By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
SOUTH-SOUTH Leader and former Federal Commissioner for Information, Senator Edwin Clark, has advised the Federal Government not to scrap the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, as being speculated and call a halt to anything that will abbreviate the delicate peace in the Niger Delta region.
“Just about 11 days ago, I advised and cautioned the Vice President, His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, to tread cautiously on Niger Delta Affairs, I have cause to, again, advice/warn the Federal Government to desist from anything that will truncate the fragile peace that we have in the Niger Delta region.
“I say this because, just yesterday, (Sunday) rumours were rife, that the four-man Investigative Panel headed by Amb. A. A. Lawal, set up by the Federal Government, through the Office of the National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Mohammed Monguno (retd), to look into the activities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), has recommended the scrapping of the Programme by December this year, 2020.
“The Federal Government, like I said earlier, through the Office of the National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno, retd, set up a 4-man Investigative Panel headed by Amb. A. A. Lawal, from Bauchi State and other three northerners as members, on 28th February, 2020, and the job of this Panel, which all through its sitting, I understand, sat in the Office of the NSA, which was to end on 24th April, 2020, has lingered until today,
“They have, up till this moment, taken over the administration of the PAP, operating from the NSA’s Office. Now we are getting information, that this ‘Investigative Panel’ is recommending the scrapping of the PAP by December this year, 2020.
“If this is true, it will be an epic example of what we say in local parlance ‘trouble dey sleep, yanga go wake am’. This is not a threat; it is stating the obvious of what will actually happen. Once again, I wish to advise the Federal Government to tread cautiously, except they have prepared another ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’. Wake not a sleeping lion. This is not a threat; it is a clarion call for peace.
“When I got this information yesterday, my temper was high because how can a region which contributes so much to the economic growth, and by extension, political and social growth of the country be treated with so much disdain and spite.
“The question is: Did Amb. Lawal and his team ever travel to the Niger Delta region to find out if the objective of setting up the Programme such as infrastructural development of sand filling; building low cost houses, building roads, etc,, which are to be carried out by the PAP as its aecond phase activities contained in the Proclamation been achieved? As someone outside of the region does he really understand or feel the sufferings of the people of the region?
“Also, what measures have been put in place by the Federal Government to fulfill its promises to the region such as setting up modular refineries, the relocation of the operational headquarters of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the Ogoni clean-up as contained in the 16-point agenda of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, which we presented to Mr. President at the Presidential Villa on 1st November, 2017? He said.
The elder statesmen asserted: “Our living condition in the region has worsened. The PAP should be allowed to continue for some more time. I recall the sacrifices some of us made before a compromise of setting up the Presidential Amnesty Programme was arrived at.”
His words: “As at the time when former President Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to the late Presidnt Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, there were too many issues bothering on the neglect and deprivation of the coastal Niger Delta region. As leaders, we tried several ways to resolve these issues. We were able to reach a compromise with former President Obasanjo and that gave rise to the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 1999.”
“But this did not solve the perennial problems of neglect in the region. So our children, understandably, decided to take their fate into their own hands. They took over oil platforms, insisting that oil production should be stopped if the aftermath of the activities in the region cannot be addressed. This matter escalated.
“I again recall that on a particular day in 2009, during the tenure of late President Yar’Ardua, with Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, as his Vice, I was invited to go to Oporoza Town, the headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, as Father of the Day, to mark their annual festival. But I could not go personally, so I sent someone to represent me.
“By midday, I got a phone call from my representative that the festival could not hold because the Nigerian military has invaded the Kingdom; he said that as matter of fact, he was talking to me from the mangrove swamps, where they had gone into hiding, because the attacks were coming from all fronts, the Navy attacking from the sea, the Air Force was bombarding from the air, and the Army was attacking from the land; there was so much casualty, the communities that make up the Kingdom, Oporoza, Okerenkoko, Kurutie, had been destroyed.
“On getting that information, I made frantic efforts to reach the authorities concerned, from the President to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mahmud Yayale Ahmed, to the Minister of Defence, General Godwin Abbe (rtd), all to no avail. The next thing I woke with two medical doctors standing over me, when I asked what had happened, I was told I had passed out and my blood pressure had risen to 180/100, so they had to call in the doctors.
