The Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Brig.-Gen. Paul Boroh in this interview maintains that those bombing oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta have untoward purposes since the Presidency has been very meticulous in implementing the Amnesty programme for the benefit of ex-militants who signed up to it. By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
Is it true that some ex-agitators in the Niger Delta are behind the recent attacks in the region?
The ongoing security challenge we are experiencing in the Niger Delta now is more encompassing because I want to believe that there are criminal elements that are involved in this act because those captured in the amnesty programme, the stakeholders, the leaders have all disassociated themselves from this act.
So the amnesty office is working in tandem with the security agencies to fish out the perpetrators so that they can be brought out for justice.
Appropriation of funds
I have always said that if the perpetrators are not brought to account for their action, others would also do the same thing hoping to get away with it. So the truth is that the Amnesty Office and all well-meaning Nigerians disassociate themselves from this act of criminality which should be dealt with holistically by the government.
But you have been accused of not settling the influence moulders who could have calmed those behind the attacks?
Well, let me say that I am not aware of the allegation. But even if it exists, let me say that my duty is first to cater for the over 30,000 ex-agitators, who are captured under the Presidential Amnesty Programme, which is a very sensitive security project that the government is doing everything humanly possible to implement.
However, if other groups have interest to be captured in the programme, then they should write to the President and Commander-in-Chief to accommodate them. It is the president who has the prerogative to include persons that are willing to disarm and to be captured in the programme. I am only responsible for those currently captured in the programme because it has to do with the appropriation of funds and the fund I have to use is based on the 30,000 that are captured under the programme.
Is it true that you removed some ex-agitators from the programme on basis of poor funding and that you also stopped remittances to students abroad?
There is no truth in the claims. Let me say clearly that when I took over the office I carried out an appraisal of the entire programme and came up with an exit strategy bearing in mind that the programme is expected to end in two years’ time. By that time, all the beneficiaries are expected to have exited the programme because it can’t last forever being a very expensive programme. But the exit is to be done in phases.
For instance, by the end of this month, about 5,000 ex-agitators will have exited the programme and that is how it is going to continue. By end of December next year, all other things being equal, the 30,000 captured in the programme would have exited the programme having been empowered and placed in firms that require such skills.
The truth of the matter is that because the programme is succeeding, more elements who had earlier doubted the success of the PAP, want to be included in the exercise many years after the deadline for surrendering arms had ended.
Unfortunately, I do not have the powers to include them and that is why I advised them to formalise their desire to join the PAP in writing to Mr President who will give the expressed permission either for them to be captured or we would come up with different programme for them. That is the true position of things. No ex-agitator captured under the PAP has been removed or denied any benefit as set out under the scheme.
What of the students allegedly stranded abroad since you came?
No, that is not true. There is no student whose programme has been terminated due to insufficient funds.
You can crosscheck with the respective universities at home and abroad if there is any student that has been withdrawn on account of non-payment of school fees by our office.
Perhaps, what they meant to say was about the payment of in-training allowance for students and the receipt of monthly stipends at the same time. This can no longer continue since it is unethical for beneficiaries to receive in-training allowance and monthly stipends at the same time.
And let me make it abundantly clear that the Amnesty Programme is a programme that has to do with developing skills and making a difference in the capacity building of those that are captured.
Non-payment of school fees
It is not punitive in anyway. If it is seen in that light, they will understand that the stipend is to enable them to develop themselves in different skills. The money is given to you to develop yourself in certain areas.
How many Niger Delta students are studying abroad and at home?
Well over 5,000 students are benefitting from this programme all over the world. It is a very expensive venture that needs to be reviewed because for now it is only Nigeria as a country that is engaged in this type of business. Candidly speaking, a good programme as it were, it needs to be reviewed in order to allow for impact in the Niger Delta region. We need the review in order to ensure that this phase of the programme is completed and the funds used to physically develop the area for the benefits of more people and create jobs.
Don’t forget that apart from the 30,000, no fewer than 5000 others from oil-impacted Niger Delta communities are also being trained in top universities around the world and in Nigeria.
Are you worried that this continuous blowing up of oil facilities can rob the programme of the money to sustain it?
I am very worried about it and that is why the amnesty office and stakeholders have disassociated themselves from what is happening in the Niger Delta right now. It is pure criminality, which no well-meaning person should encourage.
The office and the leaders of the ex-agitators are prepared to work in collaboration with the security agencies to fish out perpetrators so that they can be brought out for justice. We are worried in the sense that it affects not only the environment where it is happening but the economy of the country in general.
Destruction of the environment
So it does not make any meaning for anyone to be attacking the pipelines. And if they have issues whether as individuals or as a group, I strongly advise that such should be handled legally. The bombings do not make the perpetrators to have any sympathy anymore either locally or internationally. You cannot be destroying the environment causing havoc for your generation and your children’s generations and wreak havoc on the source of livelihood of the present and future generations under the guise of any agitation. It is meaningless.
Some have accused of you alienating yourself from the people and that you do not go round to see things for yourself. Have you ever gone to the creeks since your appointment?
Look let me tell you, apart from going round the creeks which I have been doing of late, I have also been meeting with Niger Delta elders and major stakeholders to brainstorm on how to ensure peace and overall development of the area. Let me say also that I cannot unilaterally take decisions because two heads are better than one, as our people say.
But let it be made known that no matter the number of times you go to meet with the leaders, if you don’t prepare in terms of funding, you cannot achieve it because each time we meet we spend a lot of money being responsible for their transportation and logistics.