Shock, as natives strip Kaiama Amnesty Centre of assets
Esther Boro, the first daughter of Isaac Adaka Boro and Chief Liaison officer with Amnesty Programme in Bayelsa State fought back tears, as she walked through the ruins of the Amnesty Programme Vocational Training Centre in Biro Town, Kaiama, Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of the state.
Her emotions can only be appreciated and understood by those who worked closely with her. She is driven by a passion, just like her father about the project, and the completion of the centre can be attributed to her zeal.Having worked and lived on the premises as the Centre’s Supervisor since its conception in 2013, she was devastated and lost for words, as scavengers rummaged in the remains of her dreams, oblivious of her emotions.
In one fell swoop, the multi-billion naira VTC, built by the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) was on February 14 reduced to ruins, as it was vandalised, looted and raped by the people it was meant to serve.
Built by PAP office to tackle the main challenges in transforming “non-skilled ex-militants youths” to a technically skilled workforce, the centre was to be formally commissioned penultimate week before the unfortunate incidents that have left many Bayelsans in shock.
The entrepreneurship starter packs, which include welding machines, fridges, generators and technical equipment, procured to help beneficiaries become self-employed and independent after undergoing training, were carted away in broad daylight, as PAP officials, security men and community folks watched helplessly.
The Centre is equipped with the state-of-art training equipment, and designed to provide a wide array of trainings in plumbing, catering, fashion designing, building and interlock block making techniques, shoe/leather works, and carpentry and joinery, among others. Other facilities include fully furnished classrooms, hands-on practical training block, an administrative block, a library, clinic, a 60-room hostel for 120 students, multipurpose hall and cafeteria, among others.
An eyewitness said the invaders, mostly from the two communities where the Centre was sandwiched, and others from neighbouring communities, invaded the vocational education centre, looting entrepreneurship starter packs and every other thing they could remove from the facility.He said the looting began when the people saw some equipment being moved by trucks to unknown destinations by officials of the amnesty office. This prompted the people to revolt, leading to invasion of the facility.
Another resident said the occurrence was brought about by a rumour making the round that the equipment was to be given to only supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which prompted the people to invade the premises.He said their fears were compounded by the movement of the loaded trucks from the premises, so the people, thinking they were about to be short-changed or left out from the ‘sharing,’ went for their own piece of the cake.
What followed was the invasion by hundreds of both the young and old, who started carting away anything in sight. Those who came later in the night were said to have removed toilet seats from the hostels, window frames and doors, among others.Unconfirmed sources said the looting may not be unconnected with political, ethnic and other intrigues that have dogged the centre since its creation, as the Amnesty Office has been used to settle politicians and settle scores.
While many of the coordinators, contractors and big time ex-militant generals smile to the banks with monies from the Amnesty programme, some youths or people from the oil-bearing communities cannot boast of any significant change in their lives.Most Bayelsans believe that coordinators of the programme see their positions as an opportunity to enrich themselves and their families, as well as using them as a political ladder.
Alfred Kemapadei, the Secretary General of Ijaw Youth Congress(IYC) did not see any difference the present administration of
Prof Dokubo is making in the lives of the people the programme was designed for.Condemning the wanton looting in the presence of Amnesty officials and the coordinator, the IYC scribe demanded a probe into activities of the Dokubo-led administration.
He said the looting and vandalisation was orchestrated by Amnesty Office to hide the huge sum of monies they cannot account for since the present administration took over.He wondered how a facility with such huge funds didn’t deem it fit to secure its expensive equipment, saying: “I am super sure that staff of the Amnesty Office are the ones that led the looting of that facility to cover up their track. They should properly be investigated.”
Alogoa Morris, an environmentalist and human rights activist said: “Equally worrisome is the fact that the local government headquarters is right there, and a Caretaker chairman was appointed about two weeks ago.“It is baffling that such a free for all looting and vandalism would take place right at the local government headquarters that is not even in the creeks, a place easily accessed by vehicles, and yet this continued for two days?
