Tread softly on amnesty programme
There is a great deal of disquiet at the moment in the Niger-Delta over leaked information that the amnesty programme would be discontinued by the presidency, being a consequence of the recommendations of the committee set up by the Federal Government to review the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP).
However, it should be noted that this is not the first time the idea of winding it up has cropped up. In 2018, it was the point at issue. The then Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta and Coordinator Presidential Amnesty Programme, Brigadier-General Paul Boroh (rtd), made known in a meeting with stakeholders to analyse the success of the programme that the Federal Government desired to wind up the amnesty Programme in the Niger-Delta region.
The reasons were that it had achieved its objectives of restoring peace and stabilising the Niger Delta security environment through training and empowerment of ex-militants. Boroh had explained then that 92 per cent (21,805) of those schooling abroad and those undergoing various skill training out of the 30,000 estimated beneficiaries had graduated leaving only eight per cent (8,195) to be engaged in agricultural programmes.
It would be recalled that the amnesty programme was a masterstroke of the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration to restore peace and stability in the restive Niger-Delta. Indeed, in conception, the programme was meant to last for only three years. At the time, more than any part of the country, the Niger-Delta was the epicentre of new militarism that is armed non-state actors challenging the Nigerian state over the neglect of the region that has borne the wellbeing of the rest of the country and was itself relegated to the abyss of hopelessness and underdevelopment. The whole conflict has revolved around the issue of resource control and the re-ordering of the skewed federal structure. The agitation morphed from peaceful agitation into armed conflict over demands for justice for an impoverished people. The Niger-Delta remains the fulcrum of the country’s foreign earnings that have fed the venality of unproductive state elite.
The amnesty programme has so far restored some measure of stability despite its internal contradictions. It has trained a sizeable number of Niger-Delta youth, especially the ex-militants on entrepreneurial and vocational skills that include pilots, marine engineers, oil and gas engineers, medical doctors and lawyers among others. These skills were obtained within and outside the country. Above all, the amnesty programme has kept the boys busy.
The issue is back on the agenda and needs to be appraised with a great deal of objectivity. In conception aforesaid, it was not meant to last forever but has been subjected to review. In 2018, an eight-member review committee was set up to review contracts awarded by the amnesty office since 2015 among other things. The latest being Ambassador A. A. Lawal-led Interim Committee constituted by Major-General Babagana Monguno, the National Security Adviser to the President. The committee according to the information in the public domain recommended its termination within six months. This has not gone well with stakeholders who have been incensed by the move. For example, Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), a pan-Niger-Delta group has kicked against any abrupt end of the programme that may lead to mayhem in the oil region. Similarly, South-south chiefs have noted that the move would compound the region where the grave issues of poverty, marginalisation, neglect and lack of jobs have not been significantly solved. Besides, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) hopes that the move would not plunge the country into a state of crisis as it would be intolerable to the people of the Niger Delta. The group through its leadership, demurred the lack of consultation over the matter and noted that the programme went beyond mere payment of stipends and therefore stopping it would provoke anarchy.
Also, it is important to note that the amnesty programme has been dogged by sundry contradictions including charges of corruption that led to the sack recently of the immediate past Special Adviser and coordinator of the programme, Prof. Charles Dokubo, who has been replaced by Colonel Miland Dikio (rtd). Therefore, dealing with the inconsistencies and irregularities that had characterised the previous leadership needs critical thinking without being trapped in sectional biases. It will be hard to convince anyone that now is the appropriate time to discontinue the amnesty scheme when billions of naira are being spent in the war against the Boko Haram crisis and in the development of the North East. Even at that, stakeholders are unanimous that the terms and conditions of the amnesty programme are yet to be fully achieved. The programme, a three-phased scheme includes disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. Stakeholders hold the view that both the second and third segments are yet to be fully achieved.
A sense of neglect and perception that the programme’s set goals have yet to be completed can be glimpsed from the above and needs to be handled with care. We agree with the thoughts that any abrupt ending of the amnesty programme would be counterproductive; especially in a context, that development commission has become subject of trade-off in the national parliament whereby every geopolitical zone is being sopped with a development commission. Early, the bane of the Nigerian project is the subjection of every good intention to politicisation. Would it be right to review a programme without the viewpoint of the beneficiaries? We think that the government should smoothen the rough edges of the programme and consummate it in ways that align with the original intention of disarmament, rehabilitation and integration of the ex-militants. The country already buffeted by banditry cannot survive a war on multiple fronts.
Without mincing words, the peoples of the Niger-Delta need to be told that oil is a finite resource gradually losing its value; and the oil economy is already losing its value internationally. The amnesty programme can’t remain forever. It is already over a decade since the scheme commenced and the Niger-Delta region needs to consolidate on the gains of the scheme as already dispensed by the Federal Government and prepared itself for a future without the patronising amnesty programme and a future without oil. It is therefore imperative that every kobo going into the region must be utilised for what it is meant for.