Wednesday last week, influential Niger Delta indigenes, including traditional rulers, religious and opinion leaders, intellectuals, community and youth leaders, gathered Lagos in response to a call by the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo, to rub minds on how to deepen peace in the hitherto volatile Niger Delta and pave way for socio-economic development. Dokubo set the ball rolling, giving background information on the proclamation of presidential amnesty for ex-agitators, the objectives of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, and the journey so far. He said President Muhammadu Buhari handed him a mandate to speedily retool the Amnesty Programme to make it more robust and impactful for the enlisted former agitators in the Niger Delta region with the ultimate goal of achieving sustainable development in all facets of the region.
He noted that the prevailing peace in the region is indicative of the successes so far recorded by the Amnesty Programme, which has made the region a peaceful part of the country and conducive for development.
He said: “I commend most honestly, the initiators of the Presidential Amnesty Programme. It is not a secret that the Programme has since 2010 aided the attainment of relative peace, safety and security in the Niger Delta.
Today, the region, once noted for its volatility, may well be regarded as the most peaceful part of Nigeria.
“Since inception, the Amnesty Programme, to a reasonable extent, has achieved its core mandate of aiding the processes of building and sustaining peace and safety in the Niger Delta and the entire Gulf of Guinea.
I am not saying that we have attained perfection or Eldorado of sorts; I am only saying that the situation would have been far worse in the region and of course for the economy of our dear country.
I do not believe that there is anyone here who is not aware that prior to the proclamation of unconditional amnesty for former agitators in the Niger Delta in 2009, disruptions in the exploration, processing, and export of crude oil almost brought our economy to a standstill.
“Unfortunately, Nigeria’s economy, which largely depends on earnings from oil exports, hemorrhaged very badly during this sad era of militancy.
I have since found out that the situation got so bad that on a particular day in 2008, Nigeria was only able to produce 700,000 barrels of crude oil.
Today, owing to the success of the Amnesty Programme, Nigeria is now able to meet its current OPEC Quota of 2.2 Million Barrels per day.
We must all thank, most profusely, the ex-agitators in the Niger Delta who have continued to keep the peace in accordance with the pact they entered into with the Federal Government after accepting the offer of amnesty.”
Dokubo said from findings and recommendations of a committee he constituted on assumption of office to review the Amnesty Programme, as well as his interactions with key stakeholders, including the leadership of the ex-agitators, he mapped out his priority, which included the completion and activation of all the vocational training centres under construction across the states in the Niger Delta to fast-track the training of several beneficiaries awaiting skills acquisition, and empowerment through the provision of start-up packs and mentoring for several of the already trained and qualified ex-agitators to become entrepreneurs and possibly employ others.
He explained that also dear to his heart is the sanitization of the Education Department of the Amnesty Office to make it more impactful and cost-effective; restoring the certainty and sanctity of the database of the Presidential Amnesty Programme with strong measures in place to deter and forestall future breaches; holding regular consultative meetings with the Programmes’ critical stakeholders, and effective liaison with Governments of the states in the Niger Delta with a view to creating platforms for gainful employment for already trained ex-agitators.
He also gave an insight into some salient issues regarding the unending clamor for the enlistment of more persons into the Amnesty Programme, operations of the Amnesty Office and terminal date for the programme.
“Since assuming office as the Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, I have spent quality time studying all documents I have been able to lay my hands on regarding the Amnesty Programme and I have decided to address three critical issues that tend to confound or confuse even the most knowledgeable stakeholders of the Programme.
Out that of the 30,000 persons enlisted in the Presidential Amnesty Programme, 11,297 persons are still in the queue, waiting to be placed in either vocational training facilities or sent to tertiary institutions for formal education.
“Since I assumed office, I have been inundated with requests and petitions calling for inclusions of supposedly excluded persons in the Amnesty Programme.
In my early days on the job, I never saw anything wrong in the requests. In fact, I still do not see anything wrong in the inclusion of more persons in the programme.
However, permit me to clarify here and now that I have also since found out that the Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme has no powers whatsoever to include even one person in the Amnesty Programme.
