Niger Delta

Niger Delta: We Support Restructuring Of Amnesty Programme, Ex-militant Leader

By Akanimo Sampson

Ex-militant leader Para Ekiye

A vast majority of the repentant armed militias in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s main oil and gas region who were allegedly excluded in the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) are agog with joy as there is a high-level move to restructure the Programme.

They are however, demanding that they be fairly and justly accommodated in a restructured PAP as a veritable vehicle of ensuring enduring peace in the oil region.

One of ex-war lords, General Para Ekiye, said in a telephone interview this Monday that lords of the creeks are ‘’in total support of the move to restructure PAP. For this bold move, we are giving our support to President Muhammadu Buhari.’’

Adding, he said, ‘’we are hoping that the restructuring effort will effectively accommodate us, and make greater use of us bringing about development in the Niger Delta in an atmosphere of peace.’’

PAP Coordinator, Milland Dikio, a retired Army Colonel, who is currently enjoying mass support of the excluded ex-agitators says, ‘’as currently structured, the Amnesty Programme is not sustainable and cannot deliver the desired long-term benefit to the region and the country.

“Consistent with the Strategic Objectives of the Federal Government, the vision of the Administrator is to refocus the Programme to its original mandate of development and security of the Niger Delta region.”

This is coming as President Buhari reportedly lost 100,000 of his followers on Twitter the previous week due to the obnoxious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police. But, he seems to be gaining more support among the restive circles of the oil and gas region.

President Buhari’s decision to overhaul PAP for the repentant Niger Delta militants is boosting his image among the ex-agitators who laid down their arms in support of the government amnesty.

Ekiye, who is mobilising broader support for President Buhari and Dikio, in the creeks of the Niger Delta, criss-crossed by a network of oil pipelines, told this reporter that most of the ex-agitators are excited.

Buhari’s overhaul bid is with the aim of ensuring that the dividends of the Amnesty Programme reach its original target beneficiaries.

Before now, there were guarded whispers in some quarters that the Buhari administration was planning to abort the Amnesty Programme, an initiative adopted to provide support, education and training to repentant militants.

Despite the programme’s institutional shortcomings, a Senior Political Economy Analyst and Visiting Fellow at the LSE Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa, Dr Uche Igwe, argues that an abrupt termination of PAP may plunge Africa’s biggest oil producer back into another avoidable conflict and economic crisis.

According to Igwe, ‘’prior to the declaration of the amnesty programme by the Yar’Adua administration in 2009, it was reported that the volume of production of crude oil in Nigeria came down to about 700,000 barrels per day from a production level of potential 2.2 million barrels per day as a result of militancy. This meant that the country was losing about 1.5 million barrels per day.

‘’At an inflation adjusted annual oil price of $64.16 per barrel (2009) this amounted to $96.24 million per day ($1.00 = N148.9), which amounted to N14.33 billion per day at that time. In the unlikely event of a reversal to such an era at the current oil price, such a loss will amount to $63 million which will be N24 billion daily ($1.00 = N381.0) and approximately N8.761 trillion per annum.

‘’The current annual budget of the amnesty programme is about N65 billion, and it is estimated that PAP has cost the Federal Government about N715 billion since its inception. How then can anyone attempt to save N65 billion and risk a potential loss of N8.761 trillion? That will be voodoo economics!’’

According to the erudite scholar, ‘’it is probably true that the PAP programme counts as one of the most expensive of such programmes anywhere in the world. But such an argument also falls flat before the benefits, even if it has perhaps been run in a manner that is both ineffective and grossly inefficient.

‘’These findings re-echo the observations by an assessment report recently released by Nextier Advisory, a firm based in Nigeria’s capital Abuja. Yet some commentators may want to argue that whereas the whole idea of ‘buying’ peace with money may appear offensive to some, and unsustainable in the context of our poverty dynamics, one may find justification in its benefits to the nation and social gains to the region.’’

Nextier Advisory is however, a multi-competency advisory firm with a primary focus on agriculture, power and petroleum. With offices in Abuja, Enugu, and Lagos, it provides a full range of services to its clients with a goal of becoming their most trusted advisor.

Continuing, Igwe said, ‘’one could argue it has given rise to some inexplicable entitlement mentality which has led to the perception that government is quick to reward criminality. May be. Such a dangerous trend could potentially affect the morale of law-abiding citizens who might begin to consider delinquency as a survival option.

