May 23, 2010

Some govt officials almost sabotaged amnesty deal – Ex-IGP Mike Okiro

* Says Jonathan can deliver

Sir Mike Okiro, the immediate past Inspector-General of Police, speaks on how he sold the amnesty idea to the late President Yar’Adua, the efforts that went into its evolution and how some government officials almost scuttled it, in an interview with Kingsley Omonobi.

The Amnesty initiative has brought significant peace and security to the Niger Delta and the country. It has emerged that you sold the idea to the late President. How did the idea come about and how were you able to convince the President to buy it?
To start with, before the amnesty programme came out, you were all aware of the skirmishes between the militants and the security agencies. It got to a point that government had to create a Joint Task Force, comprising the military and the police, to see how the nefarious activities of the hoodlums and other troublesome behaviors’ could be curbed. It was also to ensure that a stop was put to the vandalization of oil pipelines because before that time, oil pipelines were being vandalized, a lot of oil companies were losing so much money and personnel while trying to repair vandalized oil pipelines, trying to rectify damages caused by the oil spills and the environment. Also, trying to curb the militants who were well armed in the creeks and it was difficult to reach them. Of course, the price of oil was going down. So it was drastically affecting the economy of Nigeria . On the part of Niger Delta, development was stalled because the oil companies, many of them had gone away owing to kidnappings.

Coming from that area and aware of the neglect, I was aware why the boys were fighting. So I knew that the boys would listen to me if I spoke to them. The first memo I wrote to the President was sometime around August 2008. I wrote him and talked about the amnesty. But before then I had spoken to Tom Ateke through the AIG of that zone. The AIG connected him and I spoke to him. He sent two representatives; one was a lawyer, one Anaekwe. I spoke to them. I said: “look, where are you?”  And he said he was in the creeks. I said: “what are you doing in the creeks?”  He said, you don’t know, I said I don’t know, tell me what you are doing in the creek. He said because of this thing the federal government was doing. And I said, ‘okay, you are in the creeks there.  No light, no water, mosquito is biting you. I know, and it is a known fact, everybody appreciate the issue that, that area has been neglected but the government under President Yar’Adua is doing something. They are determined to give the place a facelift and you are fighting the government; what are you going to gain from this.

*Former Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro

The place is not being developed, at the end of the day, what story can you tell, that you stopped the government from developing the area. He said government was not sensitive and I said no, government is serious. And he asked what of my boys? I said which boys and he said the boys working with him, that even if he (Ateke) gave up, the boys would still need something to be done for them.

I said okay, I will pass your message to the President. I went to the President and told him my discussions with Tom Ateke and that I asked him to send me the list of the men under him. I told him I was going to look at that list and divide it into three categories: those who were educated and qualified and can work, the federal government can assist them to have jobs because I know part of what is causing the problem of the Niger Delta was unemployment. The second group would be those who want to go to school but because there is nobody to train them.

The federal government could arrange and give them scholarship to go to school. The third group is those who couldn’t do anything, they would be taught some trade, mechanic, vulcanizer, bricklaying, etc something that can keep them busy instead of staying back in the creeks doing nothing

So Tom Ateke brought me a list of 443 people. I looked at it and I found out that government could not do any thing for them. Out of 443 people, none of them even had school certificate. Some were 30 years old, some were 25 years old. How do you see a 25 year old who didn’t attend secondary school? What job can you give him to do? What trade can you ask him to learn? It was a difficult situation for us because such a group of people, when they kidnap a person, they collected N100million, N10million or N30million.  They would go and lodge in hotels, spend the money and go back. What kind of job will you give them to earn that amount of money?

Then by December 2008, Tom Ateke wrote me through his lawyer that they had not heard from me. When he wrote me, I called him on phone and threw the ball back to him. I told him he made me look like a fool, before the President. That we discussed amnesty and your men are still bombing oil facilities, destroying pipelines. How could I talk to the President and he said no, they are not his boys, that since I discussed the amnesty, he had put his boys in check. He then threw a proverb at me, that ‘every thing wey bite you for night in the dark na mosquito’. I said yes so you know that everything that bites in the dark is mosquito, so stop the others or they will say it is Tom Ateke and his boys. So I went back to the President and told him, sir, this is my discussion with Tom Ateke, that he is eager for this amnesty to take place. The last memo I wrote to the President was on the 14th of February 2009, it was a Valentine’s day.  It was a Saturday and I was in the office. Then all the past leaders of Ijaws, and some militant leaders, ten of them led by Asari Dokubo had a meeting with me, they brought a road map on how peace could take place in Niger Delta. I got everything and took it to the President. The first time they agreed to surrender arms, the President could not believe it. I, too, was skeptical, I was so skeptical because they had been promising and failing. Tom Ateke promised some times and he would fail.

In fact, there was a time he called me and said ‘Bros’, I said yes, he said, ‘Ah, I think this amnesty no go work o’. I asked him, what do you mean? That so far, a committee has been set up by the President. Are you telling me the President will disband the committee he formed?

