•Says people were collecting money without executing contracts
•’Ex-agitators prefer stipends to working’
•Speaks on what he is doing to redress challenges
By Soni Daniel,
After nearly 30 months in the saddle as Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Prof Charles Dokubo, last week, spoke on the challenges facing the scheme, the actions he has taken to address them and the progress he has made to ensure that the programme meets its target.
Dokubo, a professor of international affairs and diplomacy, spoke during a session with senior journalists in Abuja. Excerpts:
Northern Region Editor
How far have you gone in meeting the mandate of the Amnesty Programme?
So far so good. We have made tremendous progress and also addressing emerging challenges in order to keep the programme on track and measure its impact on the people it was created to serve. Many things have gone as planned and we have confidence that what remains will be achieved and the essence of the scheme, which was well thought out by the Presidency to address the situation in the Niger Delta, accomplished. The Amnesty Programme shows the peculiarity of the Nigerian situation. I have been here for about a year and eight months and I know the situation but I don’t want to castigate or try to do any harm to the prestige of anybody. What I can say with specificity is that since my appointment, I have changed the direction and the trajectory of the programme. I came in at the third phase, which is the reintegration stage of the programme where you can train people and get jobs for them so that they could earn salaries instead of depending on stipends.
So how easy has the journey been?
I must admit that in trying to accomplish this, I met a lot of challenges. One is the fact that most of the ex-agitators prefer collecting the monthly N65, 000 stipends paid to them by the Federal Government rather than working. But my take is that there is a missing gap. I believe that this programme cannot be forever. I believe there is need to change the direction of the programme from merely collecting stipends every month to getting trained in order to create wealth and learn skills. If the change in focus is achieved, it will also drastically reduce the number of portfolio contractors coming into the Amnesty Office every day in search of contracts. Amnesty Programme had been bedevilled by a lot of things in the past and when I tried to change the place from what I met on the ground, there was resistance.
It was in Amnesty Programme that I first heard of ‘Vendors Association’. There is no competitive bidding for contracts. But my understanding and training teach me that contracts are not given to groups but to individuals that can be held accountable and that such contracts should be given through competitive biddings. These are some of the things I met on the ground and which some people want me to adopt but which I don’t think is appropriate. I have tried to change that. In the past, people were given contracts and they would not execute them and nothing was done about it. The concept of giving some percentage of contract money to contractors is also a challenge. We realised that some of them would collect the money and would not do the work. But turning this around and getting the contractors to source for funds to execute contracts before being paid has generated outrage.
So what’s the way out?
What we have done is to put structures on ground that will enable our people to be trained and have certification to get jobs. If they don’t have jobs and they are totally dependent on stipends, no change will happen in the Niger Delta. We need to prepare the minds of our people for change.
The claim in some quarters is that the number of Amnesty Programme beneficiaries has stagnated at 30,000 despite deaths, resignation and what have you. Is that true?
That’s true and it bothers me too because when I took over, we had 30, 000 beneficiaries and it is still 30, 000. What it means is that nobody died and nobody graduated from institutions. We have seen letters from solicitors saying a beneficiary died and his son must take over. It is only in Nigeria that Amnesty is family-related. That is why you see contestation for power. And that it why I say we need a new thinking. There was a new concept referred to as impacted communities. Impacted communities are communities not directly affected by conflict but because of the crisis, their ways of living was also impacted negatively. Amnesty is not only taking care of ex-militants but is equally catering for those who were affected by conflict.
The truth is that the number of people we are still training is too much and it is frightening. If you look at the people who have been trained and with certification, they are more than 10,000. And the database has also been corrupted. Some people were trained by Amnesty, given jobs by Amnesty and they have served for over five years, but when you try to move them to different positions, there would be a fight. I came in with a new idea that we need to eradicate the shortcomings in the programme but in trying to do that, one meets resistance and sponsored protests. The programme was set to maintain peace in the Niger Delta, promote human development especially in the oil and gas sector and not merely to pay stipends to people. However, I am so used to criticism. There must be change in the direction of the programme. Let’s look forward to a time when Amnesty would be only for the training of our people, and not for giving indolent people money.
Another aspect is that when I assumed office, I noticed that the budget for school fees and other expenses of our students kept increasing instead of reducing. I found out that there was a deployment of about 800 students to various schools and these people did not go through Amnesty Office. But some staff members were taking money on their behalf and putting in their names. That is why I usually say that Amnesty is for Niger Deltans but not all Niger Deltans are beneficiaries.
What other challenges are you grappling with?
There is a group of people operating under the auspices of ‘Amnesty Vendors’ and they don’t really care if any contract given to them is done or not. All they want is to get money. To me contracts should only go to people who have the capacity to perform. I feel strongly that it amounts to illegality for you to get contracts and you do not execute them and you want to be paid simply because you come from the Niger Delta. These people must understand that a contractor is paid only at the completion of the job and presentation of a certificate of completion. It is on this basis that the office will pay you. And we had to end the 15 per cent mobilization because when people get the money, they don’t execute projects. They use multiple companies to get the 15 per cent. We looked at our liabilities and found that most people that got the 15 per cent ended up doing nothing. So we wrote to them that they before they get anything again, they must complete the work. Also there has been faulty deployment of students for scholarship because I don’t see any justification for the programme to deploy students abroad for HND courses which can be done here at home and at a cheaper rate. My fear is that a time will come when government would demand a total assessment of the Amnesty Programme due to the huge amount sunk into it.
There were reports that you were being investigated for money taken out of the scheme. How do you respond to that?
I am not under any investigation. Anytime I go to the Department of State Service (DSS), it is about past queries. I still receive queries from the EFCC and other agencies on my predecessors’ tenures. But none of the issues that take me to the DSS, EFCC and other security agencies is related to my own tenure. I know where I came from and the expectations of the President who appointed me and I will not do anything to disappoint him and tarnish my hard-earned family name.