One of the targets that was vigorously pursued when the Federal Government proclaimed general amnesty for the rampaging Niger Delta militants, on June 25, 2009, was to ensure continuous flow of the black gold-oil- and uninterrupted inflow of cash into the nation’s treasury.
Of course, since the early 70s, oil has largely powered Nigeria’s economy and provided the fillip for growth and development.
And when the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua announced, in a taciturn tone, that the elements who caused wanton destruction of oil facilities and engaged the military in war had been unconditionally pardoned and asked to drop their weapons for rehabilitation and reintegration as a sign of acceptance of the offer, a deadline of three months was also put in place.
However, with the cessation of violence and the beginning of proper negotiation with the ex-agitators, it soon dawned on all that the deadline for the ‘Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration’ of the ex-agitators would require more than the initial three months.
Things changed dramatically also with the entry of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a fellow Niger Delta son, as the first Niger Delta man to become the President following the death of Yar’Adua in 2010.
Thanks to the recommendations of many experts who worked on the Niger Delta issue and the favourable disposition of the Jonathan administration, which saw the need to establish a full office to manage the Amnesty Programme for the Niger Delta ex-agitators, the impacted communities of the region and other non-agitators who had the potential to go to school at home and abroad to horn their skills.
Without doubt, the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, has significantly changed the narratives of parlous the Niger Delta, given hope to the hopeless and raised the skills and capacity of both ex-agitators and non-violent youths as well as opened the eyes of many to the need to take up challenges and improve their lives rather than continue to fight in the creeks for the control of oil and gas-related activities.
With a well planned scheme of training, capacity-building and empowerment programme put in place by the PAP for ex-agitators and youths from impacted communities, many of the Niger Delta people have now been able to access formal education at home and abroad while many have excelled in academics, industry and vocational areas that had hitherto remained unexplored.
Paradoxically, while many forward-looking Niger Delta youths have latched on the PAP to become experts in the areas of aviation, aeronautical engineering, agriculture, business, technology development and general business investments to become masters of their own enterprises and employers of labour and smiling to the bank in the process, many others are fixated on the collection of the N65, 000 stipend doled out by the Presidency monthly as a means of appeasing them not to further engage in malevolent activities.
Those who are heavily dependent on the stipend and would not embark on any venture have also lost touch with the fact that the Amnesty was initially programmed to end after three months.
What has also given this set of Niger Deltans false sense of hope is the fact that more and more elements continue to agitate daily to be enrolled into the PAP so as to collect the N65, 000 monthly stipend, something the Presidency has stoutly rejected after netting no fewer than 30,000 beneficiaries whose biometric it has nonetheless been able to ascertain due to the refusal of the ‘beneficiaries’ to physically present themselves to be captured and put in a database.
Ironically, too, the number of beneficiaries has not declined despite the exit of many of who have now been given start-up kits and others who have been gainfully employed by multi-nationals, private and public institutions, raising the potential that, perhaps, the PAP might be transformed into a permanent institution to continue to pay stipends to unseen beneficiaries.
But the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and the Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Professor Charles Dokubo, has played down on the agitation over the terminal date of the programme, saying that only the Presidency, which set up the programme, has the power to determine when the programme will end.
“I want to say, categorically, that I will not subject myself to any putative terminal date for the Amnesty Programme. It is within the purview of the Federal Government to decide when it will end. They started the programme and they are the ones who will decide when it will end. I only continue to do the work I was given to do,” Dokubo explained in an interview.
Dokubo, a specialist on diplomacy and international affairs, stated that the training given to ex-agitators and youths of the Niger Delta by PAP is to prepare them to be able to set up their own businesses, employ others and live independent lives.
Dokubo added: “What I have done differently is quite clear. Before now, delegates were just trained and allowed to go but since I came into office, I have tried to ensure that delegates are given jobs after training.
“Also, the nature of training has changed in the sense that we are now providing a lot of vocational training centres in the Niger Delta so that our people can easily go and acquire basic skills that can make them to be self-sustaining and stop depending on anyone else or even government and be able to live a decent life.
“There are some trainees we need to give starter-packs once they complete their training. This is because no government can provide employment for all its citizens. What government does at best is to provide an enabling environment so that business can thrive and allow the trainees to work for themselves. That is why we are giving those we train starter-packs and even rent shops for them at the end of their training. We want to see them to have functional businesses that can give them a lee way in life”.
Dokubo, who announced that he had so far trained over 3, 500 natives of the Niger Delta, pointed out that no fewer than 800 of them had been given jobs by the PAP.
“I have trained no fewer than 3, 500 out of which 800 have been placed on relevant jobs. It is not easy to get jobs these days but, because of the nature of the training we have given to them, the trainees were able to get jobs after their vocational training,” the presidential aide disclosed.
Although there are renewed agitations by those who claimed to have laid down their arms and embraced the Amnesty Programme to be captured and pressures from state governments for their recalcitrant supporters, who have ‘accepted’ state-organised amnesty programmes, to be admitted to PAP, Dokubo has rebuffed new entrants into the programme, insisting that only the Presidency can engage new members due to the rising wage bills and other exigencies at a time the budget is running low.
It is left to be seen how long the PAP can hold on to its tough stance and how far the Presidency can withstand the pressure to sustain the programme and pay the cost in order to use oil at a time other countries are looking beyond oil in planning their daily business.
But, perhaps, Nigeria is learning fast and trying to latch on to the global understanding that oil is a depleting asset while the knowledge industry holds even brighter prospect for growth and development.
And, Niger Delta ex-agitators and impacted community youths must however bear in mind that one way or the other, the Presidential Amnesty Programme which currently caters for inelastic 30,000 beneficiaries will definitely come to an end since no country in history has ever run its amnesty scheme indefinitely.
Thus, those who are currently depending on oil and the PAP monthly N65, 000 stipend to directly or vicariously earn a living should begin to learn skills and vocational trades that can help them to live decently and confidently as employers of labour and creators of wealth rather than depend on others as liabilities.
Dokubo believes Nigeria is on the right path to meeting the needs of the Niger Delta in particular with focused vocational and skills training to develop and empower the people to work for themselves and add value to their lives.