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Niger Delta Amnesty: Management instability, failed mandate and future of programme  

By Godwin Ijediogor (South-South Bureau Chief, Asaba) and Chido Okafor (Warri)
15 November 2022   |   4:28 am
The Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) has been bedeviled by maladministration and allegations of corruption, thereby failing, to a large extent, to fulfill some of its core mandates of manpower development of the Niger Delta...

Ndiomu

 
The Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) has been bedeviled by maladministration and allegations of corruption, thereby failing, to a large extent, to fulfill some of its core mandates of manpower development of the Niger Delta, thus dousing agitations and unrest in the region.

 
Much as intervention agencies in the Niger Delta are headed by indigenes of the zone, many stakeholders contend that the agencies are actually run from Abuja by some powerful officials in the Presidency. Such appointees are mere stooges, being remote-controlled from inside the top echelon of government, it is alleged.
 
For example, some insiders in the PAP say most heads of the programme are errand boys of their Abuja masters, who influence their appointments, and such appointees are dispensed with once they stopped playing ball. This, they insist, is responsible for the high number of hired and fired heads, especially in the last 10 years, without recourse to impact such action could have on the effectiveness of the commission/programme or even on the people who ought to own the programme.
 
Until recently, there was tension, especially among ex-agitators, over Federal Government’s plan to wind down the programme. In that regard, the Amnesty Office had stopped further award of scholarships to students from impacted communities, while its operations were reduced drastically, such that contract award for new training programmes were stopped. But all that will be reversed, with government’s recent change of mind.
 
According to the current interim Administrator, Brig-Gen. Barry Tariye Ndiomu (rtd), the Federal Government rescinded the earlier plan to wind down the programme. Ndiomu, in a statement by his media consultant, Donu Kogbara, commended government for listening to widespread opposition to the plan, saying: “The Federal Government has heard the concerns of Niger Delta people and, with our best interests at heart, has decided to shelve an unwanted termination agenda and transform PAP into a more sanitised, transparent, efficient, robust and sustainable entity.
 
“Following wide consultations with the ex-agitators across the Niger Delta and the subsequent feedback to the Federal Government, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been magnanimous in shelving the idea of winding down the programme. Rather, the President is determined to ensure that the programme is re-engineered to achieve its original mandate.
 
“The programme will be re-engineered towards ensuring that its original mandate is fully realised, culminating in a gradual, phased winding down shortly.
 
“The decision was taken after the feelings of stakeholders and people of the region were communicated to the government and this proves that the Buhari’s administration will not do anything to jeopardise the peace in the Niger Delta. The government weighed the arguments presented, based on their merits, and decided to suspend the planned shutdown.”
 
Ndiomu charged stakeholders to sustain the peace in the region and assist his leadership to reform, refocus and reposition the programme for optimum performance.
 
Generally, the programme could be said to have succeeded in restoring relative peace to the region, with few hiccups here and there, but characteristically, the PAP has witnessed a high turnover of coordinators or whatever names government chose to call them, making many to wonder if the law establishing it provides for tenure.
 
The Amnesty Programme has been dogged by banana pills and the pull him down syndrome targeted at its leadership. Some Presidency officials believe the programme, which was initially designed to end in 2015 when it was expected to have achieved its mandate, has become a drain pipe to government resources; hence their push to bring it to an end under the current administration.
 
The Presidency officials were reported to be worried that the Amnesty Office, which had about 30,000 ex-agitators in its file at inception, still runs with about the same number after billions of naira had been spent on training and reintegration programmes. Indeed, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno, reportedly said recently that over N700billion has been ‘wasted’ on the programme due to corruption and lack of transparency over the years; hence he advised the President to end the PAP.
 
Monguno stated: “N712 billion was wasted, basically unaccounted for, and this is due to so many issues- corruption being at the fore. This is supposed to be a very serious programme for the Federal Government, but it has been facing crisis of transparency, consistency and efficient management of resources.
 
“The original intention of the programme was rooted in the fact that the people of the Niger Delta had been suffering adversely as a consequence of man-made issues. A lot of things happened to catapult the whole programme into other issues that originally were not intended.”
 
“Therefore, I had to take this step to advise Mr. President that this waste cannot go on. This programme is not supposed to be an open-ended programme; there is no place on the surface of this earth where programmes that are supposed to be palliatory will continue forever.
 
“Since the managers of the programme have decided to allow their personal interest to overrule the aim of the project, the waste should be curtailed.”
 
That was when a new Programme Coordinator, Col. Millard Dixon Dikio (rtd) was appointed, who Monguno said had the experience to tackle the rot in the scheme, with effect from August 21, 2020. His tenure was renewed for another one-year in September, only for him to be sacked about one week later and replaced with Ndiomu.
 
Dikio’s predecessor, Prof. Charles Dokubo, was relieved of his position as interim coordinator following allegations of mismanagement leveled against him.
 
