In defence of amnesty programme against false narratives
The relevance of teaching history is underscored by the discipline’s capacity to aid people in understanding the world around them amidst the changes affecting almost everything. Learning history also provides a context within which people could appreciate current events and how they also fit into the grand scheme of things.
Oftentimes people hardly come to terms with the realisation that life itself is dynamic and change is inevitable. They therefore become captives of the past, a situation which restrains their growth and if they are unable to adapt to the realities, there is the tendency of them employing violence to resist the innovations and the new initiatives.
This is the scenario playing out in the Presidential Amnesty Programme where comparatively the past may not have been too pleasant, triggering the change that saw Major General Barry Ndiomu as the Interim Administrator on September 19, 2022. General Ndiomu came with the mandate to wind down the Programme but following wide consultations with relevant stakeholders from within and outside the region, he was able to convince policy drivers to make a you turn owing to the attendant security and economic backlash. There was also a caveat. This was for him to sanitize the PAP and clean up the Augean stable.
Those who have known the General long before now will tell you he is not just another soldier. Ndiomu comes across as an officer with a high academic standards, proven integrity and an unquestionable pedigree with a name to defend and above all he is a team player. These were the credentials he brought to the Presidential Amnesty Programme and so far he has proven his worth.
Against this backdrop and in the face of the false narratives on media and speech platforms, the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) issued rebuttals to correct what it described as “some disconcerting and unending contents of misinformation in the media space with an obvious intent to whip up negative public opinion against the leadership of the Programme”. The statement also noted that “the PAP which has been watching with strong indignation the unsubstantiated statements attributed to some mischief makers hiding under pseudonyms, would have ordinarily not join issues with faceless persons as such an exercise would only elevate the enterprise of those bad hats”.
Having seen and read some of the statements issued by critics of the General, one can only argue that the rebuttal by the PAP was not only timely but also pertinent to prevent stakeholders and the public from being exposed to as well as consume the toxic narrative in the media space.
It is imperative to note that on assumption, Ndiomu inherited several liabilities ranging from unpaid scholarship awards, uncompleted vocational training centers, non-formal education programmes and a huge financial burden to contend with among other challenges.
For instance, instead of cancelling the inconclusive scholarship awarded by his predecessor and initiating a fresh one as most persons would have done, General Ndiomu rather sanitized and adopted the process with payment of all fees of one thousand, seven hundred PAP students spread across tertiary institutions of learning across the country and an additional fifty-five delegates as freshmen in various universities in different countries.
These figures are in addition to one thousand three hundred students already deployed to various tertiary institutions within Nigeria and overseas in the previous year bringing the total number of students to three thousand (3000) whose scholarships covering tuition and In-Training-Allowance (ITA) have been paid in full by the administration of General Ndiomu for the 2022/2023 academic session.
In the light of these hard facts some stakeholders have labelled those petitions and criticisms as mischievous, uncharitable and ungodly particularly when they insinuate that the PAP under the current dispensation is yet to deploy delegates under the scholarship programme.
It is also regrettable that while PAP had in the recent past announced payment of all outstanding scholarship debts to the tune of seven billion Naira for the 2022/2023 academic session, those destabilizing agents are using aspects of the media to give a negative spin to the success story of the Interim Administrator. The Formal Education Trust Fund is also in the works and when operational, will be an added boost to the formal education scheme of the PAP.
Vocational training which is central to the reintegration phase of the Programme to provide relevant skills for ex-agitators is on course. However, the vocational training centers designed to provide skills for the teeming youths in the region when functional, were also inherited, five of them sited in Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Edo and Ondo states but unfortunately, no vendor or contractor of any of the centers got payment before September 19, 2022.
It is on record that all the vendors who were owed prior to when the current management assumed office have been paid. Relevant higher institutions of learning, training institutes and development partners have undertaken spot assessments to re-evaluate existing infrastructure, update software and service equipment including those left at Boro Town after it was burgled to bring the centers including an additional one to be sited in Bayelsa up to speed and eminent take-off.
