In this report, EMAMEH GABRIEL dissects activities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme from inception.
The offer of Presidential Pardon for repentant militants was officially made on 25 June 2009 and over 20,192 militants were registered prior to -amnesty programme. Although the idea of an amnesty for armed agitators in the Niger Delta region was mooted by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, it became effective in 2009 after several deliberations with other militants quarters that were still reluctant to take the amnesty proposal.
In 2009, the federal government signed an historical pact with several militant groups in the Niger Delta. And there after proclaimed that the much touted declaration of amnesty as recommended by the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament for Militants of the Niger-Delta has been legalized.
This was in pursuant of section 175 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, whereas the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria acknowledged that the challenges of the Niger Delta arose mainly from the inadequacies of previous attempts at meeting the yearnings and aspiration of the people, and have set in motion machinery for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta States.
This agreement represented an effort by the federal government to end the growing tension and hostilities occasioned with vandalisation of oil and gas installations, hostage taking and the high level of other related crime that threatened business environment in the region to address the underlying causes of discontent in the Niger Delta region.
Amnesty Under Yar’ Adua
While it was averred in some quarters that the amnesty offer by the then government was the right step in the right direction towards resolving the crises in the region, some analysts had contended that the Yar’Adua’s amnesty offer was a way of buying out militants and restraining them from further attacks on oil facilities.
They scaled up their arguments with the fact that apart from the monthly salaries offered to ex-agitators, the Federal government afforded their leaders the opportunity to do legitimate business by awarding them state contracts and substantial bonuses, and thereby incorporating them into the apparatus of state.
It was believed then that the Presidential Amnesty for ex-agitators was essentially a short term strategy for taking militants out of the creeks to minimize the potential damage they could cause to the economy if their activities are allowed to escalate beyond the rate it was then.
However, the strategy worked as there was a significant lull in hostilities, a noticeable decline in attacks on the oil facilities and oil industry and subsequently substantial increases in oil production.
During this period, little progress was made on the amnesty rehabilitation and reintegration front as a result of two major factors; the long term illness of the principle architect of the Amnesty Programme, President Yar’Adua, who became critically ill few months after and was absent from the country for some three months.
The then vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, could not act because his principal had also saddled himself with overall responsibility for the programme’s implementation. This made the movement of fund to prosecute the programme virtually impossible.
Also deep divisions mainly over money rather than strategy between MEND commanders continue to lie at the heart of persistent violence involving militants and ex-militants inside and outside the Niger Delta.
However, in February 2010, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, a son of the Ijaw nation replaced Yar’Adua first on acting capacity, and in May, upon the latter’s death, as the substantive President of Nigeria.
Amnesty Under Goodluck Jonathan
Yar’Adua’s replacement by Goodluck Jonathan in February 2010 ushered in another phase into the programme. This time, it was more of a calibration of the entire process in order to speedy things up. The challenge before Jonathan was simply to get Amnesty package up and running and release funds to prosecute the mandate of the Amnesty Programme.
First, Timi Alaibe was appointed to Chair the Amnesty Committee set up by the government, and this eventually saw the launch of the rehabilitation training center in Obubra, Cross River State.
By June 2010 the training center was already receiving the first batches of 2000 ex militants every two weeks for non-violent conflict resolution training and careers advice. The figure was later revised down to 678 by the time third batch arrived in August, for reasons of manageability.
In response to widespread criticism that skills training and careers advice is ill suited the aspirations of the ‘former combatants’ and that the ‘reintegration and rehabilitation aspects of the programme have not been forthcoming, the Minister for the Niger Delta Godsay Orubebe.
However there were constant criticisms from some quarters that some of the careers and skill training programmes and the reintegration and rehabilitation phase of the Amnesty Programme for ex-agitators did not suit their aspirations and as a result, the programme might likely failed.
In reaction to this, in July 2010 the government announced the registration of 13,000 ex-militants for higher education courses. And in August the Presidential Amnesty office announced that from 20 August, 1,140 ex-militants from the first batch of rehabilitated militants would be assigned to vocational training centers and formal education institutions in Nigeria and abroad, on 150 different courses with a focus on the business development skills.
These announcements were triggered following protests already spreading in places like Abuja, Warri and Ondo due to none regular payment of allowances, huge disparities between payments made to foot soldiers and former militant commanders, limited access to rehabilitation training and allowances for those who surrendered weapons after the deadline, inappropriate training provision, limited employment prospects, highly politicized nature of the amnesty process and a host of other key factors were among the numerous flaws of the Amnesty as widely reported in the local and international media.
During these periods, there was a decline in attacks on the oil and gas installations and kidnapping of expatriates which showed the programme was actually working to some limit. But the frequency at which violent protests by angry ex-militants continue to occur showed that Amnesty under President Jonathan was highly politicized.
