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Ex-militants’ training in Obubra: Is FG prepared this time?

On Monday, June 21, the first batch of 20,000 ex-militants in the Niger-Delta started disembarking at the Obubra NYSC training camp in Obubra Local Government Area of Cross –River State.

Their arrival signposts the commencement of the rehabilitation and reintegration programme of 20,192 ex-combatants that accepted the Federal Government amnesty, which was proclaimed, last year, by the former President, the late Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua. An analogous attempt by the government in late 2009 to call the ex-militants to camp collapsed due to poor planning.

Saturday Vanguard in this special report looks at the fresh attempt by the government under the supervision of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta and Coordinator of the Post-Amnesty Programme, Chief Timi Alaibe to revive the training programme and the real challenge of the post-amnesty programme.

Flash back to The Netherlands

ABOUT five months ago, precisely February, before the death of former President Umaru Yar’Adua, who initiated the post-amnesty programme, at Hague in The Netherlands, the issue reverberated,  as activists, intellectuals, militants, ex-militants, civil-society advocates, leaders and other stakeholders from the Niger-Delta region, Nigeria, who were in the Dutch country for a summit, dubbed, “Niger-Delta Peace Consolidation Conference” organized by The Netherlands-based  Hope for Niger-Delta Campaign (HNDC), a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) ventilated their views.

From the chairman of the defunct Niger-Delta Technical Committee and MOSOP president, Ledum Mitee, national president of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Dr. Atuboyedia Obianime, former Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) president, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, leader of the Niger-Delta People Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, University of Port-Harcourt don and consultant, Dr. Sofri Joab-Peterside, executive director of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Rivers state, Dr. Anyakwee Nsirimovu and  congregation of others, the point of convergence was that the post-amnesty programme, as it was then,  was not properly packaged and the purported training/invitation of ex-militants to camp for  rehabilitation was a sham.

… South-South governors too
Even the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan observed that the most critical aspect of the amnesty programme was not the surrendering of guns by militants but managing the ex-militants thereafter. This was shortly before the South-South governors pulled out of the amnesty programme on the grounds that the Federal Government did not have a concrete post-amnesty programme.

Poor planning
However, putting the problematic in perspective, Dr. Joab Peterside said the problem was that the Federal Government, for unknown reasons, had refused to implement the report of the NTDC, which examined the various reports on the region and pointed the way forward.  He said what should or should not be done were in the report and in the instant case of training of ex-militants, he noted, “It (Federal Government) has set up rehabilitation camps, but, no facilities. In Rivers state where I was a camp consultant commandant for one of the rehabilitation centres. We had 300 trainees with only 150 chairs. It is embarrassing, a chair is just N1, 000 but members of the committee meet once in a month, if they meet twice in a month, they collect N1 million each”

“These are youths brought out from the creeks and nobody is taken care of them, the next thing it to return back to the creeks. We are appealing to the international community to call on the Nigerian government to implement the Niger-Delta Technical Committee Report, which is the will of the Niger-Delta people. It is the key to achieve successful peace in the Niger-Delta.  Communities were destroyed in the course of this struggle, what is happening to them, the military did this purportedly in their bid to eliminate some militants, in advanced countries, and technology has been developed that they can be fished out.

In the part of the country where I come from, in the search of one militant, the military razed down an entire community. What of the women and children that suffered, to what extent is the amnesty programme integrating them. Our government should be held responsible for treating the report with levity”, he added.

Though, the former Minister of Defence, who is also in-charge of the Presidential Committee on Amnesty, Major General Godwin Abbe (rtd) said the programme was on course, it was evident that things were contrary on ground. But he can rightly claim that the amnesty phase was a success while he was there, he cannot say so of the post-amnesty phase under his watch.

Hitting the nail on the head
Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta and current national coordinator of the Post- Amnesty Programme, Chief Timi Alaibe hit the nail on the head, afterwards, when he blamed the lull in the implementation of the programme on lack of proper planning before the announcement of the amnesty, given the fact that the nation was faced with a major crisis in the Niger Delta, at the time.

