring the government closer to the people, Amnesty Programme liaison offices are established so that people can lodge their complaints in those places and they will send them to the centre. We have also got a place in Yenagoa.

One likely reason for the vandalisation of the Kaiama Centre is the replacement of its former head with a Delta State indigene. How do you react to the people of Niger Delta having this feeling of entitlement?
Offices are established everywhere in the Niger Delta. No office is assigned to a particular person because the person comes from a particular community. If you have been given a job to do and you are ineffective, as in every other office, you could be sacked. That you are born to a family, and the family is well known, does not entitle you to that job forever. So, we have to put it in context: If someone from that place was removed and someone from another Niger Delta area was used to replace him, there shouldn’t have been conflict about that; unless the person that was removed was instrumental to the destruction of Kaiama.

I am from Abonemma in Rivers State and I am here today in the Amnesty Office because I am from Niger Delta. Others from other parts of Niger Delta have been given this office before; this office belongs to everybody from Niger Delta, and the assignments and appointments are just like that. If you have done your bit, we cannot keep you there forever, because sometimes since you are a native, you have also gone more native and you begin to feel a sense of entitlement because of the name you bear. Every individual who qualifies to do a job, regardless of where he comes from will be sent to work. I don’t want to talk further because the police are still looking into it.

Having a facility in a town does not give ownership to that community. You watched the video of that place. I asked them, what if there was a foreign invasion of this place, will you stop them, or will you join them because it is your own? I told them that I was ashamed to be a Niger Delta person. There is one in Agadagba; in fact, the people there are so happy.

The deputy governor who is a member of that very community came and told me that he didn’t even know that this thing existed there. He asked me, “and you have turned it to something like this? How much did you spend?”

I wish some of you would have time to go to Agadagba to see the world-class facility there. That, for me, is a major achievement since my appointment. I want to ensure that in every state of the Niger Delta, there will be high quality vocational training centre to stop our sending people abroad. The money you will use to train two or three people in Nigeria could be used for just one person in overseas training. We are trying to cut back on that, so that we could have indigenous capacity to train our people.

How many people in Amnesty Programme are currently being paid stipends? Do you have the statistics of the people you have trained and what effect does it have on other Nigerians?
The problem is that we have a database. When I came in, there were people that had completed their courses and got jobs and left. There was also a new concept that was introduced; impacted communities; those who are not directly affected by the conflict in the Niger Delta but whose communities were indirectly impacted and as a result we could not put them aside, we also bring them into the system; that is why we don’t talk about that.

From March 2018 when I assumed office till date, I have trained 1, 401 beneficiaries of the Programme, and since I came here, 1,165 persons have been empowered while several others have been employed. So, it is a continuous process. In this office I have people coming in with MOU proposals and what they can do for us.

The Japanese Ambassador just came here, to also tell us how our people could be empowered, and if they could have all those institutions that can employ them. I discussed all those with them; I don’t relent in putting all these things forward.

We want our people to stand tall and for them to know that they are as good as any other Nigerian. I wish I could give you more figures. Like in America, we have First Class graduates in Law who are registered by the American Bar Association. These are people that are being sponsored by the Amnesty Programme, but I am trying to cut back on overseas training; that is why we are trying to establish vocational centres in Nigeria. It is very critical to my work.

Some ex-militants were sent abroad to acquire relevant skills in oil and gas, aviation and medical science, among others. How would you describe the integrity of those trainings and subsequent efforts to optimise the skills so acquired? Are there any of those trainees flying planes now?
We have some pilots who have been flying planes in Nigeria and then, our beneficiaries who read Law abroad. If I had been here from the beginning, they would have read Law in Nigeria. Or those who studied History abroad would have read it here in Nigeria. But you know decisions have been made which I cannot take back. It is only with hindsight I am touching these things, but if I were there at the beginning, these are things we could have handled here in Nigeria. They will be trained here and if well trained, they will be given jobs.

There is a disconnect between training and job availability. Our own is to try to mix it together so that you can be trained for the right job and we can make good use of the office to ensure that the company employs you.

I am even thinking of another way; that if the money that we are going to pay them is not up to that N65, 000 stipend, we can make up for that shortfall. This will really enhance our people. For me, job possibility is the most important thing. As far as they are stable with jobs, they can be removed from the database and be given N15,000. That way, we are going to do well for ourselves.

This is a problem I inherited. From the beginning of my tenure, job placement has been the cardinal point for me and I will not relent.

When I came in, I set up the job placement unit that works with other organisations so that when there are jobs, we can be informed and from our delegate list, we select people who are qualified for those jobs and place them there. This job placement aspect is a critical aspect of the DDR, and I believe if we can do that, we will step back from the culture of stipends to a salary earning culture.

