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Niger Deltans’ discordant voice on Amnesty Programme: Whether to be or not

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GbaramatuVoice engaged its audience recently on its different social media platforms on a heartfelt issue concerning the Presidential Amnesty Programme, implemented by the Federal Government in 2009 to tame uprising among youths in the Niger Delta, who were given for Resource Control.

The thrust of the discourse was ’11 YEARS AFTER, HAS THE AMNESTY PROGRAMME ACHIEVED ITS OBJECTIVES?’, aimed to explore how far the programme had excelled and point out ways to make amend, where necessary. The audience gave their point-of-view on the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) dating back to 2009, till date.

It is believed that the programme isn’t serving the purpose it was created. Persons in this line of thought said the programme has failed; it has been turned to a feasting ground for privileged ex-agitators and successive coordinators of the scheme. The question of where all the promises made during the disarmament have gone to could not be over emphasised. The promises were made by the Federal Government.

Some of the issues pointed out were that foreign training for the ex-agitators has stopped, those who attended some training graduated without certificate because they were sent to quack schools and training centres; the Amnesty Programme has turned the recipients to crumb eaters, defocused to think of about N65, 000 monthly stipend.

The privileged ones become usurpers and eschew anything that has to do with the general welfare of the Niger Delta. Some persons said that it was unbecoming when the oppressed people of the Niger Delta are talking of peace in the hands of exploitative authorities. One person said that the Amnesty Programme has now turned out to be the development the people craved for; no one is talking about development anymore.

The voices asked their people to be wise, while dancing the amnesty masquerade. According to a contributor, “Amnesty ought to be a medium to equip ourselves against the bad government in the future. But it has turned us fools than as expected by the Nigerian government. What a pity!”

The voices of the participants are itemized as follows:

1. Comrade Ozobo Austin, President, Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative (IPDI):

To the Nigerian government, the amnesty programme is succeeding, as there is relative peace in the region and since the exploitation of the region is going on unchecked. But to the Niger Delta region, we are depreciating in terms of development as expected. Ex-agitators exploit fellow brothers, remove real agitators’ names and replace it with other loyal brothers or friends. The confusion in the programme is retrogression in the well organized struggle. Agitators purportedly trained are not qualified to get employed in the labour market, or could not practice what was taught. They deliberately did it this way to continue to fool the region and to retard development of human resources in the region. So that they will continue to flood our oil companies with their people in the far north and the southwest. Have you taken time to find out whether they have certificate? or qualify to practice what they were trained on? Let me tell you some of them were sent to schools and training centres that were not accredited. Some were sent to training centres that do not have any facilities and instructors. They spent their time in busy enjoying their training allowances till they returned to Nigeria without certificate. So what do you expect such persons to do? This made the programme to fail. The government that does not have target for the programme should be blamed. Apart from the few deported, many were sent to schools and training centres that were not accredited or equipped. The issue is beyond the few deported. This has been said and that successive coordinators have turned the programme to a feasting ground. It happened in Kuku regime. I received calls from ex-agitators from South Africa, Ghana and also from Cameroon complaining that the training centres they were sent to had no instructors and no facilities for what they supposed to be trained. The problem was that various coordinators were after kick backs and do not took time to scrutinize various training centres before awarding such contracts and the other issue is that many of such contracts were awarded to friends and family members who are not accredited or do not have any training centres.

2. Michael Tonlagha: It only brings peace to the region but it does not have impact to people and development. The root cause was due to bad leadership. The painful part of is, most of those aircraft you see today are piloted by pilots that went for this same amnesty programme but you will never see any of our boys. Why? Because those leaders in charge gave those international training to their girlfriends, brothers and sisters and give the local training to those the programme is meant for.

3. Anonymous: First paying 65k in 2009 when garri was 50naira, when a room apartment was N1500 to N2000. Then, some of these boys were not married. Now they are married and some of them, their children are already in secondary school. Some, their children are in the university. Still on 65k for 11 years. When these boys carried guns for years, they had a lot while in the camp (free food, time-off and salaries). Now you brought them out and gave them 65k for 11years. Niger Delta region is really in serious danger, the day these boys will react. It is time to review the Amnesty Programme.

4. Welfare Timinimi: The most disappointing aspect of the programme is that you cannot teach a man to fish where there is no river to fish. How can you train a man without job creation? So where are the industries? More frustrating. They tag us violent people and militarize our environment to maximize the continued exploitation of our resources to sabotage the ambition of Resource Control by refusing to practice true federalism using our own people to ban even peaceful demonstrations infringing on the right to Freedom of Expression. What a sad move?