“The question is: What was or were the actions taken by the Caretaker chairman of Kolokuma/Opokuma local government? This question is important to put the ugly and unprecedented incident in proper perspective.”Mr. Kennedy Suoye, a resident, said the looting commenced on February 14 and lasted for three days, while security personnel posted to the area to bring the situation under control joined in the looting spree.He said: “The centre was earmarked for official commissioning by President Muhammadu Buhari during his campaign tour to Bayelsa State. But the President could not make it for the commissioning. Some miscreants took advantage of the situation and broke into the place and started looting.”
Not minding the political intrigues that might have also led to the looting, Alagoa, who is also former scribe of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), lamented the level of irresponsibility on the part of the people and government.He said: “Waking up to hear that a Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) fully equipped training centre situated in Boro Town became the latest victim of looting spree was not only shocking, but also makes one to shudder.
“Like an organised crime, the action of those who allegedly came from Delta and Rivers States to join in what appears a successful orgy of looting is still like magic to some of us, as the crime happened in broad daylight and in the night for two days, without arrests, even though men on military uniform were in the facility being vandalised.”While he questioned the roles of government and security agencies in the incident, he frowned at the action and inaction of the Caretaker Committee chairman, where the centre was located.He said: “Whichever way this unfortunate action is viewed on the long run, it will leave a big scar in the collective image of dwellers of this region, especially Bayelsa State.
“In the past, it had been rumoured and reasonably believed, even by government agencies and oil companies, that beneficiaries of skill training programmes often sold the starter packs given to them.“There is a relationship between that belief and this latest incident. Some would be tempted to ask if is this how they will also vandalise property belonging to other private investors.
“Unless something positive is done about this very ugly, roguish and primitive act, it will send the wrong signals. It is a very sad and unfortunate situation.”The state Commissioner for Youths, Udengs Eradiri, while also expressing shock at the development, said he was yet to be briefed by the Amnesty.He said: “I read in the newspapers and social media about the embarrassing incident that happened in Kaiama, which led to wide spread looting of Amnesty equipment in Kaiama.
“I was not officially informed as the Commissioner of youth. So, I am basing my assessment on hearsay. As it is a federal institution, we are constrained to go and find out what happened.”There was also the intriguing change of guards at the centre prior to the looting on February 14. While Esther Boro, an indigene of the town and the liaison officer, was reposted to Yenagoa to head the liaison office there, a Deltan, Jude was brought to replace her.
Esther had many running battles with workers, building contractors and equipment suppliers, all in the bid to ensure that the project was completed to specification for the future of youths.However, early this year, while preparations were ongoing for the official commissioning of the Centre, she was unceremoniously removed as the Facility Manager and replaced with Mr. Gbaboyor Jude from Delta State.
This did not go down well with some of the indigenes, who waited for an opportunity to have their own pound of flesh.One of them asked: “Why on earth would they change the initiators of the project and bring somebody who has no affinity with the project to head the looting spree.”
Another Bayelsan, who simply identified himself as Innocent, said: “I am speechless, shocked and saddened by the sheer monstrosity of what happened in Isaac Boro town in Kaiama. We lack leaders. The Amnesty officials, security forces and our people should all share the responsibility for what happened.“The opportunity to uplift thousands of our youths out of poverty is lost forever. The Kolga and Bayelsa people will pay the price for this unfortunate incident in a very long time.
“I am not surprised though, as that centre had been dogged by ethnic and political intrigues.”More intriguing is that neither the Amnesty Office, the state government or local government had made any official statements on the sad incident that is capable of sending wrong signals to private investors in the state.
In his reaction, the Spokesman to the Coordinator of the Amnesty office, Murphy Ganagana, said it was hoodlums that invaded the place.
He said: “Those trucks they saw leaving the premises were authorised to do so. They were being taken to other distribution centres. Jude did not take out anything for himself; all he did was authorise. Trucks were taken to other states through the Kaiama office to Akwa Ibom, Delta and Cross River, among others.
“Mrs. Boro has been there for years. It is the prerogative of Amnesty Office to transfer any officer to anywhere. That Boro is from that community doesn’t mean the community should dictate to us.“The Mrs. Boro you are talking about is now a Liaison officer for Bayelsa State. Is that not a higher responsibility? There are even series of complaint against that woman from members of her community.”