“Having regained consciousness, I called the then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who was away in Sweden on official duties to please return home, that his home was burning. He listened to my plea and returned the next day.
“The Federal Government started holding meetings with us, with Mr. President and Mr. Vice President actively involved in the meetings. It was during these meetings, that it was resolved, and the Federal Government decided to set up a Presidential Amnesty Programme to deal wisely with the matter, asking that the youths, our children, who have taken up arms, to fight for their ‘emancipation’, should drop their arms and they will be granted amnesty, a programme under which they will be trained both in formal and informal education, and stipends given to them while the programmes are going on.
“It took several efforts on our part as leaders and elders of the region to convince these children, and with apprehension too on our part, because we were not sure of our safety as the youths were prepared for the worst, therefore anything could happen.
“We sent several Ijaw personalities including Amb. Godknows Igali, who was then the Secretary to Bayelsa State Government, former retired high ranking military officers from the region like, Brig. Gen. Stanley Diriyai (rtd), Gen. Aper (rtd), Gen. John Yeri (rtd), and other prominent Ijaw men. These illustrious sons took the risk of going into the creeks pleading with the youths to lay down their arms and embrace the amnesty programme.
“As God would have it, most of them embraced the programme. But Henry Orkar, and Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, initially refused to embrace the programme because they doubted the sincerity of the Government, especially Tompolo, who felt so aggrieved, as someone from Gbaramatu Kingdom, whose kith and kin and Kingdom were needlessly attacked and almost decimated, and he was declared wanted after the “war”.
“Of course, the Federal Government gave an expiration date for people to embrace the amnesty, which was 4th October, 2009. Thus, Gen. Godwin Abbe and some military officers, accompanied by late Chief Tony Annenih, the leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), had to travel again to Oporoza, to further persuade Tompolo, to accept the programme.
“Luckily, Tompolo was persuaded. He was flown to Abuja, and his first point of call was to visit me at my resident in Abuja, along T. Y. Danjuma Street, Asokoro. Thereafter, our late President Yar’Adua, granted the Amnesty Programme by Proclamation.
“A Secretariat was opened at Abuja for the Programme and Maj. Gen. Abbe was appointed its first Co-Coordinator; Timi Alaibe took over from him, and Kingsley Kuku, later took over from Timi Alaibe. This, in a nutshell, is the story of the Presidential Amnesty Programme which commenced on or about 11th July, 2009.
“When Mohammadu Buhari was elected President, because of media trials and persecutions of our people, Kingsley Kuku had to travel out of the country on medical grounds. For a long time, the PAP office was not functioning properly. Various students on the scholarship of the programme at home and abroad, were stranded, because their remittances were stopped, so they started agitating. I had to petition President Buhari to appoint someone to head the office. Maj. Gen. Paul Boro (rtd) was appointed to head the place. He was later removed due to allegations of corruption and maladministration.
“Then Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo of the Institute of International Affairs was appointed to replace. Maj. Gen. Paul Boro, rtd. He too was removed or suspended allegedly for same reasons as Maj. Gen. Boro rtd. All these were done without any reference to or input from the leaders of the area.
“In fact it is alleged that during the time of Prof. Dokubo, people from other regions feasted on the office. He appointed someone from Kogi State in the name of a Consultant, whom it is alleged he is in league with, to employ some unqualified staff. Sons and daughters of the Niger Delta region were sacked or removed from office particularly the graduates of the Programmes, most of who graduated with First Class and Second Class Upper from their various Universities.
“We protested this unjust treatment to the Federal Government, and the reaction was a communication to us through the then Minister of Budget and Planning, Barrister Udo Udoma. Most of these youths are roaming the Streets today, unemployed. This matter will be a subject of discussion on another day. The PAP Office is now filled up with non-Niger Deltans.
“It was said that Prof. Dokubo awarded a freight contract to this consultant to carry equipment from the Kaiama Skill Acquisition Centre at the sum of ₦1.8 billion, to some locations. It was further alleged that in order not to default the Procurement Act of the Government, Prof. Dokubo had to split the payment of the amount to 25 Companies.
“When the invoice was presented for payment, the Financial Controller refused to act on it because it was at variance with the Procurement Act. This resulted into disagreements, and the fallout is several petitions which were written by various persons accusing and counter accusing officials of the PAP,” he said.