5. Barr. Alaowei Cleric: On this amnesty brouhaha, to me is a two way issue. The government has tried on its part in a little way. Our people who went to acquire skills through the programme have not utilized what they acquired. Some went to abroad to acquire a particular skill but today they’re seen smoking hard drugs in Ogbe-Ijoh market in Warri and in some other towns. Can’t we make use of the opportunities we have? Just imagine if Igbo people are having these opportunities. On the side of the FG, successive managers of the programme and the FG have abandoned the fundamentals of the programme. The amnesty document as proclaimed by Yar’Adua was in three phases. Phase 1 is the Disarmament and Demobilization process; phase 2 is Rehabilitation which is the training processes we are, while phase 3 which they have abandoned is the Strategic Implementation Action Plan. This last phase was designed to massively develop the Niger Delta. Some of the ex-militants’ leaders who are aware of this arrangement are being swayed by the monetary benefits in the programme. Today nobody is talking about the third phase because of the monetary benefits they’re enjoying. Until we tell ourselves the gory truth, we will continue to face this problem. So these dissenting minds think the FG has not developed the Ijaw-land or even the Niger Delta? We are our own problem. The amnesty programme has not given us the desired result simply because our people have mismanaged it. Who are the people managing the programme since its declaration if not Ijaw people? Has the FG not been releasing money for the programme? Let us not hide the truth if we must progress. Look at the current occupier of the office. Because he does not have clear policy direction as to how the programme should be managed, he formulated an unpopular policy of empowering fishermen with engine and fishing materials wherein billions of naira purportedly sunk in (just to fleece the treasury). Is that also caused by Buhari or northerners? Me, I have said it in several occasions that I owe no one in saying the truth. We should not blame the FG for the failure in the amnesty programme, please. The so-called Buhari that we tagged as ‘Ijawphobe’ has been releasing money for the amnesty programme. How is the programme being run should not be blamed on him, especially if the managers have failed.

6. Barr. Larry Malemi: If I may ask, was it Northerners, Westerners or Easterners that were in charge of the Amnesty Programme? Or was it our own people? That’s to say we are the cause of our own problems. The Federal Government has really not done badly. Just that our own people who had the opportunity of managing the programme became overwhelmed with the enormity of funds available at their disposal and since there was no clear plan to specifically advance and improve the capacity of our youths, failure became inevitable. We caused the failure of the Amnesty Programme for selfish and short-sighted reasons. Too bad.

7. Timi: I stand to be corrected. I myself, I am not a beneficiary. But if the truth is told, if these young agitators were immediately engaged after their training, all this smoking and gallivanting here and there won’t be seen. Because there is this saying that goes this way, “An idle mind is the Devil’s Workshop”. Also to some of them, it’s already a habit. Again the person in charge, that is the person our warlord, placed in charge of the programme; and this is our problem.

8. Amb Truston Gbenekama: To everything there is a purpose. The amnesty programme has a purpose. To the FG, the program is working because there is relative peace forgetting that peace is not the absence of war but the presence of Justice, as according to Martin Luther King Jr. To the region and the agitators, the programme has not fulfilled their expectations. However, from my assessment the programme did better during Kingsley Kuku’s era than BORO and Prof’s regime. The programme itself, is designed with a good intention but the latent function of the programme is to continue their usually exploitation and the sole aim to divide and rule the region. Nevertheless the programme has helped some persons to achieve certain development in life. The worst part is that you teach a man to fish where there is no river; the man is still handicapped because he/she cannot utilize the experience. The first phase of the programme was successful carried out by the FG Disarmament, but the second phase and the third phase they failed to implement in full, rather politicking with our natural resources. The programme lost its focus when those who were not fully in touch with agitation were given political appointment as Coordinator and Special Adviser to President on Amnesty programme.

9. Comr. Yangaboy Jonathan: Sometimes, I feel like beating myself mercilessly for thinking once in a while that, the Federal Government and other tribes are the problem of the Niger Delta or Ijaw nation. For some time now, my point has been self-examination and sober reflection. This fetched me enemies beyond boundaries. The enemies of Ijaw development are the ‘generals’ we celebrate, the politicians we call good men, the chiefs we call fathers and the contractors we have. Until, we sit ourselves down and talk sense into our hearts, Ijaw will continue to be a story readers would read in sorrow.

