IN June 2019, the unconditional amnesty granted the ex-militants of the Niger Delta will be ten years old. The late President Umaru Yar’ Adua had in June 2009, listened to wise counsel and made this offer to the agitators destroying our economic assets in the Niger Delta in exchange for peace and their rehabilitation. This measure became so effective and popular that successive regimes continued to adopt it.
Pursuant to the amnesty, the Federal Government set up the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on the Niger Delta and Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty. The post-amnesty programmes targeted over 10,000 ex-militants, offering them monthly stipends, training programmes and scholarships.
It is heart-warming to note that one of such educational programmes is set to produce 34 brand-new lawyers. The Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty, Prof. Charles Dokubo, announced in a media forum in Asaba, Delta State last week, that these young people would be called to the Bar this year. They are among the 207 students currently studying in 66 institutions in 20 countries under the programme.
The Presidential Amnesty Programme, despite tales of alleged corruption and the suffering of students in universities abroad due to non-remittance of their scholarship funds, has generally lived up to the dreams behind it. It has contributed a lot to the relative peace in the Niger Delta which is germane to the health of our oil-based economy. It has also gone a long way in giving the people, especially the youth of the Niger Delta, a sense of belonging, and gradually helped to upgrade the quality of human capital in the region.
Those toying with the idea of scrapping the programme any time soon should rethink their position. As long as the Niger Delta remains the goose that lays the golden egg for the Nigerian economy, the Amnesty Programme will remain relevant as a peace offering to the people of the region. Even the President Muhammadu Buhari regime which started on a hawkish note in approaching the security challenges of the Niger Delta had to back down and return to people engagement which the Amnesty Programme strongly signposts. This programme is a triumph of diplomacy, dialogue and constructive engagement over the urge to use force to solve agitations. It is a legacy of the Yar’ Adua regime for which the late president will never be forgotten.
The Presidential Amnesty Office should make elaborate preparations to celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, putting in the public domain the details of work done with the billions of naira spent on the programme. Nigerians have the right to know because it is their money – and their programme.
Congrats to the new barristers!