New Telegraph

December 10, 2023

Eyes On Presidential Amnesty Programme

A s the Ministry of Niger Delta Development adorns a new garb, part of the repackaging should see the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) moving over as a Directorate under the direct supervision of Abubakar Momoh. With the appointment of Momoh as Minister, Niger Delta Development, it makes less economic sense to have PAP and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) operating as independent agencies.

An amnesty department under a Director will better handle all repentant militants. When President Musa Yar’Adua initiated the Amnesty Programme in 2009, it was meant to reward erstwhile agitators who chose peace and national interest over militancy and economic sabotage. So much was lost while the crisis lasted. Yar’Adua went all out to secure the nation’s economy through dialogue.

A well-conceived idea, it began with creation of a Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. In December 2008, Ufot Ekaette, from Akwa Ibom State, was appointed supervising minister, with Godsday Orubebe, a Delta man, as Minister of State. Ekaette was carefully selected because of his experience in government. As Permanent Secretary in the sports ministry, in 1989, he worked with Alabo Tonye Graham Douglas, a Kala- bari Chief and respected voice in the Niger Delta.

Both men were also in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. Yar’Adua’s message was for the PAP to follow a transparent pattern that would not only stem agitations but also create a harmonious environment for militants to face a future full of opportunities outside the creeks. However, events have proved otherwise. Some of those charged with its leader- ship failed woefully. Corruption, the dreaded Nigerian disease found its way into the system.

It was so bad that even a professor, recruited from the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) fell short of expectations. Charles Dokubo, from Rivers State who assumed office in 2018, was sacked after about two years. Before him, there was General Paul Boroh (rtd). Seen before his appointment as reliable, the end was not tidy. Another military officer, Col. Miland Dikko (rtd), came after Do- kubo. Circumstances surrounding his hasty removal were hazy.

Gen. Barry Ndiomu (rtd), from Bayelsa State, comes from a prominent family. His father, Gen. Charles Ndiomu (rtd), was the first Ijaw two-star Army general. He passed out of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) alongside President Muhammadu Buhari’s Army Chief, Gen. Yusuf Buratai (rtd). When Buhari appointed Ndiomu as Interim Administrator of PAP in 2020, so much was expected of the new boss.

And to his credit, it was discovered that 513 beneficiaries of the monthly N65, 000 stipend, had 1,370 accounts on the payroll. The import was that somewhere within the system, multiple accounts were used to defraud the programme. Ndiomu announced that he inherited more than expected on assumption of office in September 2020. These included unpaid scholarship awards, debts to contractors and uncompleted vocational training centres, among other liabilities.

These liabilities did not stop some agitators and stakeholders from pillaring Ndiomu with strictures. The Niger Delta Civil Action Advocacy Group called on President Bola Tinubu to restructure PAP. They spoke through Embale Jonathan. In March 2023, ex-agitators rose from a meeting in Port Harcourt with a resolution to storm the Amnesty office. Their complaints bordered on the disbursement of the N65,000 monthly stipends. They were led by Paul Johnson and Solomon Adu.

PAP responded in May 2023 with the launch of a N1.5 billion Co-operative Fund. Tagged ‘The Presidential Amnesty Programme (beneficiaries) Co- operative Society Limited (PAPCOSOL)’, it has offices in Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states, respectively. Part of the complaints is that PAP scholarships are not evenly distributed. The Niger Delta is made up of nine states – Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Abia, Ondo, Imo, Edo and Cross River. Some agitators say there is nepotism.

Oil and gas producing communities in Imo State have been faced with insecurity and it is wrong for that part of the Niger Delta to be given less priority. PAP could have erred by concentrating on Ijaw speaking areas, with little or no attention to Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states. It is to reposition the programme and add value to the entire process that we call on the president to progressively wind up all PAP activities and redeploy such to the ministry of Niger Delta Development. The minister will, therefore, have the responsibility of charting a better course.

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