10. Hon. Friday Bobo: The programme was actually meant for the development of the Niger Delta region in general terms. I mean both human and infrastructural developments. Fine, beneficiaries are still having their meager monthly N65000 payment. But my question is, is that what the government calls the ‘human capital development’? And on infrastructure, what have we seen on ground anywhere? I, for one, would want to be of the candid opinion that:

a. Structures, even if it’s a 3bedroom bungalow apartment each, be built for each beneficiary in their own villages/communities, because the payment won’t last for a life time. And that alone will bring a reasonable development first as most of those guys don’t even have a place to lay their heads in their various communities.

b. The Federal Government should have a developmental blueprint of the Niger Delta Region.

11. Comr Ariaga Dennis: The amnesty programme is a welcome development, but the aim has not been achieved so far. The programme has enriched some individuals especially the amnesty coordinators and some of the ‘generals’, but the boys whom they paid stipend, nothing to show for it. So the way forward is to rehabilitate, re- integrate, train, re-train and engage them with a good job at the federal level, state and multinational oil companies in the Niger Delta to bring lasting peace in the Niger Delta region.

12. Mamawei Ibadenyefa Philip: I think my own opinion; first and foremost our leaders have failed us in terms of handling the amnesty programme. No one of the amnesty beneficiary has been well empowered or employed by the office. However, it’s no more Niger Delta amnesty programme but Nigeria amnesty programme. The amnesty beneficiaries are really suffering, none of the beneficiaries is happy the way the programme is being handled. The way forward is, let all our leaders come together with voice for the programme to achieve its mandate. The leaders in the Niger Delta should keep their differences and work together as one voice in the region. Since the inception of this programme, none of the amnesty beneficiaries is well engaged except their monthly stipends.

13. Mr. Air: The Armnesty programme is not achieving its purpose today, because of the politicisation of it and the selfishness on the part of those being saddled with the powers to man its affairs. The purpose of the PAP will not be fully achieved until every (oil producing) indigenes of the Niger Delta are made to benefit from it. Most of the today beneficiaries, are the real members of the repentant militants. But those repentant militants are not the only youths or soon to be militants in the region; so in my views, the PAP should be re-packaged in a way that the whole of Niger Delta youths will benefit from it in one way or the other. This is to avoid re-occurring militancy across the Niger Delta states.

14. Pst Abraham Tebiano: I think we can’t totally write it off, despite the fact that some of the main objectives of the programme are not being carried out. This doesn’t mean that it hasn’t helped in one way or other. But having said that looking at the large sum of money deployed to the board, it has failed in some ways. I said so because most of our people who are at the helm of affairs are not fair in their dealings and operation of the programme. I learnt that even the slots, which are made to help develop our youth in the Niger Delta, are sold out. It is so painful. But in all, I give the programme so far 67%.

15. Godspower Imoun Tonlagha: The amnesty has become a fraudulent platform because of its leadership. Most of the Niger Delta guys who went to Obubra in the year 2010, who believed they will not be paid till now, and the amnesty office is saying nothing about them. So, for me, it’s a fraudulent platform because of its leadership.

16. Mamawei Ibadenyefa Philip: Again, I agree with the persons that said the amnesty programme is a scam. Yes, the programme is a scam in the sense that (whereby) a beneficiary is empowered with 500k and five million naira is written on his behalf as empowerment. That is a big scam. In some cases the contractors still collect five percent to settle their workers from the 500k. If the office is not part of this criminal act, they could have set a committee to monitor the so-called contractors. However, all the so-called workers in office are all car owners of their choice. The people that ‘own’ the programme (PAP) can’t even afford to buy a rickety moor. As a matter of fact, the chairman of the programme should go to the original agreement for the programme to achieve its mandate. The chairman should also look into the housing scheme and other allowances met for the beneficiaries, not only their monthly stipends. Another critical point to note, apart from the Hon. Kingsley Kuku’s era, people are no more going to school abroad even in vocational training. Where is the so-called N65b going to?

17. Perez Williams: In my opinion, the amnesty program is diversionary and a carrot and stick approach to the Niger Delta question. Maybe we should go back to the question of why the agitations in the first place. I believe government entered into the pact with the freedom fighters for them to sheathe their swords, disarm while government embarks on remediation exercises and address reasons for the agitations headlong. But years after its birth, is the Niger Delta better off? Are the beneficiaries self-sufficient or gainfully employed? Are the hitherto revered freedom fighters still treated and recognized as great fellas? A lot of questions begging for answers.