‘Buhari appointed me to bring peace, development to Niger Delta’
Professor Charles Quaker Dokubo was born in Abonnema, Akuku Toru Council of Rivers State, where he had his primary and secondary school education before proceeding to the University of Teesside, Middleborough, in the United Kingdom (UK) and a course in Modern History and Politics at the University of Bradford. He later obtained a Master’s degree in Peace Studies and doctorate in the same university. He was later appointed a temporary lecturer in the department before returning to Nigeria in 1993.
Dokubo was a Research Professor at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in Lagos and has published extensively in his area of interest, authoring and editing various scholarly books and journal articles, including Nigeria’s Security Interest in Africa, Nuclear Proliferation and the Probability of Nuclear War: The Effectiveness of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime and recently, The Defence Policy of Nigeria: Capability and Contest.
The Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Dokubo spoke to IGHO AKEREGHA, Head, Northern Region and SEGUN OLANIYI in Abuja on his task to reposition the Amnesty Office and bring succour to ex-militants and the oil-rich region, as well as on the controversies, challenges, beneficiaries as foreign students, insisting he wants to be remembered as a son of the Niger Delta who ran a transparent and accountable regime that brought development to the region.
You have been in the saddle for sometime now, what are you doing differently as head of the Presidential Amnesty Office, considering its history and controversies?
I am behaving as if I don’t know anything about the past. I want to start on a very clean slate. That was why when I was appointed, I set up a committee to review the activities of this institution and from what they have advised me, I have decided to hit the ground running, because I know what I am looking for, what I am driving to and how to achieve it.
What is different from the past, I believe that is my commitment to the programme and also my ability to meet and interface with various critical stakeholders of this programme.
I have been told that in the past, it had never been done, but I have taken this initiative on my own because we want this programme for them, not for me. I want this programme for the people of the Niger Delta and I believe whatever I can do to enhance human security in the region, I will do. That is when human security becomes a reference point as far as our security is concerned; that the security of the human being in the system will only strengthen national security.
That is why I am meeting with critical stakeholders wherever they are, so that at the end, if they could buy into my ideas, it will only make the programme better.
There are those who already think that the Amnesty Office was set up to quell agitation in the Niger Delta to open the region for further exploitation. Do you share this view?
If they don’t speak to the people from the region, how can that programme be driven? If an outsider comes to the region, what does he/she know about the background of the crisis and how this organisation was set up?
It is critical that you talk to the people in the region, because they understand what the region is, the struggle of the people and how the federal government bought into the idea that the people need a special programme, like the amnesty programme.
That is why it is very critical to talk with the people, interface with them, those who are from the region and know the crises of the region, and that is why I think it is not about oil or anything. For me, it is about human security. If the people in the region are empowered, they can take care of their daily needs and also be protected. The holistic view of security is very important; it is not about military security.
Again, when human being becomes the reference point of security, then there is security, and if the individual in a society is secure, it eventually develops into a national security perspective. It is not about milking the region, even if it is about getting resources from the place, it is that that resources is what could be used to enhance human development in that part of the world.
If you claim that you laid a golden egg, let the proceeds and resources from the golden egg be used to develop your own part of the country that you always claim has been backward and which has always been playing catch up.
So, you cannot totally disconnect the connection between resource improvement and development in the Niger Delta.
The Amnesty Office is in Abuja, far flung from the Niger Delta region, where the resources are located, and you are saying that part of your innovation is to establish liaison offices in regions to bring your operations closer to the people. But this is not captured in this year’s budget. How will this be funded?
We are not going to build a house or build anything like that. We are going to depend on already established infrastructure, so that if there is crisis in a particular region, people will want to clarify, to authenticate and then call back to Abuja. After all, the essence of creating a local government was to bring governance very close to the people. If you have an office that really belongs to them, the people can bring their problems directly.
I think it only enhances the programme itself, not for any other thing. We will try, because I think people will also know that there is a place that their problems and demands can be heard.
Problems are always emanating, always evolving in the programme, how you respond to it is very important and that is why I want to get close to the roots. I have met with the critical stakeholders, I am going to meet with the various commanders in Abuja, just to interface with them, listen to them, let them ask questions about the problems that they face in running this programme, then and only then, can we work together.
This programme is not for Charles Dokubo; it is for every Niger Delta person and whatever we will do that will enhance the capability and ability of the Niger Delta person, I think it will be done well if we pursue it with a sense of unity of purpose.
It was alleged that some of these stakeholders have complained about what they perceive as deceit in the implementation of the programme, saying it is not being holistically implemented. Are you optimistic that you can achieve lasting peace amidst these complaints?
What I do in any organisation is to be innovative and bring about change that can positively impact the people. If you look at the Niger Delta, there have always been complaints, petitions and all that. The fact is, people are no longer comfortable with change. When change comes into a situation, some people prefer what it used to, business as usual.