“We experienced some sort of delay in the programme because there was no structure on ground, no concrete plan document because we were in a crisis”, he stated.
He said government had rejuvenated the programme and that ex-militants would be called to a new camp in June. He had initially said June 1, but, the call-in started June 21. The good thing is that the programme has started. However, the most important thing is how well prepared is the government for the training programme for ex-militants. If it gets this very phase right, the post-amnesty programme will collapse, but, if it’s not bungled, President Goodluck Jonathan can sit down in Abuja and beat his chest that he has resolved one of the most complex problems that his country has ever faced.

Abbe’s clarification
The general impression is that the Federal Government with its various interventionist committees and agencies are fond of throwing money at problems without solving them. And that is the perception of the Amnesty Committee when reports were flying round that N50 billion had been voted for its job. Nevertheless, the Major-General Abbe in an interview with Saturday Vanguard, some months ago, said no such amount was voted for the programme by the Federal Government and asked the peddlers of the information to get their facts right before criticising.

Throwing money at problems
Before his clarification came, Mitee in his ventilation in The Netherlands said Nigerian government has become expert in grandiloquence, pointing out, it was  not  enough to say that 30 million dollars was voted for community development in Niger-Delta, the issue should be  how that reflects on kilometers of roads in the Niger-Delta.

According to him, a week before he came to The Netherlands for he confab, the papers in Nigeria reported that N52 billion or thereabout was voted for post-amnesty, saying, “This is about 353 million dollars. I don’t know the number of armed militants but I guess they are about 30,000. (Official figure at the moment is 20, 192). Now if it is shared per person, it adds to about 21,000 dollars per militant.

Anywhere in the world, if you spend about 21,000 dollars on somebody and there is no difference, something is wrong somewhere. But this money is going to be frittered away through contracts and other things. It does not solve the problem.

What is happening is that the problem will continue because the matter is not addressed and the next thing government will say is that these people are not benefiting, that they have voted N56 billion and they are not cooperating. We have put about 353 million dollars on this issue and they are still making noise”.

“We should not longer continue to throw money at problems; we should evolve a strategy to deal with them. Nigeria is a country that only responds to pressure. We have now come to a situation where we believe that pressure provided by armed militancy is what government responded to  and even people say they don’t want fight again because there is amnesty.

But the question is how we can constitute another pressure that is not violence, which is why we need the international community”, he asserted.

From the concerns expressed by the stakeholders, the issues are: if the post-amnesty programme has now been packaged properly? If the current invitation of ex-militants for training at Obubra in Obubra local government area of Cross River by the Post-Amnesty Committee state is well articulated or otherwise? What become of the ex-militants after the training?

Alaibe confident
Chief Alaibe who was a former managing director of the Niger-Delta Delta Development Commission (NDDC) told

Saturday Vanguard confidently that he has a programme to transform the ex-combatants from their militant disposition after which they would undergo integration classification and training. Subsequently, the three tiers of government: federal, state and local, private sector and civil society would be involved in getting them jobs with the overall plan of making them societal role models.

It was gathered that the ex-militants were being invited to camp in batches of 2,000. They would first undergo a non-violence training with a view to re-orientating them on a change of strategy and perception of the Niger Delta situation before other forms of knowledge acquisition and skill training in various trades with which to be gainfully employed in the society.

Inside Obubra camp
When Saturday Vanguard visited Obubra on Tuesday, than 1000 ex-militants have reported to the NYSC Orientation Camp. A member of the Presidential Amnesty Committee on Rehabilitation and Reorientation, Mr. Selekaye Ben Victor, alias Boyloaf, said, “The orientation has begun.

These brothers that you find here will be here for two weeks during which they would learn that in a society there are rules. And that is basically why they are here. They are here to be transformed. There are experts here to see to that. They are here to learn how to live in a civil society.”

