UNTIL you encounter the erstwhile Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Committee and one of the foremost Niger-Delta activists, Hon Kingsley Kuku, you may possibly not recognize why President Goodluck Jonathan found the Niger-Delta activist a robust person to handle the tactical agency after the exit of the former occupant, Timi Alaibe, early this year.
The Polish Ambassador to Nigeria, Przemyslaw Niesiolowski met with the former special adviser, May 19, at the Amnesty Office, Abuja, and at the end of the courtesy call that was essentially a battle of brains and wit between the two, the ambassador declared that his doubts about Niger-Delta militants had been cleared.
What the amnesty programme is all about
Kuku kicked the ball rolling by first appreciating the existing friendly relations between Poland and Nigeria and the fact that the amnesty programme was an off-shoot package of the presidential pardon granted ex-militants of the Niger-Delta region, as contained in the proclamation by the Federal Government, June 25, 2009, explaining that the programme provides a transformation training and skills acquisition opportunity for each of the 20,192 registered ex-militants, who accepted the presidential amnesty and gave up their guns.
According to him, amnesty programme does not mean the end of the ‘Niger-Delta struggle’, but it was the first time the government of Nigeria was telling the youths, who religiously believed in their struggle to drop arms, no matter their grievances and give government a chance to address them. On the reintegration of ex-militants, he said there was a reintegration camp at Obubra in Cross-River state, pointing out that the Canadian Ambassador to Nigeria had visited the camp, while the United States of America, USA, had sent top officials to see what was happening in the training camp.
Poser for oil companies
The former special adviser told his visitor that when militancy was at its peak in the region, Nigeria’s oil production dropped from over 2 million barrels a day to an abysmal 700,000 barrels and the world oil market felt the emergency. Within the period, he further stated, oil companies cried out that they were spending a minimum of $3billion dollars on security and protection of their infrastructures in the Niger-Delta, but because of the amnesty programme, three months after, Nigeria’s oil production rose to 1.8 million barrels per day, and now, it is 2.3 million barrels.
“The question we now ask the International Oil Companies, IOCs, is if you are spending 3 billion dollars to keep security, stop pipeline vandalization and armed attacks and these things are no longer there, why not invest part of this money in the development of Niger-Delta”, he said, pointing out unequivocally that IOCs have been unfair to the amnesty programme.
In his words, “We have about 1,000 women in this programme and given the economic benefits of the programme, we expect the IOCs to be interested. In the past, people were not safe to go about in Port-Harcourt and other cities of the Niger-Delta but the reverse is the case now and we want economically developed countries to come for investment and engagement in the region”.
What we’ve done with ex-agitators since 2009
So far, he said Nigeria has been handling only the 20,192 that earlier accepted amnesty. “The second batch of 6,166 has not even gone through the demobilization phase and we can’t talk about that now. Out of the 20,192, we have 5,000 of them placed in skills acquisition centres within Nigeria. We have another 2,618 undergoing training in reputable institutions and centres outside the country.
Of this number, 476 are undergoing vocational training in South Africa and Ghana, 74 are in educational programmes at Linton University College in Malaysia. We also have 65 in the university in Moscow, Russia. On March 26 this year, 20 of them traveled to South Africa where they are being trained in one of the best aviation colleges in the world to become helicopter pilots and aeronautical engineers.
They are doing very well. I am happy to announce to you that 19 out of the 20 have passed through the exams. The only one who has not passed, I have told them I don’t want him back until he passes the exam. I was informed that ten of them have had their first joint flight. Also, 32 others are in the United States for six-month training in marine mechanics at the Wyotech Training Institute in Daytona, Florida .”
He added that another 24 ex-militants were scheduled to leave for Poland shortly for training and he was happy the ambassador came to the Amnesty Office and so, any uncertain matter would be addressed.
The former special adviser noted that in spite of the successes of the programme, the fate of the trainees on graduation,that is after offering them skills, still hang on the balance. He said the post amnesty programme required a huge financial investment. He, was, however, exceedingly grateful to Mr. President for approving funds for the training of the ex-combatants.
Hon Kuku stated that one of the serious challenges of his office was getting oil and gas companies to accept the ex-combatants after their training, saying the oil firms prefer artisans. He said the Amnesty Office had met with the National Directorate of Employment, NDE, Nigeria Police Force, NPF, Nigeria Army, Customs, Immigrations and others on how to absorb the ex-agitators after training.
For the ex-combatants who could neither read nor write, he said remedial education programme was put in place for them before placement and that entailed unforeseen expenditure. He said the IOCs had pledged to cater for 3,000 ex-combatants. His office would want them to cater for the formal education, within and outside the country.
What we want from Embassies
He said what the Amnesty Office required from the Ambassadors to Nigeria was to help the Federal Government to secure qualified vocational training institutions offshore in their countries because government wants to grow the ex-combatants to be drivers of the economy of their states in the near future, especially as they would be involved in new road , railway projects, etc. According to him, Amnesty Office would not mind assistance in funding, provision of equipment and personnel.
After listening to the extempore verbalization of Kuku for close to 20 minutes or thereabout, Ambassador Niesiolowski nodded his head to the truth that the gains of the amnesty programme with regards to security of the environment and investors in the Niger-Delta are not in doubt.
He said the observable subterfuge made him to brood over, hence his visit to the Amnesty Office to clarify if the trainees in question were not former militants who surrendered arms in the Niger-Delta.
The ambassador had wanted a representative of the amnesty office that sold the dummy to the embassy, and who was present at the meeting to revisit the issue in the presence of Hon Kuku. But the activist in Kuku took over. He said the official is a staff of an agency, hired by his office to handle visa matters for its trainees, and was not in the position to speak on behalf of the Amnesty Committee on its policies and actions.
He continued by telling Niesiolowski that in the strict sense of the word, every Niger-Deltan was a militant by virtue of his struggle against the forces of marginalization, injustice and his demand for equity in the Nigerian system. Kuku jolted his visitor, “I am an ex-militant if militancy is to be viewed from the angle of long denial and oppression of the people and agitation against injustice because I am an activist myself”.
The ambassador was disarmed by the bluntness and bravado of the special adviser in what he thought was a strapping conundrum. He interjected, saying he understood the point of injustice and agitators in the region, but his question was if the 24 trainees whose visa applications were pending in his office were not ex-militants. Kuku knew what Niesiolowski wanted to know and told him in plain words, “The boys before your Embassy are the boys registered by the Federal Government for the amnesty programme, they are those who accepted amnesty”.