‘’It might also have contributed to providing some justification for young people from other parts of the country to take up arms against the state, hoping to be compensated one way or another. However, I am prepared to argue that the conflict in the Niger Delta is in many ways unique with both complex security and economic implications. It differs significantly from what we have seen elsewhere. It will therefore be necessary for the government to fully recognise the probable consequences of any decision to tinker with PAP before going ahead to do so.’’

However, though President Buhari lost quite a large number of his followers on Twitter, he appears to be gaining more followers among Niger Delta militants who can unsettle the country’s economy once they open attack on oil facilities.

Some protesters were even giving the EndSARS campaign a new twist by asking Buhari’s followers on Twitter to un-follow him and his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo.

Nigerian youths have been on the streets since Thursday agitating for the scrapping of SARS nationwide. But the Buhari administration only promised to reform the hated police outfit, notorious for harassing, torturing, and extra-judicial killing of citizens.

Triumphantly, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on Sunday announced the dissolution of SARS. He made the announcement around 1.30 pm at the Force Headquarters in Abuja, pointing out that the police unit is dissolved across all formations, the 36 state commands, and the Federal Capital Territory.

Adamu said officers and men currently serving in the unit are to be redeployed with immediate effect, disclosing that new policing arrangements to address the offences of armed robbery and other violent crimes will be presented in due course.

Nigerians have staged protests across the country to demand the scrapping of the controversial police unit over protracted killings and brutality.

While they were intensifying pressure on the Buhari administration to disband it, Ekiye said ex-militants want retired Colonel Dikio to open a credible channel of communication between the Amnesty Programme’s office in Abuja, and the ex-agitators in the creeks in a bid to smoothen relations.

‘’We will also like President Buhari to empower Dikio more by making him his Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, and speedily confirm his appointment as the PAP boss’’, Ekiye said.

Continuing, Ekiye said they are worried that the Programme is currently owing contractors N71,411,646,210.68.

‘’This is the kind of nonsense that informs Mr. President’s quest to overhaul the Programme. We will support him to ensure that the Programme succeeds once we are carried along’’, the ex-militant leader said.

Dikio however met with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, last week where he disclosed that PAP was indebted to contractors to the tune of N71.4 billion.

He stated that the Programme hitherto meant to train and rehabilitate ex-agitators had deviated from its original plan owing to corruption in the management of its affairs.

The Amnesty Programme was set up by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua administration. It was designed to last for a few years within which militants will be disarmed, demobilised and reintegrated into civil society.

“Immediately after the disarmament phase, challenges including endemic corruption cropped in and derailed the Programme’’, Dikio said, adding, “lack of enough funds and corruption were blamed for impeding the effective operationalisation of the Programme.

‘’Regrettably, the Programme has now been running for 11 years without the desired benefits delivered to the ex-agitators. Rather, the ex-agitator database was dishonestly corrupted and several contracts were awarded in total disregard of need and procurement processes.’’

Dikio notes that the success of the Programme was predicated on its ability to move ex-agitators from their previous lifestyles to sustainable livelihoods as peaceful members of their communities, and by extension contributors to the Nigerian economy.

Decrying that not much progress has been made in the area of demobilisation, and reintegration, the retired Army Colonel pointed out that PAP is not sustainable under its existing form.

According to him, ‘’reports have shown that not much progress has been recorded in some aspects of the demobilisation and reintegration components of PAP. To address this, the need to focus on education and vocational training in ways that the benefits are channeled through a transparent, accountable, corrupt-free and institutionalised process is imperative.’’

Continuing, the PAP Coordination who is enjoying mass support of the excluded ex-agitators says, ‘’as currently structured, the Programme is not sustainable and cannot deliver the desired long-term benefit to the region and the country.

“Consistent with the Strategic Objectives of the Federal Government, the vision of the Administrator is to refocus the Amnesty Programme to its original mandate of development and security of the Niger Delta region.”

National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, a retired Army Major General, had noted that though the Programme was structured to redress observed problems facing the oil and gas region arising from sundry ecological and security challenges, it has been subsumed in issues outside of its original conception.

“The predatory instincts of certain individuals came into the fore and the programme was turned upside down and as a result of this, like the administrator has just said, there was a lot of corruption, waste and mismanagement. Within this period, N712 billion was wasted, basically unaccounted for; and this is due to so many issues, corruption being at the fore.

“Now we realised that if the focus of the people who are supposed to drive this Programme is to capsize it by allowing their own personal interest to come in, then we are all going to be in trouble because if the Niger Delta is in trouble, consequently it will extend to the rest of the federation.

“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.

“Therefore we decided to take immediate action by bringing in someone who can take a deep look at the programme; a person with vast experience and we all know the experience of Col. Dikio in this type of issue”, Monguno said.