The power of further inclusions resides with His Excellency, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces alone. Let me further clarify that the enlistment in the Programme was largely based on the number of arms and ammunition returned to the Federal Government within a stipulated period. Enlistment into the Amnesty Programme was not done on a state-by-state basis.
I have heard some people ask: why does a particular state or one ethnic group have more persons in the programme than the other.
The simple answer is that enlistment was done by the personnel of the Armed Forces of Nigeria during the amnesty window based on the number of weapons surrendered by the ex-agitators irrespective of their states of origin or the ethnic nationality they come from.”
On the issue of a terminal date for the Amnesty Programme, Dokubo said: “To be candid, discussing the exit date for the DDR component of the Amnesty Programme is a rather tenuous topic. But that does not mean that it should not be discussed.
I strongly recommend that this discussion holds only after all the enlisted ex-agitators would have been given vocational training or offered an opportunity of acquiring formal education.
Even more important, I strongly believe that the discussions on the exit date for the programme would be driven by the number of ex-agitators we are able to facilitate their gainful employment or empowerment at the shortest time possible.”
On the reason he invited traditional rulers and other stakeholders, he said: “I have come to the conclusion that the Amnesty Programme would be better managed and better results achieved if managers of the Programme work very closely with leaders in the Niger Delta.
I intend to work very closely with you leaders in the region and other key stakeholders of the Amnesty Programme.
Today’s family meeting is just the very beginning of several consultative meetings that I intend to henceforth regularly hold with leaders of our region and other stakeholders.
I am determined to radically improve on what I met on the ground at the Amnesty Office.
I truly cannot achieve much without your help. I implore you, in the name of God and for the sake of our region, to carefully and quietly draw my attention to things or situations you perceive that are not moving towards the direction you expect.”
Pastor Power Aginighan, a former acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), described the meeting as a novel. “Dokubo’s initiative of holding the meeting is a most commendable move. What he has done is bridging the gap and it is commendable.
It is a novel idea; it’s first of its kind, a bold and courageous move, and I commend him for that.
I am persuaded that he has got a clear understanding; his passion, depth of knowledge, his personal experience in the Niger Delta as one raised from the creeks of the region, I am very convinced that the amnesty programme is heading for better days.
My message to the people of the Niger Delta is to give Prof. Charles Dokubo a chance to prove his mettle.
They should cooperate with him. He is humble and we should support him with ideas, not the Pull-Him-Down syndrome that has characterized we from the Niger Delta; it is time we move to the next level.”
Ambassador Godknows Ighali, an ex-federal permanent secretary, and presidential adviser echo Aginighan. Describing Dokubo’s initiative as fantastic, he said the Amnesty Programme has had several coordinators since inception but none deemed it necessary to organize such an event.
“Dokubo’s initiative is fantastic; all the critical stakeholders are here from different ethnic groups and states, so I think it is something that all of us should key in and this is the right time.
The main thing is for us to key in, because Niger Delta has a knack for pulling people down; we know pulling down is a general phenomenon in Nigeria, but Niger Deltans have a penchant for pulling one another. We have to give him a chance and understand him.
This man is not a politician; everyone who has held that office was a politician, but this man has come in with an intellectual flair and we have to listen to him and key in.”
King Alfred Diete Spiff, a former military governor of old Rivers State, paramount ruler of Twon Brass kingdom and chairman, Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers, says Dokubo hit the ground running.
“Well, it shows there an action man on board at the Amnesty Programme; he is a very experienced man in the area of resolution of conflicts and we should give him every support.
In my capacity as chairman of a Chieftaincy Council, I will table this before my council later this month when we have our monthly meetings.”
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Economic Matters, Edobor Iyamu, hailed Dokubo for his commitment.
“From what I have observed, I think he is ready to work, he is passionate about what he is doing and he has mapped out quite a number of initiatives that will promote development in the Niger Delta region.
His emphasis during the meeting seemed to be in the area of vocational training and retraining.
All of these, no doubt, will address a lot of issues in the region. Mr. President himself is committed to ensuring that development comes to the region; that is why we came up with a new vision for the Niger Delta.”
To be sure, it is not yet Uhuru for the people of Niger Delta, but leaders of today say they have seen light at the end of the tunnel of the Presidential Amnesty Programme. Their optimism is indeed, not misplaced.”