Before Dokubo, was Brig-Gen. Paul Boroh (rtd), who was appointed on July 28, 2015 to replace the former special adviser to then President Goodluck Jonathan on Niger Delta and coordinator of the programme, Kingsley Kuku. Kuku was credited with the speedy resolution of hitches in the implementation of the programme, including non-payment of outstanding allowances to ex-militants.
 
A source knowledgeable about the workings of the programme told The Guardian that heads of the programme are changed at will once they stopped playing ball or ‘deviate from their official mandate,’ as their masters will put it, insisting the programme has become a cash-cow for some people, especially with links in the Presidency.
 
He lamented the roles of indigenes of the region in all these, saying some of them have become willing tools for selfish reasons and go to any length to blackmail the programme’s helmsmen and are even used to orchestrate protests preparatory to impending sack of the heads.
 
But another stakeholder admitted inadequate transparency in the running of some aspects of the programme, especially in the recruitment and listing of beneficiaries, with the connivance of some former warlords, who at every opportunity, shortchange their boys, just as names of non-Niger Delta indigenes have found their way into lists of beneficiaries.
 
Even payment of stipends, entitlements or school fees of genuine beneficiaries are sometimes delayed, misappropriated or mismanaged, leading to those in higher institutions of learning at home and abroad being asked to leave or drop out over non-payment of fees.
 
The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, on June 25, 2009, granted presidential amnesty (pardon) to Niger Delta militants who had one way or the other engaged in militant activities and committed offences in the Niger Delta, having expressed willingness to surrender their weapons and renounce armed struggle within 60 days between August 6 and October 4, 2009.
 
About 10,000 militants were targeted in the three phases of the programme aimed at disarmament and demobilisation, rehabilitation (training) and Strategic Implementations of Action Plan towards holistic development of the region. After the rehabilitation process, the ex-militants were to be reintegrated into their various communities through vocational skills training, formal education or entrepreneurship skills acquisition at home or abroad, depending on interests, between six months and five years.
 
On the insinuation that the programme is indirectly run from Abuja, maybe by a cabal in the Presidency, who decides who heads it, the member representing Yenagoa/Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State in the House of Representatives, Professor Steve Azaiki, said that could be true, adding: “Now that the programme has been moved from the Presidency to the Office of the National Security adviser (ONSA), one begins to wonder why it is so, because the programme is not only a security matter; it has to do with welfare, humanitarian, employment, education, development, etc. It’s not just one component, so it should have been retained in the Presidency.
 
“You can now see that even the nomenclature of the head of the programme has been changed from adviser to coordinator or whatever. It has been watered down, making the main objective of setting it up by the late Yar’Adua defeated.
 
“Generally, everybody would say the same thing; that it’s not a good thing to do, because there is no continuity and when it is like that, you cannot make the programme sustainable. With that, the benefits are going to be very difficult to see because when a new man comes, he comes with his own ideas and initiatives.”
 
Azaiki warned against any sudden winding down of the programme. Indeed, it was alleged that one of the mandates given to Dikio was to wind down the programme, but that after meeting with critical stakeholders, especially the ex-militants, he saw the need to, and probably recommended, transition of the PAP into another programme, which may have been rejected and possibly informed his sacking and appointment of a new helmsman to execute that mandate.
 
But the lawmaker agreed that the programme should not be perpetual, saying the thing to do is to review the objectives and come up with how to make it more effective and efficient, after discussion with the people.
 
Reminded that that the programme has always been headed by indigenes and whatever becomes of it, the people cannot be exonerated, Azaiki stressed that they were just figure-heads and not the ones controlling the programme, adding: “After all, a former President used to say that, ‘you can control your resources, but I will manage them,’ and it is who is managing it that matters most.
 
“The way the Nigerian Constitution is written, the powers of the President or Governor are enormous. If you appoint anybody as head of the organisations, he or she is subject to the dictates of the person that appointed him or her.
 
“So, anybody who understands how Nigeria runs and is run cannot blame the people of the Niger Delta or anybody appointed to head these organisations. If he or she doesn’t want to do what they tell him to do, then he or she has to be ready to resign or be sacked. If that becomes the case, everybody will be resigning at intervals.”
 
An ex-aide to Boroh, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described as “mere speculation,” insinuation that some influential staff of the Presidency determines what happens in the programme by influencing appointment of heads in the hope of getting gratifications.
 
He stated: “As someone who worked with Boroh, I would say I know how the PAP operates. There are a lot of speculations out there. If someone appoints you, he gives you a mandate to follow. It is only if you don’t follow the mandate that your employer might think otherwise. So, playing ball or giving kickbacks to some individuals are speculations.
 
“There is nothing wrong in appreciating people who have been helpful to one, but giving kickbacks are speculations. The most important thing is: Are you working towards achieving the mandate given by the President?
 
“If you’re given an appointment and there are people in the Presidency you wish to appreciate, that is an informal thing, but the official mandate is the most important thing.”