AMNESTY: Again, tension mounts in Niger Delta
• Absence of coordinator stalls programme
• 2000 ex-militants stranded in UK
• Lufthansa drops 13 trainee pilots
• ‘Office has over N10b unspent funds’
• FG breaking peace pact, say Ijaw youths
• MEND commanders meet tomorrow
TROUBLE is brewing in the Niger Delta, as administrative lull in the Amnesty Office stalls disbursement of funds for ex-militants.
Investigations showed that the militants, who accepted the late President Umaru Yar’Adua/former President Goodluck Jonathan’s offer of amnesty in August 2009 and were placed on monthly stipend, have not been paid in the last three months due to absence of an authorising signatory.
Already, leaders and unit commanders of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) are scheduled to hold what one of them called “a strategic meeting” tomorrow in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
Ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, convened the meeting of ex-generals of the movement, which, it was gathered, will revive the activities of MEND and discuss the state of the nation in relation to the Niger Delta.
The meeting was scheduled just as the Presidency reportedly said it would probe only Jonathan’s administration to avoid what could turn out an endless search.
Former Special Adviser to immediate past President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Mr. Kinsley Kuku, had left office with Jonathan, who, as vice president under Ya’Adua, co-founded the scheme in 2009 to assuage militants, who were ready to lay down their arms at the time. President Muhammadu Buhari, in his inaugural speech, affirmed the programme’s December 2015 terminal date, but did not disclose any ‘exit strategy’ that would ensure that outstanding commitments are cleared.
“The amnesty programme in the Niger Delta is due to end in December, but the government intends to invest heavily in the projects, and programmes currently in place,’ the President said.
“I call on the leadership and people in these areas to cooperate with the state and federal governments in the rehabilitation programmes, which will be streamlined and made more effective. As ever, I am ready to listen to grievances of my fellow Nigerians. I extend my hand of fellowship to them so that we can bring peace and build prosperity for our people.”
However, no appointments have been made to fill the gap created by Kuku’s ‘resignation.’
The Guardian gathered that Lufthansa, a German airline, has dropped 13 trainee-pilots following the failure of the Federal Government to pay up their fees.
Also thousands and thousands of other ex-militants on overseas training have been thrown out by the foreign institutions, with a handful of them returning to Niger Delta in the last few weeks. Broke and restive, the militants’ presence in the region is creating palpable fear among communities, The Guardian was told.
Mr. Amangala Joshua, an ex-militant, who said he and 2000 others were thrown out of the Liverpool’s John Moores University, last Sunday, led a handful of his colleagues back to the country.
He said there are over 2000 of them, spread across several institutions in the United Kingdom, who could no longer pay their fees or monthly accommodation. “Specifically, there are 11 of us in my own school,” Amangala said on telephone yesterday.
At government’s expense, through the Amnesty Office, many of the ex-militants are on postgraduate scholarship programmes in South Africa, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Russia and United States of America (USA).
A substantial number of youths were also sent to Israel for agricultural training; India, for information and communication technology (ICT) and to Poland, for crane operation and pipeline welding.
Mr Timi Alaibe was the first Special Adviser on Niger Delta during Yar’Adua’s administration. He also coordinated the PAP.
According to Amangala, thousands of other militants in the UK and U.S., who now face visa violations, are struggling to survive, and possibly return to Nigeria.
In the UK — a welfare state — for example, some of them have been placed on ‘food stamp;’ but the situation remains different in the U.S., where many, after having their training stalled, face accommodation and self-maintenance crisis.
Some concerned individuals in the Niger Delta — including the President of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Udengs Eradiri, and former Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to Chairman of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), Prince Monday Whiskey — yesterday insisted that the Amnesty Office has more than enough funds to avoid truncation of the programme and possible unrest in the Niger Delta region only if Buhari would authorise someone to sign for immediate disbursement of funds.
Eradiri said he was worried about the way the current leadership of the country manages issues affecting the Niger Delta. Alleging a breach, by the Federal Government, of the peace agreement with the Niger Delta people, Eradiri stressed that the President’s promise of good governance was anchored on the hope of unfettered flow of oil from the region.
“Yesterday (Tuesday), I was on telephone with our students in London appealing to them not to protest,” he said.
“Actually, there is money in the Amnesty Office, but there is nobody to sign it; Nigerians working in the office are yet to receive their salary. Our boys are not able to pay for monthly accommodation and they are thrown out. Some of them are in court with their landlords. Lufthansa has dropped 13 of our boys.
“As I speak to you, I am under immense pressure in the Niger Delta because a lot of young people are annoyed and we are still begging them,” Eradiri disclosed.
The IYC president, however, stressed: “There is a limit to which we can guarantee peace in the region (because) the Federal Government is breaking the peace agreement.’’
Eradiri also pointed out that Jonathan erred in merging the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and that of the Coordinator of the Amnesty programme. “This was wrong,” he said. According to him, “one is political; the other is not. We need to put someone who has knowledge about the struggle in the Niger Delta to coordinate it; the job is too tedious for one person,” Eradiri said.
Amangala, the ex-militant who returned from the UK with some of his colleagues on Sunday, said “there is more than N10 billion in the (Amnesty) office account, but (there is) no authority to approve it. Authorise the Permanent Secretary in the Villa to help us out,’ Amangala pleaded with the President.
Also confirming that 13 pilot trainees have been dropped by Lufthansa, Whiskey, a Niger Delta activist, in a telephone chat described as an aberration the approval by the National Assembly, of 15 advisers for the President when there was no arrangement for the Amnesty programme.
According to Whiskey, “there is tension everywhere, but our prayer is that it will not grow into full-blown crisis, because government itself has not shown enough commitment.
“If you removed the head of that office, it is necessary you appoint someone almost immediately; or you appoint somebody to be a signatory. The best option is to appoint an adviser who should be answerable to Mr. President and also serve as chairman of the President’s amnesty committee.
“We cannot fathom any reason why the president would gloss over such a sensitive issue. We agree that he needs to take his time but there are some issues where he must be very assertive.”
The Guardian sought clarifications from the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Shehu Garba, who was still on state tour of the United States, at the time. He promised to come up with details once he clarified some of the issues raised by the Niger Delta stakeholders.
Also, the official response to the electronic mail sent to the State House on the issue had not been received at press time.