Can you give us an overview of the Amnesty Programme so far as well as your vision?
I took office a year and two days ago and it has been exciting, hectic and sometimes challenging. I have gone through various stages of emotion in dealing with the issues here, but I believe I will come out from the other end of the tunnel with my head held high. I believe that if it continues in this way, we will leave a mark for others to follow. I called you here with an intention to check the trajectory of the Amnesty Programme. I came in with an agenda; in the past, the two Ds had been concluded; that is, Disarmament and Demobilization. Now, I am concerned with the Reintegration phase.

The people of Niger Delta in the past had claimed that they have not been given access to things that they should have benefited from in the area especially in the oil industry. I decided to look at the issues and how to redress them. You cannot redress the issue by just paying stipends to the people.

We must create an environment in which they can be educated, vocationally trained and empowered, so that they could attain heights and also have access to employment opportunities in the Programme. Not only that, but also to look for job placement so they can work and we can also stop their stipends once they have jobs. These are issues that we always confront and since we have dealt with the two Ds, the reintegration is a serious issue to those at the helm of affairs in this office.

For me, that mandate is what I want to do. We have done a lot of training, it is now how do we get jobs for these people that we have trained, so that they could earn salary, pay taxes, and also, you know about the multiplier effects of earnings. 

It is not that the people of the Niger Delta are unemployable; they are, given the chances that are available, they could also attain heights and compete with other Nigerians to attain heights and be in every working sector of our economy. That was why I did that.

Why the focus on vocational training centres?
For me, the highest point of my appointment was the commissioning of the training centre in Agadagba, Ondo state.

The training facility in Ondo state is world class, and it is to provide middle and lower class workforce for the oil and gas industry.

It is mainly a centre for oil and gas trainees.

For those who can’t go there, they could also have other places that we are negotiating with various oil and gas companies and industries; they could also have access to these people so that they can have jobs there. That is why we are not just doing it on our own; we are doing it with Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, Delta State. These are the people that are training the people that we have there, so that they will be certificated and look for job in other places. That is where I have decided concentrate on.

When I took over office, there were a lot of institutions that have been built but left at different stages of completion throughout the Niger Delta. I have decided to build these structures and take them to the next level so that they can carry out the function they were meant for. We cannot continue to send our people abroad. 

Resources are limited, and we try to do things inwardly because there are a lot of organizations that have the capacity to train our people, and that is what I am doing.

In the fishing sector, we have an agreement with a Greek company and they are training about 2,500 of our beneficiaries so that they will have knowledge of seamanship, ship building, and all that. This is foreign training with support from us and the Ministry of Agriculture.

I was surprised that when I took over this office, there were other issues that were still pending that had not been addressed. It is not my place to criticise any other person. I want to rule a line and do my own thing my own way, that is what I have always done. I don’t criticize people; I have been told to do a work and that work I will do.

We have done something at Gelegele in Edo State; the foundation laying for a vocational training centre, all these decisions were taken before I took office and sometimes money had been paid but the project abandoned. But I have laid the foundation stone there.

The Agadagba Oil and Gas Vocational Training Centre is my flagship as far as I am concerned because if you have ever been to that place, it is not like other places in Nigeria. The investment there, the type of training academics we have there and the way our people are going to be trained there in various aspects of the oil and gas industry.

Then I also did what I call empowerment programme; empowering those who had been trained to give them what they need to start life. It has not been done in the past, but I decided to go to them and give them starter packs for them to start whatever business they want. We did that in all the states in Niger Delta. Before February, this year, we started doing it and then we were able to successfully carry it out.

The only place we had a problem is Kiama. A lot of things have been said about Kaiama, but I will not dwell on it because it is under police investigation.

What strategies are you adopting to take the programme to the next level?
This one year has been a very trying period, coming from the background that I am coming from, but I have come to realize that in every part of your life, you will encounter challenges that you didn’t even think of, and for me, this is a terrain that I am now well grounded in and my second year will be totally different from my first year.

Actions will be taken; trainings will be done, and empowerment will be done immediately after. You don’t have to wait for years or wait to be trained and trained before you get your empowerment. So that is why I have called you today; that the Amnesty Office is ready to move forward.

We will be forming synergies with the private and government institutions. Recently we sent names to the Nigerian Navy, so that they can employ people from the Niger Delta. We have sent names to the Police, so they can be employed. These things we are doing so that people from the Niger Delta will stop depending on stipend. Stipend does not develop a community, it only sustains the peace and not their future.

What we want to do is to take people who have got jobs out of the stipends; make arrangements with multinational companies like Shell, Chevron, Mobil, that operate in the Niger Delta to work in concert with us as part of their corporate social responsibility so that those who have been trained can also be given jobs.