He said no, before the amnesty work, all the problem that caused this thing, we must settle am. I said settle what? That was when I knew that some people in government were against the amnesty. Ateke said, talk to somebody, somebody in the creek there with him; for the person to talk to me with his (Ateke’s) phone. It means he must have been in the camp there with him. The man called my name and said I know you. I said I can’t remember where I know you. He said we have met in so, so and so place. He said IG, this amnesty will not work. I asked how? He said before it works, let us look at the cost of this thing and settle them before amnesty. I told him you are one of those people in government that is against the amnesty. What are you gaining from it? I went back to the President and told him the story. It is unfortunate I can’t place the persons’ face.

The first time I had this discussion and they told me to come and collect arms was in Ogoni land. I told the President.  I booked a flight that day to go to Port Harcourt . That was the day we had a press conference in the villa with the members of the amnesty committee. We addressed the press on it. The press conference continued until about 3 or 4 pm and I couldn’t meet my flight again. I called the President and said, sorry sir, I wanted to go today but I couldn’t make it. He asked me why and I said because I couldn’t make the flight. He said I should take a Presidential Jet. For the first time, I was given a Presidential jet all alone. I took it to Port Harcourt and arrived here around 5. 30pm.  I went to the mess, had a meeting with the representatives of the militants. Now to go to Ogoni, it was about 7pm. The AIG said it was late. I thought about it. The President was skeptical about it, people were skeptical about it. For me to go back and the Presidential jet was waiting for me at the airport? What do I tell the President? I said I must go. I stood up, I told the boys, “well I am told that it is late going there but I must go”. Whatever they want to do, they should do to me. I am going. I said, boys lets go. We entered the vehicles and got there around 8. 30 in the night. There was no light; it was lanterns that we used and I collected the first set of arms and ammunition. We took them, took photographs, and I informed the President. When I came back, the President was so happy. He wanted peace and he wanted development for that area. He was so happy that peace was taking shape.

The implementation of the post amnesty programme has been embroiled in controversy. The ex-militants are saying the committee set up for the implementation has misapplied or fraudulently siphoned their money. There is mistrust and some of the boys are threatening to go back to the creeks?

They were not deceived and they have never been deceived. That was what I said earlier. Tom Ateke and Sogboma George said they had no confidence in government. They cited the case of Asari Dokubo, who was brought from Port Harcourt , given red carpet reception in Abuja and ended up in prison. And when he was released, that was one of the kites we had to fly to assure them that with the amnesty, we were going to be sincere. In fact when Dokubo was released, he came to thank me and I used that to reach out to the other militants. It was to be in various stages. The first stage was that the militants were to be identified, they were to have their names, addresses, and their biodata, everything, written because they didn’t want a situation where anybody can just come and claim he is a militant. The second stage was disarmament and demobilization.

The third stage was setting up of camps, where they were to be rehabilitated and taught trades of what they want to do. They could make up their minds, those who want to go to school could proceed to school, and those who want to learn trade would learn trade. And nine centers were earmarked for these camps. But money was not released before the President fell sick. Meanwhile, I had then left as the IG of Police. So I didn’t know what happened thereafter but some of them called me later to complain.

And I told them yes, the president has approved but he fell sick and the money has not been released because he was sick, there was nobody to sign it, they had to wait until he came back. So I asked them to be patient with government, that the present government was determined for the success of the amnesty. That the President was sick does not mean the amnesty will not take place.

President Goodluck Jonathan who was number two to Yar’Adua is now at the helm of affairs. Do you see him completing the job or at least getting it 80 to 90 per cent solved?

Yes, to start with, President Jonathan is a Nigerian and he would like to have peace, stability and progress in Nigeria, being the President of the country. I am saying this because while I was discussing with President Yar’Adua, I was also briefing the then Vice President Jonathan and he was giving me the encouragement, support and even adding some suggestions to make the amnesty work. So he would do everything to ensure that whatever is bringing problem to this country is kept at bay. Secondly, he is from Niger Delta, he knows the problems first hand. Nobody is going to tell him what the problems of the Niger Delta are.

So he will  solve them within the provisions of the law and within the processes available. I know that being a man of peace and a man seeking for progress for the area, he would continue from where President Yar’Adua stopped. President Yar’Adua was determined to make sure there was peace in that area and being from that area, I believe President Jonathan will not only continue from where Yar’Adua stopped, he should even go beyond. He has been wearing the shoes there, so he knows where it pinches, so he knows what to do there.

You are credited with the establishment of the Anti-terrorist arm of the Police. Terrorism and kidnapping seem to have assumed new dimensions. Are we in the right direction in tackling them?

We are in the right direction. When I started and created the anti-terrorist squad, some people didn’t like it. A lot of governors to whom I posted the men said they didn’t need them, that I should withdraw them and I took them back from them. But some governors wanted them. So it was a question of one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Some wanted some didn’t want. When I established that squad I knew in Nigeria that there was no terrorism but we shouldn’t wait until there are terrorist activities in Nigeria . We should stop them from even coming. So I got this people, I got them trained some in India, some in Israel, some in Egypt and some in Spain.