CHIEF Albert Horsfall (OFR), is a complete security man and a spy expert. He was former Director -General of the State Security Service (SSS) and also Director- General of the defunct National Intelligence Agency(NIA).Â He later became the first Managing Director of the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC).
was also the leader of the Rivers State delegation to the last National Political Conference organized by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja. He was an Honorary Adviser toÂ the ex-Â President on Social Economic Development of the Coastal States ofÂ Nigeria.
In this interview with Vanguard, Chief Horsfall, who is presently the Chairman ofÂ Rivers State Social and Rehabilitation CommitteeÂ Â spoke extensively on the presidential amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta.
His Social and Rehabilitation Committee that was set up byÂ Rivers State government as an interventionist structure to resolve the security challenge posed by militancy in the state recently graduated three hundred reformedÂ militants it fished out from all parts of the state. The committee retrained these reformed militants on various vocational skills.Â Chief HorsfallÂ bared his mind on how this feat was made possible in spite of the doubts that initially trailed the vision of the state government when the committee was constituted. Excerpts:
As a former security czar, how would you assess the federal government amnesty offerÂ which expired yesterday .
The amnesty is a major political stroke, a major pronouncement by the President. I will liken it to the pronouncement of General Yakubu Gown after the civil war when he said there was no vanquish or victor at the end of the war.
I think to the best of my knowledge, no details on the amnesty programme and details on its application have come out yet. I believe the federal government is working out those details. When they are out, I am sure they will go a long way in mollifying all the militant factions and peace will first come to the region and in the longer run, security will return.
I say in the longer run security will come because the amnesty itself will bring about a number of issues in the communities. Nobody knows the number of factions of these militant groups. It will take time for these factional thing and militancy to be completely erased from the psyche of the youths. So the amnesty is the first step. A lot of work has to be done by the federal and the state governments to achieve lasting peace and security.
The federal government through the Minister of Defense first made public its stand that the there would be no extension of the October 4 deadline to militants in the region at your Social Development Institute, Okehi in Rivers State when he came for the graduation programme you had for the first batch ofÂ rehabilitated militants. What do you have say?
I am not in government now so I may not be aware of the volume of information government has that informed the decision. On the surface, the time given to the various factions of militant groups in the region to key into the amnesty was probably adequate. But one good thing is that one of the militant bodies had pronounced an extension of its own cease fire. I donâ€™t know if this will make the federal government to extend its own deadline. I do not know.
Some have said the government was coercive with the way it went about the amnesty issue. For instance, giving the militants a time frame within which to surrender their arms.
(Cuts in). I do not think so. Let us not forget that it is not two government or two different countries that are involved in the issue. The government of President Yar’Adua represents the nation. The militants have been angered by what has been happening in the region but nevertheless it is not two equal partners that are in the business so it is wrong to equate one with the other.
You achieved a feat recently in the country when you assembled militants from all parts of the state under the Rivers State Social and Rehabilitation Committee, rehabilitated and retrained them.How did you achieve this ?
First I went about the task with a mindset that these youths are Nigerian citizens. Many took up arms not because they really understood what is going on in the political arena. They joined the militant groups because of things like hunger, joblessness, poverty, mis-direction, bad guidance and poor parentage.
So I thought that this problem which has grown at different levels has to be addressed otherwise a whole generation of our youths will just go the way of hopelessness.
I studied the situation carefully, planned and projected what I thought could be done. I volunteered myself for this job. This is one thing that fired the drive in me. So I decided it must succeed. I had to bring in all my experience in the security circle.
My strategy was to remove gradually and progressively the followership from the leadership with the expectation that soon the leadership will no longer have enough followership to continue their operations. And this will cause them to have a rethink. I also knew the federal government was coming up with a programme that would have more direct target at the leadership group. I went for the bottom. And I was convinced that this would succeed. Thank God it was a resounding success.
The federal government programme is gradually moving towards reintegration. Would you want to describe the kind of training you gave these youths at your Social Development Institute.
Series of trainings. The first and most important was bringing their minds back to begin to think and behave properly as obtained in a normalÂ society. The idea was to first change and correct the mindset of the youths in order to make them realize the need to operate at the normal level of society.
To achieve this we engaged experts in sociology and psychology to work on them.Â This was like a preparatory for the second phase of the training which was the skill acquisition. We did not want to make the mistake some institutions had made in the past when they sent some of these youths for training in South Africa .
We introduced them to different vocation programmes. They had about fourteen of these vocational skill areas to make their choice from. We had programmes like welding, fitting, carpentry, computer training, fish farming, poultry, piggery etc.
At the end of the slightly over six months of training every trainee had acquired a skill. We did not stop at that. While they were being trained we fed and housed them at the institute. And also paid them twenty thousand naira monthly as stipend.
After the training, to be sure they could compete any where we had to subject them to a test that was conducted by the Ministry of Labor, the body in charge of assessing artisans and people with vocational skills in the country. I tell you over ninety five percent of them passed excellently. Now they are set for the outside world
What next after their graduation from your institute?