Reminded that some of them were complaining about inadequate facility on ground, he gave indications that it was part of the training, saying, “You know, we are in Africa and many of us as we were growing up didn’t have some of these facilities that you find on ground here, but we learned to cope”.

“Having said that, I must point out that a lot of facilities have been put in place to make the camp comfortable for my brothers, we have a caterer here; the facilities in this NYSC Camp ground as you can see have been improved on. The rehabilitation has commenced and they will leave here transformed”, he added.

Leader of the ex-militants that were camped in Ondo State , Mr. Balogun Shola countered him in a chat with this paper. He hollered, “The condition in the camp is not fine. That’s not what the told us. We need re-orientation”.

His words, “That’s why we are here. The condition here is not conducive. We don’t know the kind of training they are giving us here. Again, I want to inform you that the Federal Government did not send a bus to take us from Ondo. We had to hire a bus to be here”.

He further lamented, “We arrived here at about 2.00 am , last night. You can imagine the police harassment on the way and all that.”

Mr. Balogun Shola who accosted Ben Victor said, “I have just been told that you are the one keeping our salary and you’ve not paid us for two months. I will attack you here now and nothing will happen.”

Victor smiled and told him he was not the one paying them. He also explained that this was a Federal Government programme and that some civil servants had not been paid too.
He assured that at the end of the month they would be paid. Victor was, however, emphatic that the ex-militants were not being owed, as stated by Balogun.

A top official in the orientation programme who insisted he should not be quoted said he was not surprised at the violent attitude of the ex-militants in camp, because “I have been working in this kind of environment all over the world.

Yesterday, the campers became impatient and went to the dinning room to demand for food”.
“They were told that it has to be done in an orderly manner. One of them became angry and forcefully entered the room”.

It was reliably learnt that some of the ex-militants had even sent threat messages to Chief Alaibe, accusing him of withholding their salaries, but, the coordinator, knowing those he was dealing with has been managing them.

“Some of them even threatened to kill him and burn down his house. That is the kind of thing we see from the ex-militants. They see themselves as thin gods and whatever you are doing for them is their right. Even the money they are paid, they don’t want to hear story from anybody on it. That is their mentality and that is why part of the programme is to re-orientate them first”, he said.

Agenda
According to our source, the skill acquisition would mainly be in areas such as welding, sea-faring, small and medium enterprises management to enable the beneficiaries effectively key into the oil industry as well as open enterprises that could further service the industry and the local communities.

A 300-man faculty headed by internationally acclaimed non-violence civil rights expert, Prof. Bernard Lafayette of the University of Rhodes Island, would be involved in the training.  Bernard LaFayette, Jr. has been a civil rights movement activist, minister, educator, lecturer, and is an authority on non-violent social change.

He co-founded the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 and was the national coordinator of the 1968 Poor Peoples’ Campaign by Martin Luther King.

Ex-militant leaders, oil companies and development partners are to be involved in the programme implementation. Chief Alaibe has the imprimatur of President Jonathan to do everything possible to make the post-amnesty programme succeed. All matters concerning the programme are now domiciled in his office.

It is the fresh impetus he has brought that culminated in the call of the ex-combatants to a new camp and he believes it would work. The reintegration phase is billed to last till 2015.

From Monday, June 21, when they started arriving, the camp officials conducted biometric data on the ex-militants to authenticate their medical state and population and a source confided to Saturday Vanguard on Wednesday, “I am sure the first week will just be for registration the way things are going. Training may commence next week”.

Chief Alaibe is, nonetheless,  of the opinion that “any development plan for the region that does not first address the issue of transformation of the lives of those involved in the extreme violent activities in the region, be they militants, commercial hostage takers, armed robbers or warlords, will surely fail”.

Posers
Having taking some of the youths from the creeks to South-Africa for non-violence training.
while he was the NDDC. chief executive, Chief Alaibe has demonstrated that he has the passion for his current assignment, but, some of the stakeholders and ex-militant leaders have complained that they don’t have details of the current training programme and exactly what it was designed to achieve.