The management under General Ndiomu also cleared debts related to ongoing training schemes to the tune of four point five billion naira as at March 2023. A total of eight hundred and forty-seven delegates are currently undergoing training in the National Information Technology Development Agency(NITDA) in various ICT specialized fields with certification in digital marketing, e-mail marketing, social media marketing, computer appreciation, search engine optimization as well as technical and computer writing.
Similarly, the PAP is to sponsor seventy-five pilots and aircraft engineers to South Africa and France for type-rating as part of the Programme’s aviation training scheme which General Ndiomu is very passionate about. A breakdown of the figure indicates that thirty-five (35) delegates are pilots while forty (40) are billed for aircraft engineering.
All inherited debts have also been paid off through the deployment of a strategic bouquet of financial models. Some of those debts were owed to some critical contractors and agencies. Others are capital and recurrent obligations.
General Ndiomu came with innovative ideas and on assumption, initiated new programmes to enhance the socio-economic sustainability of ex-agitators and young people in the Niger Delta. A major boost to that initiative was the launching of the PAP Cooperative Scheme with an initial sum of one point five billion naira as seed money in the account with an additional one hundred million naira operational fund to be solely managed by the ex-agitators.
The cooperative scheme has an eminent jurist, Justice Francis Tabai, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as chair of the board with a team of experienced consultants drawn from the region to assist in nurturing the cooperative into fruition. The cooperative with the acronym PAPCOSOL, will create a conducive environment for small businesses to grow to become the catalyst for economic development in the Niger Delta.
Unending agitations, disparaging statements and heightened attacks on the Interim Administrator and his team arose from the inherited payment list fraught with irregularities such as multiple entries of the same accounts.
A verification of the payment list revealed that certain beneficiaries had multiple accounts linked to their BVNs. In total, five hundred and thirteen beneficiaries had one thousand three hundred and seventy accounts on the payment list linked to their BVNs. Other anomalies were that of certain accounts not linked to their BVNs, this group had a total of two thousand six hundred and one accounts.
A summary of the suspended accounts are presented in two categories with the first indicating that seven hundred and eleven accounts do not exist while one thousand eight hundred and eighty-five BVN not linked to accounts and five accounts have invalid BVN. This brings the total of this category to two thousand six hundred and one.
Under category two, BVN of five hundred and thirteen beneficiaries are linked to one thousand three hundred and seventy accounts. To rectify the irregularities a portal was created (stver.osapnd.gov.ng) by the PAP to enable affected beneficiaries to log in and those with multiple accounts linked to their BVNs were to choose just one account in order to have their payments regularised.
This gesture by the Ndiomu administration has so far cleared one thousand one hundred and ninety-three of the two thousand six hundred and one accounts suspended under category one and their arrears paid in full to date while three hundred and sixty-eight of the five hundred and thirteen beneficiaries suspended for having multiple accounts linked to their BVNs in category two have been cleared with their arrears also paid in full to date. A total of one thousand five hundred and sixty-one have been cleared and paid in full to date. Presently, multiple account fraud has been eradicated from the payment list.
Under Ndiomu, the administration has created job opportunities for youths, both male and female from the Niger Delta and this is an ongoing process which will add value to the lives of young people and obviously reduce the culture and cycle of dependency among youths.
The Presidential Amnesty Programme has gained a huge mileage from September last year through the initiatives introduced by General Ndiomu and his managerial acumen has impacted positively on the Programme. He had earlier been quoted as saying”cheap lies and blackmail will not deter me from doing what is right by the majority of ex-agitators and the people of the Niger Delta”.
All the mindless criticisms and attacks by detractors and blackmailers is a function of an aspect of the media providing oxygen to the pull-him-down syndrome. The media in Nigeria have evolved and have a critical role to play in national development particularly in the PAP story. Working together with the administration of General Ndiomu as development partners, the needed synergy could be created in changing the socio-economic narrative of the Niger Delta towards positive directions.
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