The Rivers State government has offered to employ twenty of them. But the bulk of them would go into self paid programme.
We originally created them into cluster groups where they would operate as cooperative societies. They would be working inside the cooperative societies as group and be getting their twenty thousand naira monthly.
The cooperative societies would be managed by experts in their various areas. These experts would expose them to how to make money from the vocation. This cooperative would be funded by the state government through an interest-free loan.
At a point, may be within three to six months, some of the members of the cooperative society would have felt strong enough to opt out of the cooperative and then go solo. This is after he has acquired the commercial knowledge of how to make money from the cooperative to be managed by experts in his area of skill. Those who want to remain in the cooperative for a longer time could do so.
The money to the cooperative societies would be managed by the bank and my committee. The cooperative in time too will begin to make money from their commercial operations and the profit shared among the members.
We noticed some of them have indicated interest to pull out of the cooperative arrangement.
Yes. We gave that option when some of them protested. They were initially happy with the cooperative arrangement until some funny persons brought politics into it. The boys were already having their inaugural meetings at the cooperative levels and were even set to start filling their forms before some people somewhere called some of them to say they should opt out of the cooperative and go for cash. These people poisoned their minds. We have reported to the appropriate quarters. In any case we are not going to give anybody cash.
The money has been paid into the bank. And the bank and the committee will manage the monies for the youths.
For example, each time they want money they willÂ make a proposal or business planÂ which will be studied by the joint committee of the bank and the committee before they get assistance. Maybe, you want to buy generator, the joint committee will look at it and then approve.
The intervention by these people is for political reasons;Â donâ€™t forget, campaigns for the 2011 elections have started in a way. Those who want to use these boys to ferment trouble are those behind why some them are opting out of the cooperative plan.
I wonder how those that want to go solo at this stage can make it without the business knowledge. It is a terrain they know nothing about. This was why I wanted them to work under a manager that had been living on such jobs. To go solo at this stage is almost a sure failure.
They may fail because they have no business experiences. If you are going to do business you must have good knowledge and experience in the business. I hope more will change their minds because we are still talking to them.
I want them to know that before the training which has given them hope for the first time they had been used and dumped by different politicians that used them as their private armies. When they were used many died, some were maimed and made useless. Some lost their relatives in attack, their relatives suffered because of their actions.
They should know that what we did for them at the Social Development Institute,Â is to make them human beings again.Â After the training we gave them, they now have prospect again of regular income. Above all they have skills.
If they allow politicians to misdirect them to go back to their old ways then they would have only themselves to blame.
They should realize that after elections the politicians abandon them.Â While the politicians will rise in their career they(militants) would go back to where we picked them from.
We gave them a chance to be equal to those who have been using them selfishly with the training we gave them. So they should explore the opportunity for their positive growth.
If they choose to remain as thugs they will continue to be killed and remain destitute. They should not allow anybody to move them out of the track we have set for them. They should go back to the cooperative structure we arranged for them.
The cooperative system has a live line for them because they will be under a manager who has all the commercial experience in the new skill they have acquired but if they go solo at this foundational stage they may not be able to face the challenges on their own.
The cooperative will still guarantee them their monthly stipend till such a time when they will be strong enough to stand on their own.
Nobody will given them cash they should know this. And they canâ€™t intimidate anybody. They should know that if they commit any crime they will answer for their actions because they are no longer trainees of the Rivers State Social and Rehabilitation Committee. They have been graduated. So they are now on their own. Amnesty does not give them license to wreck havoc on society.
The three hundred graduates were your first batch, any hope to continue with another set?
Yes. We had more than three hundred when we started initially. But because the capacity of our facility can only take three hundred we had to limit the number of the first set to be trained to three hundred. We will begin with the second batch of another three hundred soon.
Federal Government amnesty program is rolling into another phase which would be mainly reintegration. Any advice to the government?
Luckily on the day of the graduation of our first batch of trainees at our Social Development Institute, there was a powerful federal government delegation at the event that was led by the Minister of Defense.
He made it clear that he was there to see what could be learnt from our approach. The federal government has said it would co-opt some of our approach into its own programme.
The region is passing through a very challenging phase; as an elder statesman from the area do you have a piece ofÂ adviceÂ for the region and the government.
The region first. The battle, I donâ€™t mean violence, the battle for better attention to the region started long, long ago even before I was born. And it is still on now. For the region, I will say our destiny is in our hands. If we have to get what we deserve then the greatest weapon in our arsenal is unity of purpose.
If we do, we will in no distant time get what we want. To the federal government I will say be careful when dealing with a chicken. Our people say when you are running after a chicken to kill it you shouldÂ be careful if not you will kill it with the egg. We need that egg.
Nigeria needs that egg. The best approach to deal with the Niger Delta problem is to be constructive; use of military might will not resolve anything. You donâ€™t prove your military prowess by dealing with your own people. Nigeria is not an enemy to the region or vice versa.
Nigeria must accept the problem of the region as that of the country. They must see the region as partners. They should put them on board the ship of the country. They have to put the region on the table where the national interest is pursued, discussed and engineered.