Job placement is the next stage of my plans for the next year and I believe that if we can achieve that, we are going to do well.

The people of the Niger Delta will not cry their old cries again that they have been marginalized. The amount of money government has spent on this programme is a lot and I know that if we judiciously expend it, most people from the Niger Delta will benefit immensely. I want this programme to be a success, if not, our children yet unborn will keep asking us what we have done for them if we say we have fought for Niger Delta.

This tale about being deprived should not be something we should keep saying. We have been given access. No part of Nigeria has more agencies than the Niger Delta.

Now that we have these things, I will implore the people of Niger Delta to know that the sky is their beginning if they will work when they are given a job. Job placement is now the motto of the Amnesty Office and at the end we will leave beneficiaries of the Amnesty Programme gainfully employed and be made employable so that we can also know that we have done something for our people.

What is the scope of challenges and fresh initiatives for job creation in the region?
On being absorbed into work after training, I don’t want to talk about the negatives of our people, if not I will say that even though some graduates are being paid N40, 000, but if you give our people a job for N40, 000, they think about the stipends that they are earning, so that is the challenge I am having.

How can we appease their minds? Convince them that you can work endlessly, but you will grow with the work, it is not about the immediate gratification you want. If your mind is so dependent on that stipend, it becomes difficult. So that is the challenge, how do we reduce the dependence in the people that we are training.

How do we also make them realize that employment is not only by government and private institutions; that they can also do something for themselves and also employ other people in the process? And on that, my office is ready to give anybody who is ready to set up a business the necessary financial assistance because we cannot continue to have a long list of people depending on stipend. The stipend culture should be removed from our programme.

Looking at the region where we are coming, the major sector for job is the oil industry. That is why the Agadagba training centre is there for middle and lower level oil and gas manpower to be absorbed by the companies. Also, Nigeria is no longer an oil producing country; it s more of a gas producing country. 

So these are the areas that we want them to be employed and if they grow with these new companies, I know that in 10 years to come, they will be highly rated in the industry and could also set up their own in most cases and run it.

We have signed an MOU with to the National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI) so that our people will not just be trained by certain individuals, they will also be certificated by a known body and with their certificates they can used to secure jobs. I always say government can create the enabling environment which individuals can take the initiative by employing other citizens. That is what I want to do. I told you about the Greek fishing company that will train 2,500 of our delegates and they are going to employ 2000 of them. We are making strides in the right direction; so it is not just training for training sake; it is training to get a job.
On previous managers of the Amnesty Office
I have clearly stated from the beginning that I have drawn a line about whoever was before me. They did it their own way; I want to do something my own way. What I want to do is to make sure that those that are trained must have jobs to go back to. Ordinary training is not my aim, and even for those who have been trained but have no jobs, they can be retrained for the right job in this technological environment.

At the end, I will make a new mark, as someone who moved the Amnesty Programme forward. I will move Amnesty to the next level in the sense that I have drawn the line for training, now we are empowering our people. That is what I’ll be remembered for; we are changing the dependence on stipends and training those who will work and earn money and that is why a vocational training centre in all states of the Niger Delta will be established. After that, we can go back and sleep with two eyes closed.

When I came from the Institute of International Affairs, I did not know that this office was so conflictual, and there is also that sense of entitlement from a particular group of people who believe that this office belongs to them.

I am more Niger Deltan than any other Niger Deltan and where I come from should not be used against me. If you are doing the right thing, you have blocked loop- holes for people who are doing the wrong things, they will fight you. I didn’t know that this concept of “dash” has been engraved in the lives of our people. Ten people will meet and want to see me. I did not invite them, yet I will meet with them and when it is time for them to go, they begin to demand that you give them money to go. These are things I have fought against. And as for those who are beneficiaries, they will go and tell people to defame you, attack you and castigate you.

As I came into this office, the things I saw, I have never heard of it, coming from my background. Because somebody wants to travel, they need N5million, they call millions as if it is small money. I came from an academic background; if I am travelling from Lagos to Abuja, what I get is about N90, 000, sometimes or N60, 000. That is what I get.

Sometimes if I pay air ticket, the money will be shorter so I travel by road. I am not vilifying anybody but that idea; the previous people who have been here, they got used to this idea of money. I am not claiming to be a saint, but I try to be the best I can, irrespective of any situation. If I am found wanting, take me to jail and nobody should cry for me. I will do my best.

You cannot answer all the insults thrown at you; if you do that, how will you be able to do your work? Let us carry on the work regardless of whatever they do, we will not be distracted because our goal is there; we will achieve our aim. I want to leave this place with my head held high and I’ll do better than those who have been in this position. That is the way I am and that is the background from which I came.