•Traditional rulers, key stakeholders parley with an Amnesty Programme in Lagos to move oil region forward
•Pledge support for FG
By MURPHY GANAGANA
Dateline: Wednesday, July 11, 2018. It was an unusual experience for the staff and guests at Eko Hotels and Suites, located in the highbrow Victoria Island, Lagos, as a sea of influential Niger Delta indigenes, including top flight traditional rulers, religious and opinion leaders, intellectuals, community and youth leaders, flowed into the Main Hall of the hotel at noon. They were all at the venue in response to a call by the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo, to rub minds on how to deepen peace in the hitherto volatile Niger Delta region and pave way for socio-economic development.
By 2.pm when the stakeholders’ meeting which had 153 delegates in attendance eventually kicked-off, it was clear the Niger Delta region was headed for better days.
With a thumb up for initiators of the Amnesty Programme for ex-agitators, Dokubo noted that the prevailing peace in the region is indicative of the successes so recorded by the Amnesty Programme, which has made the Niger Delta region the most peaceful part of the country and conducive for development. His words: “I am exceedingly grateful to God Almighty for making this day possible. I have really been looking forward to this family meeting. It is therefore with immense joy that I welcome all of you all…. Since inception, the Amnesty Programme, to a reasonable extent, has achieved its core mandate of aiding the processes of building and sustaining peace and safety in the Niger Delta and the entire Gulf of Guinea. I am not saying that we have attained perfection or Eldorado of sorts; I am only saying that the situation would have been far worse in the region and of course for the economy of our dear country. I do not believe that there is any one here who is not aware that prior to the proclamation of unconditional amnesty for former agitators in the Niger Delta in 2009, disruptions in the exploration, processing and export of crude oil almost brought our economy to a standstill.
“Unfortunately, Nigeria’s economy which largely depends on earnings from oil exports, heamorhaged very badly during this sad era of militancy. I have since found out that the situation got so bad that on a particular day in 2008, Nigeria was only able to produce 700,000 barrels of crude oil. Today, owing to the success of the Amnesty Programme, Nigeria is now able to meet its current OPEC Quota of 2.2 Million Barrels per day. We must all thank, most profusely, the ex-agitators in the Niger Delta who have continued to keep the peace in accordance with the pact they entered into with the Federal Government after accepting the offer of amnesty. Kudos must also go to you our traditional, religious, opinion, intellectual and community leaders as well as the leaderships of ethnic nationalities and youth groups in the Niger Delta. If you did not show leadership, persons enlisted in the Presidential Amnesty Programme may well have derailed. So, topmost among the reasons why I have called this meeting is to, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Government of Nigeria thank you all most sincerely for the critical roles you have all continued to play either as individuals or group to help sustain and even deepen peace in the Niger Delta.
“I chose to regard the Niger Delta as work-in-progress and I am happy to inform the leaders of the region assembled here that the ultimate goal of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is to achieve sustainable development in all facets of the region. Indeed, previous administrations at the federal level easily cited the absence of a “conducive environment” for not developing the Niger Delta. The good news is that, speaking about peace, safety and security, I dare say that the Niger Delta is perhaps the most conducive region for development in Nigeria today. Our great nation has everyone in this hall to thank for this”.
Dokubo said from findings and recommendations of a committee he constituted on assumption of office to review the Amnesty Programme, as well his interactions with key stakeholders, including the leadership of the ex-agitators, he mapped out his priority, which included the completion and activation of all the vocational training centres under construction across the states in the Niger Delta to fast track the training of the several beneficiaries awaiting skills acquisition, and empowerment through the provision of start-up packs and mentoring for several of the already trained and qualified ex-agitators to become entrepreneurs and possibly employ others.
Also dear to his heart is the sanitization of the Education Department of the Amnesty Office to make it more impactful and cost effective; restoring the certainty and sanctity of the database of the Presidential Amnesty Programme with strong measures in place to deter and forestall future breaches; holding regular consultative meetings with the Programmes’ critical stakeholders, and effective liaison with Governments of the states in the Niger Delta with a view to creating platforms for gainful employment for already trained ex-agitators.
But before drawing the curtains open for questions, he gave an insight into some salient issues bothering on the unending clamour for enlistment of more persons into the Amnesty Programme, operations of the Amnesty Office and terminal date for the programme. “Since assuming office as the Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, I have spent quality time studying all documents I have been able to lay my hands on regarding the Amnesty Programme and I have decided to address three critical issues that tend to confound or confuse even the most knowledgeable stakeholders of the Programme. Out that of the 30,000 persons enlisted in the Presidential Amnesty Programme, 11,297 persons are still in the queue, waiting to be placed in either vocational training facilities or sent to tertiary institutions for formal education. However, permit me to clarify here and now that I have also since found out that the Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme has no powers whatsoever to include even one person in the Amnesty Programme.
The power of further inclusions resides with His Excellency, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces alone. Let me also further clarify that the enlistment in the Programme was largely based on the number of arms and ammunition returned to the Federal Government within a stipulated period. Enlistment into the Amnesty Programme was not done on state-by-state basis. I have heard some people ask: why does a particular state or one ethnic group have more persons in the programme than the other. The simple answer is that enlistment was done by the personnel of the Armed Forces of Nigeria during the amnesty window based on the number of weapons surrendered by the ex-agitators irrespective of their states of origin or the ethnic nationality they come from”.
Expectedly, at the end of the meeting, participants rose brimming with smiles, convinced that Dokuba has charted a lofty path for the Amnesty Programme. Pastor Power Aginighan, a former acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), described the event as novel. “Dokubo’s initiative of holding the meeting is a most commendable move. For a personality who occupies a very strategic position in Nigeria at a time when there is a disconnect between those in government and those who are being governed, what he has done is bridging the gap and it is commendable.
Ambassador Godknows Ighali, an ex-federal permanent secretary and presidential adviser, echoes Aginighan. Describing Dokubo’s initiative as fantastic, he said the Amnesty Programme has had several Coordinators since inception but none deemed it necessary to organize such an event.
King Alfred Diete Spiff, a former military governor of old Rivers State, paramount ruler of Twon Brass kingdom and chairman, Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers, says Dokubo hit the ground running. “In my capacity as chairman of a Chieftaincy Council, I will table this before my council later this month when we have our monthly meetings”.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Economic Matters, Edobor Iyamu, hailed Dokubo for his commitment. “His emphasis during the meeting seemed to be in the area of vocational training and retraining.
All of these, no doubt, will address a lot of issues in the region. Mr. President himself is committed to ensuring that development comes to the region; that is why we came up with a new vision for the Niger Delta”.
To be sure, it is not yet uhuru for the people of Niger Delta, but leaders of the area say they have seen light at the end of the tunnel of the Presidential Amnesty Programme. Their optimism is indeed, not misplaced.