In my own process, it is business unusual and what I am trying to do is to make changes that will impact. But there are also vested interests in this programme, who believe that such changes will alter the ways they used to live the life they are accustomed to. That is essentially why I am determined to make a difference to this programme, because if we believe in personal interest that overrides the regional interest, then we will be living in the cloud for now.
What do you think is the regional interest of the Niger Delta?
They need massive federal government empowerment programmes that will make the region feel part of this same Nigeria; that they are not second-class citizens and can always benefit from the product they claim to have come from their area.
So, the government has to focus on that. It is not the job of the Amnesty Office to do that, where you have the Ministry of the Niger Delta and other organisations, including the NDDC, in the region. These are all organisations and agencies established to take care of the region and no part of the country has special institutions like that assigned to a particular region.
The fact is, let us work together and synergise our activities, so that there would be less duplication of resources and make our people benefit from this region that has been poorly attended to in the past.
The entire Niger Delta region is heavily polluted and one of the key promises of this administration is to clean up the area, which is now delayed and controversial and tied to the success of your intervention. How are you going to manage the controversies?
We must also understand environmental degradation and a little part of the security discourse. The government has set up an organisation to clean part of the region that has been turned to a wasteland, where fishing and farming have become a problem.
It has been massive investment in that and it is a little slow, but I think they are still on the right path to achieving a clean environment for the Niger Delta people.
You have been given the tough task to manage ex-militants. How tough is this task and what is your level of optimism?
Containing small arms and light weapons are difficult issues in every security environment, because they are weapons of mass destruction. But since an organisation like this has been set up to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate ex-fighters, we are focusing on this issue.
Let us look at it as work in progress to contain the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, as well as create the enabling environment for development to take place.
There are conflicting figures about the total number of beneficiaries enrolled in the programme. What are the exact numbers?
The ones I inherited is 30,000 people. Some people are at the terminal stages of their empowerment programme, so the numbers will be brought down as the programme progresses. We shall continue to strengthen the process to the benefit of the region and country.
There are speculations that you were appointed to wind down the process, relying on your huge influence in the region and your background?
I have never been given any task to draw down this programme. This programme is very critical, as far as the federal government is concerned, to maintaining peace and security, as well as creating an enabling environment for the empowerment programme of the Niger Delta to take place.
That speculation is not true. People always ask, ‘when will it end?’ They don’t even ask the other side of the question, which is, ‘when will our people develop in such a great way that the crisis in the region will never be an issue again?’
I am focused on adopting new strategies, short-term fixes and long-term strategies. This is still work in progress. I believe if I stay to the end of my term, definitely, you will see what I have done.
I have started taking critical steps that has never been taken before. I think those who have been in charge of the programme before me, when they see the steps I have taken, will realise that a lot of grounds have been covered.
I have engaged critical stakeholders in meetings in the Niger Delta, Lagos and Abuja, because I realised this office has been so distant from the people to directly impact them. During the various engagements, I listen to the people, hear them out, listen to their concerns and arrive on what we can put in the programme that will enhance their betterment. It is not one man’s work; it is a collective work for all the people touched by the Niger Delta problem, and that is what I intend doing.
What is the current wage bill? What is the cost of rehabilitating the ex-militants?
The government knows exactly how much we need and it decides on what it gives to us. We don’t make bills ourselves; the government knows the critical situation in the Niger Delta and nothing is too much to give for peace. We must always have that in mind.
Is the government listening to you, because apart from the international oil companies (IOCs) in the region, there is no concrete federal presence? How do you persuade the ex-militants to listen to you in the midst of the complaints?
If there were controversies about it, I was not in office. I am adopting a new phase to it and I believe that such controversies will be resolved, so that those institutions that have been set up to empower the Niger Delta people will get additional funding because our people often express concern that they have not been part of the oil industry.
It is not because of their numerical inferiority, but because in the past, they didn’t have the qualified and trained manpower. Now, we are training them. Why should a university or oil and gas institutions be a problem in the Niger Delta when it is to empower our people to gain the heights of employment in this country that belongs to all of us.
Most of the amnesty beneficiaries are being trained in hydrocarbon and petrochemical technology, but the world is now embracing new technology in cleaner energy and bio-fuel. Are you not worried?
We have to start with what we have now. Before the new technologies come into force, you have to retrain and have a new focus. In America or elsewhere, where oil started, they thought it was going to solve the problem, in fact, when nuclear energy started, they said it was going to solve all the problems. Now, they are talking about other sources of energy.
We cannot depend on fossil fuel forever in this country, we must look for an alternative, but the technology for that is still very far away from us. I believe we are learning something daily and it will only empower us to adapt to new technologies in our communities.