One of them asked Saturday Vanguard rhetorically, “Is the Federal Government going to provide the ex-combatants jobs after the training, what is really the purpose of the training, is it to pretend that something is happening by carrying out training programme for ex-militants and throwing away public funds and enrich some people”.

We mean business
A source, however, said, “Who are the stakeholders? Who told you we are not dealing with the stakeholders, we are in contact with the ex-militants, they are here, the first batch for the training, after this set, others will come, those who are carrying out the non-violence training are here, we contacted them and other development partners. The post-amnesty training for ex-militants is not a programme that we are going to discuss in the market place. The appropriate things to be done are being done, people should support the programme. We mean business here”.

On immediate jobs for ex-militants after the training, he said, “The first thing is to transform their non-violence attitude, find out what they want to do and train them. The entire thing is a process. We want to follow the process and after all these, the government all levels, private sector and the civil society are all going to be involved in making them productive members of the society”.

Foreign vs local experts
On the other hand, some conflict management experts in the country have raised eyebrows over their non-involvement in the training programme for ex-militants. One of them, Prince Clement Bebenimibo who spoke to Saturday Vanguard queried why American and South-African experts were invited by the Post-Amnesty coordinator when such experts abound in Nigeria .

Saturday Vanguard took the matter up with an official who preferred anonymity, he said, “You see, these people who are talking know that we have gone for the best experts in the world in this field because we want the best. We don’t want to bandy words with anybody, but, some of them sent proposals to us, thinking that the whole thing is all about sharing money. We are, however, sorry to disappoint them because this is not business as usual”.

“We are serious in what we are doing at Obubra and we want to give them the right training, people should remove sentiment out of the matter. Dr. Layefette is an authority worldwide in conflict management, he may have taught some of their teachers or they have read his books, do they want us to compromise on quality of the training of the ex-combatants”, he said.

Alaibe is in order- Ekiyor
Outgoing national president of IYC, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, who underwent the non-violence training before he assumed office said there was nothing wrong in inviting foreign experts to train the ex-militants, saying, “I passed through the training in South-Africa and when I finished, my orientation and attitude to violence changed. So, I can assure you that these boys will be transformed after the programme”.

Besides, he said the training was being facilitated by the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony (FEHN), headed by a Nigerian, Barrister Allen Onyema, adding, the group is partnering with the Dr. Layefette and other international experts whose competence cannot be questioned worldwide.

Dr. Ekiyor noted that most of the ex-militants have been denied visa to travel out of the country even when the foreign embassies know that they had accepted amnesty, and said it was only when they undergo such a training by international experts that the programme would have credibility and international acceptance.
He recalled that one of the ex-militant leaders, Ezekiel Akpasubio of the disbanded Deadly Underdogs in Delta State was denied visa in February when he applied to The Netherlands Embassy in Abuja to attend the summit by the Hope for Niger-Delta Campaign (HNDC), which was held at Hague.

Information at the disposal of Saturday Vanguard is that the Embassy might have believed that despite the fact that Ezekiel surrendered his arms and accepted amnesty, he was still a militant. Even Boyloaf, who is a member of the Presidential Committee that is carrying out the present training programme was denied visa, obviously for the same reason.

Besides, two aides of ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo who were invited for the HNDC event were also turned back by the Embassy. Founder and president of the group, Comrade Sunny Ofehe lamented in an interview with Saturday Vanguard that most of the ex-militants who invited to the event were not granted visa.

One of the ex-militants who made it to the event, Alhaji Dokubo-Asari attended from exile. He complained at the opening ceremony about how he was harassed by some security agents who seized his money.

Dr. Ekiyor maintained in an interview with Saturday Vanguard that the ex-militants would not be treated as outcasts by the international community after undergoing training programme in Obubra.


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