Although the Jonathan administration successfully tamed the resistance from some aggrieved faction of ex-agitators and activated Amnesty programme with some batches of ex-agitators already receiving education and training in various fields, there were criticisms in most quarters that the programme was politicized by excluding other ex-militants from the programme.
There were also criticisms in some areas that handlers of the programme were not prudent as there were allegations of mismanagement of fund meant for the programme.
Buhari And The Presidential Amnesty Programme
The Buhari-led administration came in with a new Amnesty regime with a more refined and democratic process under the watch of Brig. Gen. Paul Boroh (retd). A lot of success has been recorded during this short period according to records and statistics. But this did not come without a big price on the part of the government.
The government had hardly settled down, than tension spreading all over the Niger Delta region that the Amnesty package might be terminated by the new administration. The new President could hardly settle down before new militant groups sprang up with different names.
The group had resumed attacks on oil and gas installations with the region of Niger Delta bleeding with crude, oil installations suffered the worst hit ever, oil exploration came to its ebb, waters and lands polluted, commercial fishing largely affected, community farmlands destroyed, economic crops damaged, power supply in the country dropping on daily basis, and the economy dying faster than could imagine.
Within few months, the Federal Government announced that the country had lost over N51 billion to attacks on oil facilities from militants activities, bringing the country’s daily crude oil production capacity below half. This development was described as the deadliest havoc ever unleashed by any militant group in the Niger Delta region in the last decades.
These developments vindicated the objections raised by some analysts that the demobilization and disarmament during Amnesty programme as publicly orchestrated and heavily reported in the media displays of weapons surrendered by repented militants failed to meet the prescribed best standard.
Analysts had pointed out that there was no serious attempt to independently verify arms handed over, to determine the provenance or to identify the existence of arms caches. It was believed that most of the arms handed in by militants commanders were old rusty rifles, few machine guns, elderly rocket-propelled grenade launchers and some broken items.
There were other claims that the resurgence insurgency in the region was mainly political as it was tied to the shift of power from the South to the north. This followed rumour that the Buhari administration was bent at probing the Jonathan’s administration on corruption.
However after several months of negotiation with some of the armed groups and with the intervention of stakeholders of the region, peace was again ensured in the Niger Delta.
Laying down arms by agitators is key to sustaining peace in the Niger Delta region. Also integrating and training them to be gainfully employed is another challenge asides the payment of monthly stipends to repentant agitators. This became the focus of the new Amnesty regime under Brig. Gen. Boroh, the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme
The new Amnesty regime has designed a strategy innovated by Gen. Boroh, meant to ensure that trained agitators will not only secure jobs in their various fields of profession, entrepreneurs will also be given stipends as starter pack for self-empowerment.
This is already yielding meaningful results as the Boroh-led PAP is already partnering with ministries, government department and agencies, private sectors, multinationals and other international bodies to reduce the cost of running the programme on the government.
Ex-agitators trained in various fields like oil and gas, aviation and other professional fields through the university system under the amnesty programme have been meaningfully engaged.
This move was part of the federal government’s commitment in creating employment opportunity to fast-track the reintegration of beneficiaries into the society.
One of the greatest impacts created by the Boroh led Amnesty regime is the reorientation of beneficiaries to agriculture and aquaculture as an alternative to revamp the ailing economy.
While most of these youths have been trained empowered and are currently doing well with most of them already being employers of labours, others are currently undergoing advanced agriculture technological training.
It is still in the light of strengthening the federal government peace initiative in the Niger Delta that recently, that Presidential Amnesty office went in partnership with the Siaone Football Academy to train talented youths in the Niger Delta region
According to Borh, the Presidential Amnesty ‘‘Model Farming Initiative is designed to provide 5,000 sustainable jobs in the region; to key into Mr President’s programme of creating employment and wealth through farming as well as ensuring food security’’.
In the 2015/2016 academic year programme, Amnesty office deployed 1,294 delegates to various universities in the Nigeria and 681 graduates were recorded with 14 of them graduating with First Class and 84 with Second Class Upper among which four were retained as lecturers by the Benson Idahosa University, Benin.
Other records from the Amnesty office have shown that the performance of the students abroad was even overwhelming. The 2015/2016 section had a total of 454 of them graduated mainly from British universities with 20 graduating with First Class and 41 with Second Class Upper.
So far, the Amnesty office has in 2017 graduated a good numbers of beneficiaries of the programme in various universities both home and abroad while others are still going under vocational and technical training.
In the same vain, thousands have been empowered with starter pack to begin a life of their own and become successful entrepreneurs to enable them contribute their own quarters to national development.
So far, the Presidential Amnesty Programme under the Buhari government has recorded more success than anticipated despite the limited funding. Achieving peace under a system like ours requires a lot of financial commitment and political will on side of the government.
Sustaining peace remains the source of concern for Nigerians. Indeed, without any doubt sustaining peace in the Niger Delta is imperative. But how can this be done? The government must continue to be committed to its promise in attracting both human and infrastructural development to the region.