The key demand of ex-militants and stakeholders is the relocation of IOCs to the region. Are you pursuing this?
I think the federal government has said all the oil companies, multinationals should move to the areas of their operation. But because of the instability in the region, many of them moved to Abuja and Lagos.
I believe my people will also understand that to have a viable and development-oriented policy, that region must be pacified. I have always said to them that if they don’t concentrate on what they have, others are also playing up their advantage at the federal level.
If, for instance, a refinery is built in Lagos that is the biggest in Africa and there is instability in the place that you operate, where will you go? I want our people to think very deeply and fast and know that we cannot always talk about instability and crisis, but fit into the developmental objective and orientation that we must reposition our mindset on peaceful resolution of conflict. It is not a one-man policy; it is for all Niger Delta people to understand that.
Do you think the amnesty programme is sustainable, judging from what we had in the past?
I don’t know the past or what past you had, but the focus of my management of this programme is to ensure the objectives set from the beginning are attained. If any person had veered away from that in the past, it is not of my own making. I will follow the objective and policy outlined for this programme and in doing that, we are going to attain all the heights set for us.
It is said that there are banana peels associated with your office. What steps are you taking to avert this scenario?
In a critical facet of our country’s institution, there has always been contestation of power, and this concept of entitlement, however, you handle it, there will be protest.
However good your intentions are, there will be people that will not be satisfied, because for most of them, they want to hang on to the past where they had free things and free monies being given to them. Now, they have realised that this is not the way for this new office, they might protest, but those genuine and meaningful Niger Deltans will know that we are not created to fail.
We move ahead, irrespective of banana peels. It could stumble at times, but our focus will not be changed.
You seem to be very optimistic?
I am an optimist. Why should I fall back to things that ought to be or would have been? I am looking forward and in that process, I don’t care about banana peels and I will even cross the banana peels and move on.
Since you assumed office, what have been your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges for me, if I call them challenges, is that people who are supposed to understand this programme made mistakes in the past. Our data has been mismanaged, students have been sent out without the knowledge of the office and when it is time for paying school fees, they run back to this office. I face a tough decision if these students are from the Niger Delta?
But bearing in mind that you have not gone through the right processes to be in those universities is a difficult task and challenge for me. How do you reconcile that they are Niger Delta students in universities who are not well documented? Do you send them out or do you make a provision, so that they could still be in that university to attain the heights you have set for them?
How are you dealing with the challenges?
I am taking it one day at a time, talking to officials of the universities and sending people to them, so that we can resolve the issue. We cannot have students who are not documented by this organisation, but are in higher institutions.
Sometimes, it is not their making, but the faulty nature of the operation in this office. I believe if I could streamline the process and make it more transparent, people will see where the fault is coming from.
People will always make noise and there are some people in Russia who are saying that this organisation owes them. We know that we do not owe any students in Russia and we have documents to show, because if you have been given a scholarship to do a particular course, at the end of the course, you must come back. If you want an elongation, you must have an approval from this office before you start.
If you don’t and you continue on your own, this office can never be responsible.
Whatever you try to do to blackmail this office, we will bring out the facts and the facts will speak for themselves.
How are you handling complains by some beneficiaries who allege being shortchanged every month, in terms of stipends paid to them?
I pay the stipends and I directed my office to pay the stipends. The process I met here is what I am continuing. I have received complaints that sometimes when the stipends get to some people, they don’t get it or they are not given the exact amount of stipends that they should earn. I am making efforts to correct this.
I spoke to some camp leaders why is it so and try to remedy the situation. I don’t want to go in there by myself to do that, because I don’t want to create an unstable condition. This process have been there long before I came to resume office and I will see how I can manage it, so that in the next three or four months, we can streamline the process and then everyone will get their money in their accounts.
At what point are we going to wind down the programme?
I always say this job is work in progress. I cannot give you a date and it is not for me to do that; it is the federal government that decides what it wants to do with this project.
I hope in my time, they will give me the time and period to run this programme in such a way that most of the things set for this programme is achieved. I am not giving myself anything about the drawing down of this programme, that is not within my limit; that will come from the federal government.
Your fate, in terms of your vision for the Niger Delta, is tied largely to the victory of the President in the next election. Are you worried about this?
I am not worried. I don’t dwell in political short-term issues; I look at long-term strategies for the problem of the Niger Delta.
This government has invested a lot of money in the region and gave me the task and I will try to do something that has not been done before. It is for the people to judge; that is beyond me.
What do you want to be remembered for as head of the amnesty office?
I want people to remember that there was a man who tried to fix this programme, who tried to give it a new focus, to re-energise the people of the Niger Delta, make them realise that their benefits will be given to them and make them hopeful to attain the heights they have set for themselves, so that at the end, everybody will say there was a Charles Dokubo.