Akinaka: Poor execution hampers amnesty
How has the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) fared eight years after?
Having come to an understanding that the various military processes put in place by previous governments and even his own government were not able to solve the security situation in the region, there was need for direct engagement. Perhaps some of us will refer to him President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as the best president this country ever had. He was able to extend his hand of peace and some of us at that level were happy with the approach.
Let me at this stage point out that the intention of the president when he declared amnesty was not to make sure this programme perpetuates itself. It was designed as a one-stop programme and some of us are very much aware though it was not written down, that the late Yar’Adua made a commitment of
N300b as a take-off budget for the programme, so that it could wind up as soon as possible because some people saw it as away of getting employment or empowerment.
Of course you have seen the first, second and third phases, and if government does not stand its ground, we would see the fourth, and fifth phases because there are no jobs in the country.
Let me also state that many people saw it as an opportunity to make money, as even decent people were ready to answer the name militants just to get the N65, 000.
So, Yar’Adua’s intention was that even if it is two or three years, the programme should be run and then wound up and focus shifted to the foundational issues that led to the agitation, which were problems of underdevelopment. The Presidential Amnesty Programme, was just a component of the larger programme itself.
The larger programme had the infrastructural component, which led to the establishment of the Ministry of Niger Delta to tackle the developmental challenges that led to this agitation. It also had the oil and gas component, which the Minister of Petroleum was in charge of. There was also the environmental component, and the Environmental Committee was headed by the then Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey, from Cross River State, who was to oversee the environmental issues.
The programme also had the Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reitegration (DDR) Subcommittee, which had to do with the amnesty component, which was focused on engaging these people, disarming them, rehabilitating them, and reintegrating them back into the society. That was how the issue of training and other things came onboard. There was also the Political Subcommittee that was to discuss the issue of political participation of the region.
These components were supposed to complement one another so that all the issues that led the people taking up arms against the government would be resolved.
Some are of the view that the amnesty programme has failed. Do you share this view?
If you ask me how far the amnesty programme has fared, I will tell you the programme has failed. Why? Because the other components that were supposed to compliment the DDR component so that people will not have reasons to go back to the creeks were not attended to.
The East-West Road as I speak to you, it is worse under this government. You can see the Calabar-Itu axis of the road is bad. These are the kinds of things that made people say no, these cannot be happening. Who is the Minister of Niger Delta? He is from Cross River State, who in his ministry’s budget allocated over N3 billion to Cross River State, N2 billion to Akwa Ibom, N700 million to Rivers
State and a paltry N340 million to Bayelsa State, which is enough to even cause a crisis. So, you can see that we are our own problem. As small as the budget that was provided to you, why don’t you make an even distribution of that money so that you can solve some problems?
Would you say that if there was synergy some of these issues would have been addressed promptly?
That is left for the Amnesty Office to answer, but I can tell you people have been trained and people are being set up to do businesses in different fields. Some of us never had this kind of opportunity that the beneficiaries have. I squatted as a student all through my years in the university, and did odd jobs to raise money. We never had this kind of opportunity.
So, government should put the ex-militants leadership structure together to talk to their boys because government does not know the boys but knows the leaders, who submitted arms and were documented. As it is now, that synergy is not there. I expected at a very dicey political time like this, where you have the likes former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, who never supported the amnesty programme from day one, there is need to close ranks and forge a common front.
Since some of the beneficiaries of the programme appear not sufficiently purged of bad behaviours, can they really fit well into the society?
There was a boy who misbehaved in South Africa by slapping a pilot during his training. He was quickly deported to the country even though remains in the programme. But of course we have many shiny examples of beneficiaries. We have one Bassey Henshaw, from Cross River State, who graduated as the best pilot student. I think he is working at the Nigeria Aviation School, Zaria, now. We have a lot of our pilots who are flying today. Most young boys that were taken to the US have graduated and are working there, doing well, and some got married. We have a lot of them doing so well. We even have a lawyer, who graduated in the First Class Division. He is from Bayelsa State.
We understand there have been issues with funding of the programme. How has it been in the last two years?
The current funding of the programme is not right, even though we understand there are challenges in the economy, but as I earlier said, nothing is too much to give to secure peace in the Niger Delta. There is need to express that extra love for the region. Once that happens, then there will be peace.
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