By Emma Ujah
The nation was on the edge on account of debilitating attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta by 2009. Sabotage, oil theft and kidnappings of oil workers by criminal gangs and militants who claimed to be fighting to take control of the nation’s oil wealth became the order of the day. Oil production dropped from about 2 million barrels per day (bpd) to a mere 700, 000 bpd. The Federal government’s initial response was to deploy more military personnel to the Niger Delta to stem the tide.
However, when it became obvious that the military was not the solution, the then President Umaru Yar’Adua had to declare an amnesty for the militants, who preferred to be called agitators. The 2009
Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) created a window of opportunity for repentant agitators to turn-in their weapons and in turn not only receive a pardon but also money , as well as, training opportunities
in Nigeria and abroad, with a view to re-integrating them to the larger society.
Mr. Timi Alaibe, was appointed Special Assistant (SA) to the President on Niger Delta Affairs founding Coordinator of the PAP. He led the a series of negotiations that led to all the “Generals” in the
creeks and fighters abandoning the violent cause and to embrace the olive branch offered by President Yar’Adua.
Mr. Alaibe, was succeeded by Mr. Kingsley Kuku and later, Brig-General Paul Boro to coordinate the programme.
The appointment of the current SA and Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme, Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo, has however, brought a new outlook to the office.
Prof. Dokubo who hails from Abonnema, Akuku Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State holds a Masters Degree in Peace Studies of the University of Bradford from where he also obtained a doctoral degree
in Nuclear Weapon Proliferation and its control. Charles Dokubo who has been working as a Research Professor at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos, shas brought his academic experience into running the Presidential Amnesty Programme.
Until his appointment, it was a common sight to see ex-agitators coming to protest in Abuja. The protests varied in intensity and character, depending on the issue at stake and how widespread it was.
At some point, the agitators even blocked the Lokoja -Abuja High Way in order to register their protests. Carrying placards at the Maitama Office of the PAP office used to be quite regular, as the ex-agitators
were always either protesting against delay in the payment of their stipends, omission of some members from the list of beneficiaries, or outright exclusion from the programme.
Prof. Dokubo told senior journalists, in Abuja, last week, that the first thing he did, upon assumption of office , was to set up a committee to identify the key challenges of the programme, with a view to proffering appropriate solutions.
He said, “I tried to look at what the process is all about and what has gone wrong because most of the stories we were hearing about amnesty programme were negative. The first step I took was to set up a committee to look into the problems. It was headed by a professor who was also at the genesis of the amnesty programme. I called her and some other people who are vast in the programme to look into the
programme, what are the challenges we are facing and how can we remedy the situation, so that this programme can be more efficient.
I wanted to make the Niger Delta better and to see how our people will acquire the knowledge and capacity just like any other Nigerian.
When they gave me the report, I looked at it from the background of the setup of the amnesty programme. They will always tell you that this amnesty programme is home-grown, home driven and home strong. But
if you look at amnesty programmes in other places, amnesty programmes do not come from top-down, it comes from bottom-up. But in this situation, we had a peculiar situation that needed the government to give amnesty to those in the Niger Delta who have been deprived in the conflict and contestation of legitimacy in government and revenue in the Niger delta.
Prof. Dokubo said that having gained a clear understanding of the situation in the oil-rich region, he set out to create an environment to contain the conflict because “the people of the Niger Delta have, for a long time, seen themselves as marginalized, oppressed and repressed. Which is why the region is always full of contestation and protestation. This program was not only designed to maintain peace and security in the Niger Delta but also provide human development index for the people of the region so that they can acquire skills and
also stand tall in the society and take care of themselves.
“The mentality of the people of the Niger Delta, the concept of entitlement that has taken root in their lives has to change.”
While continuing to train those who need training, the PAP coordinator said he has given a new push to rehabilitation and integration. The ultimate goal of the skills acquisition programmes, as well as, those who chose to obtain degrees from various universities in the country and abroad is to equip them with what they need to become gainfully employed in the society.
“From the beginning, bear in mind where they are coming from, we know where they are coming from, but we don’t know where they are going to, so I was concerned, how do we train these people. To rehabilitate, they must acquire training skills, educational qualifications, people have been trained abroad”.
and all over, they acquire degrees there are some people who have made distinctions in whatever course they have taken- there was a girl who had a first class in the University of California Law school, so she was given an immediate scholarship.
These are all products of amnesty,” he said.
The Prof. of Nuclear weapons proliferation considered human security as key to peace and stability of any society. The critical stakeholders meeting held with community leaders and leaders of the ex-agitators was one of the key steps that has positively impacted the region. Prof. Dokubo said he met the leaders to make them see why they must own the programme in the interest of the region, in particular and the nation, in general.
His words, “When I say critical stakeholders I mean the elders in the region, leaders of thought and the leaders of the ex-agitators in the region. I met them in Lagos and made them buy into my ideas of what I want to do with the amnesty programme, how I want to bring stability, security and also development- maintaining peace and security in the Niger Delta, as well as, carrying out developmental projects so that while there is peace, there could also be development. The concept I took from the security was that of human security- when human beings become the reference point of security. If the people there are secured, then the state also will be secured. Security is a multi-dimensional thing. Making security to work, you also have to deal with the economic security, the survival of the people, health security in the region that has been affected by pollution.”
That the leaders in the region have bought into the PAP is evident in the current high crude oil output. For example, the oil production has climbed to about 2 million barrels per day (crude Oil and
The SA confirmed this, saying, “When I explained to them my position I think they bought into it and I’m going to show you why it was at east successful. Oil production was very low, but at last there was stability in the region where the oil companies could go and explore and exploit their oil- then the country makes money and so we must also understand that Nigeria benefits when there is stability in the region.
In spite of the successes recorded by Pof. Dokubo, several petitions have been written against him. He has been accused of been corrupt, organizing residents to vandalise the Kaiama Skills Training Centre in
Bayelsa, awarding contracts to people with connection with the Presidential Villa, among others.
Reacting to these allegations, he said that he was not surprised that a certain group of people in the Niger Delta don’t want him to head the Amnesty Programme because they consider it their birth right.
He said, “When the President went on his campaign to Bayelsa, the only thing the chiefs of Bayelsa were demanding was for their son to be SA on Amnesty. I am no longer their son? So, whenever you hear stories
about Amnesty, also look at where it is coming from. Ninety percent of the petitions I got come from a particular place where the people believe that particular office is theirs. I have stood against the tide.
I want you to follow the trend and know the history behind everything.
There is always a narrative. Most of the protests in Abuja are only coming from one place. So, if you can have that to judge the incident and all that, you will know where it is coming from.”