There is no doubt that when late President Umoru Yar’adua, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, had a sincere desire to move the Niger Delta region forward in such a way that will protect the rights of future generations of citizens, when he, in 2009 or thereabout established the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP).
In line with that belief, the amnesty program, going by reports, introduced a number of strategies including educational and vocational skills training of ex-militants as alternatives to violence and militancy in the region. It was particularly reported that the introduction of education and vocational skills training to ex-militants is an innovative approach to transforming one of the major stakeholders in the conflict—youths. Youths had hitherto been majorly associated with violence and criminality in the region. These approaches have achieved some level of success as violence and militancy have greatly reduced in the region.
That was in the good old days and the teething stage of the programme.
Presently, there are examples with vivid images to support the fact that the Federal Government needs a change in strategy for the Programme to achieve a premeditated objective.
The latest and loudest of such complaint and reservation against PAP came from a special report put together by GbaramatuVoice, a well respected and quietly influential newspaper based in the heart of Warri, the commercial nerve of Delta state, which recently accused Major General Ndiomu, Presidential Amnesty Programme Interim coordinator, of non possession of creative ideas to build on the foundation that his predecessor laid but reputed for generating ‘megawatts of excuses which produces monuments of nothingness.
While it frowned at PAP’s leadership stoppage of their predecessors’ well crafted scholarship scheme that he met on ground, thereby truncating the educational opportunities of many of the ex-agitators, GbaramatuVoice in that report alleged that some of the student beneficiaries of the scholarship who complained about the out-of-ordered way the affairs of the ex-agitators were being managed got suspended without following due process, submitting that General Ndiomu led PAP stop the sixty five thousand monthly stipends of ex-agitators that he met on ground without an alternative solution to, or concern on how these youths will survive- a state of affair it concluded has made the region littered with youths that have no training, empowerment, job and stipend.
Going by the above complaint, it is evident that PAP has become a true fork in the road. And in order to take the right in revamping the programme, the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu led Federal Government must choose the right values and adopt the right perspectives. This is the time for those who see and understand and care and are willing to work to say this time the warnings will not be ignored.
Why GbaramatuVoice’s observation must not be overlooked is that it is coming months after a similar concern was raised by Alabo (Dr.) Nengi OON, 2nd National Vice President, Ijaw National Congress (INC), where he among other concerns underlined that the Presidential Amnesty Program is failing in its responsibilities because it was executed with militarization, rather than with civilization.
Nengi who spoke at a function put together in Warri, Delta state, with the theme; Presidential Amnesty Programme and Modular Refineries; Towards Sustainable Human Capital Development, stated; ‘’that the Amnesty Program is a Presidential policy that was executed with militarization rather than with civilianization. The program was poorly handled by military elements, which lacked capacity for mediation.
“Stakeholders were not given enough opportunities through the Post Amnesty Conference to discuss the best ways to implement the Amnesty Program. The Presidential Amnesty office lacks the personnel with the requisite skills set to manage the Amnesty Program.
“The handlers did not factor-in mediation and conflict transformation. This is sequel to poor strategic conflict assessment of the Niger Delta struggle. Amnesty is no instrument for conflict resolution or conflict management. Amnesty is a general pardon of offence by the government. It is a deliberate overlooking of offenses against a government’’. He concluded.
For me, what the above tells us is that there is something deeply troubling about the Presidential Amnesty Programme that calls for new leadership and development of a new roadmap that will assist restore its health and vitality.
To catalyze this process, this piece holds the opinion that the Federal Government must appreciate the appointment of a new helmsman for the programme from a rights-based perspective. Government must desist from the current non-participatory approach to such appointments and embrace a broad-based consultative approach that will give civil society organizations operating in the region and the people a sense of ownership over their own issues.
This suggestion is based on a very simple reason.
All things being equal, there is a need to step beyond party affiliations and take a look at the region’s fundamental underdevelopment. As clarified by the United Nations Independent Expert on the Right to Development, a development programme directly or indirectly requires a particular process that allows the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights and all fundamental freedoms, by expanding the capabilities and choices of the individual.
In the same vein, there is urgent need to partner with Niger Delta base Non Governmental Organization and other development minded professionals in the present quest.
Aside from the age-long belief that if one wants to know about the road ahead, he/she must ask those returning, non-profit organizations working in the region and have been able to establish beyond reasonable doubts that NGOs provide platforms for pursuing the truth, peace, creation and distribution of ideas in the same way that government does for the people.
Again, like other Nigerians with critical interest, I believed and still believe that the viability of such an office depends on the appointment of a development-minded fellow who is respected by the people and lives around the creeks. Those that have in the past coordinated the programmes were all Niger Deltans, but none of them were connected to the grassroots, especially the people living in the coastal areas.
The destiny of the people of the Niger Delta is not in the hands of the ‘city boys,’ but on the government’s ability to summon the political will to appoint somebody who is from the region and accepted by the people. Mr. President and his aides need to understand that the old concept of an amnesty programme, with focus almost solely on ex-militants and geopolitics, has to be enlarged to accommodate more of the professionally-trained ex-militants who are unemployed at present, as well as youths who were not of age as of the time the programme was introduced.
The underlying objective of this piece is not to chastise any individual or group. Rather, what is happening is merely an important phase of transition. It is aimed at bringing the obnoxious negative peace in the programme to surface where it can be seen and treated. Just like a boil can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicine of air and light. This piece holds the opinion that injustice in the amnesty programme must likewise be exposed, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
As noted in my previous intervention on a similar topic, the questions begging for answer(s) are; how long was the Presidential Amnesty Programme initially structured to last? How many Ex-Militants were originally enlisted for the programme? How many have been trained? How many are still undergoing training? What stage is the programme; Disarmament and demobilization process, rehabilitation/ training processes, or the Strategic Implementations/ Action Plan for the holistic development of Niger Delta as a region?
How many of the Ex-Militants are currently receiving allowance? What is the amount? Is it the same amount approved right in 2008 or has it been reviewed? What is the fate of those that were youthful then, but today mature adults with families? Are they still dependent on the stipend as approved in 2009 or has the Amnesty Office reviewed such allowances upward to accommodate their new status?
The result to the above question will in no small ways assist act as a compass for the present Federal Government, but in the interim, there are other challenges that need to be addressed before the program can be regarded as fully successful and they are in this order; ‘Employment opportunities must be provided for ex-militants, and combatants who have not been accommodated by the program should be catered for, to prevent a return to violence and militancy. With this, ex-militants will become change agents that will spur peace and development in Nigeria’s post-conflict Niger Delta.’