New Telegraph

Sustaining Diffusion of Peace in Niger Delta Our Main Focus, Says Major-General Ndiomu (Rtd)

Besides his 35 years of military career where he served as Nigerian Defence Adviser to the Republic of Chad, Major General Barry Tariye Ndiomu (rtd), the Interim Administrator/ CEO of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), has over three decades of post-call experience at the bar and as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court.

The academic with many publications to his credit, who was on the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM 3) with expertise in negotiating disputes and conflict resolution, in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, spoke about various innovations put in place to diffuse peace and security in the region in conformity with the core objectives of the programme

 

Congratulations Sir, on the Innovative Government Agency of the Year Award from the New Telegraph Newspaper. How does it make you feel?

 

When we assumed office, my team and I knew we had a task ahead of us and we set out to diligently carry out the responsibilities placed on our shoulders in a manner that will hugely benefit and change the lives of the ex-agitators for whom the programme was established. We did not come here with the expectation of being showered with encomiums or with the hope of winning laurels for our modest efforts. But I must honestly state that the award by the New Telegraph Newspapers as the “Most Innovative Government Agency” is a worthy testimonial reflective of our efforts to transform the ex-agitators from stipend reliance or dependence to entrepreneurs and employers of labour in the Niger Delta region.

 

It is quite pleasing to know that our modest efforts are attracting attention at the relevant places. The award is a further call on us to be more proactive and an encouragement to enable us to do more. We express our deep gratitude to the New Telegraph Newspapers for the honour and our appreciation goes to President Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the National Security Adviser Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and to all who have supported us in diverse ways on the tortuous journey to achieve the PAP mandate. I also dedicate the award to all beneficiaries of the Programme.

 

The award was anchored on the paradigm shift and innovations you introduced on assumption of office. Could you expatiate on these innovations and to what extent they are in tandem with the philosophy behind the establishment of the programme?

 

On assumption, you will recall we were given the directive to prepare to wind down the PAP because as a DDR Programme which was supposed to run for five years, having begun in 2009 the PAP was supposed to have shut down somewhere between 2013/2014. It was common knowledge that the programme cannot run unend.

 

Recall I was appointed in September 2022 and now in 2024, almost 15 years following the amnesty proclamation, the PAP is still here adding value to the lives of ex-agitators and people in the Niger Delta region. We undertook a robust stakeholders’ engagement across the region and the feedback we got was that winding down the PAP without putting in place a necessary machinery or an alternative plan to address the issues in the Niger Delta particularly those related to the ex-agitators, will rather create more security challenges and take Nigeria back to a place worse than were the country was before 2009.

 

The PAP was to remain, but the caveat was for us to sanitise our data base because from 2009 some figures have remained unchanged, which could not have been possible because naturally, some persons exited the programme after training and some were deceased. The number of registered beneficiaries has been constant and everyone has been collecting the monthly ₦65,000 stipend which presently lacks the value it had when it was initially instituted. So, we set out to sanitize the database and discovered that several of the beneficiaries had multiple accounts linked to single BVNs. This discovery has been reported to the appropriate authorities for necessary action because it borders on financial crime.

In the process, we have been able to save some resources which have been deployed to relevant areas such as the Presidential Amnesty Cooperate Scheme Ltd (PACOSOL) which is currently transforming the lives of the ex-agitators from stipend dependence to entrepreneurs. The cooperative scheme is empowering beneficiaries of the programme in the micro-business space to find relevant support in funding and other essential tools.

We are committed to producing a new breed of business owners in the region. Also, we have deliberately planned the scheme as an investment towards achieving the peace diffusing throughout the region, making pipeline vandalism and oil bunkering activities an obsolete pastime. The success stories emanating from this initiative have been profound as those with little or no business experience have been provided with mentorship support and market linkages, loans to invest in critical sectors of the economy while those with businesses have been encouraged to upscale.

Under my watch, the PAP has resuscitated the aviation programme with a total of 75 delegates, 40 aircraft maintenance engineers and 35 cadet pilots who have completed their training both within and outside the country. Some of them graduated in flying colours at a ceremony a couple of weeks ago in South Africa.

As part of building the capacity of ex-agitators, more than 800 of them have undergone training in specialised areas in information communication technology. While quite a number of them have completed their programmes, others are at various stages of completion. We also inherited vocational training centers spread across the region and efforts are ongoing to get them finished though some of them may require some substantial work to bring them to completion. What we are doing differently by way of innovation is to get these centers affiliated to relevant higher institutions of learning in the region and public training institutes in the country.

 

These initiatives are in line with empowering ex-agitators with relevant skills and business ideas for them to become self-sustaining to enable them to take their destinies into their own hands and be effectively reintegrated back into the society. Our initiatives and innovations are not just in tandem with the philosophy behind the establishment of the programme but as you can see, we have also succeeded in raising the bar to enhance a sustainable socio-economic future for the Niger Delta and its people.

 

How have these impacted on individuals, host communities and hitherto notorious pipeline vandalisation?

 

Let me correct an impression, pipeline vandalism is a complex task and a job done by people with professional expertise. It is a bigtime criminal activity which ordinary people like ex-agitators are incapable of pulling off. While I am not totally exonerating the ex-agitators as some of them may possibly be engaged in the act, however their percentage of involvement comparatively is negligible compared to what we have seen and known.

 

Remember I was also chair of the Federal Government investigative panel on oil theft and losses. Niger Delta ex-agitators are now a new breed of persons adding value to the region which is a more peaceful place than other parts of the country. These are positive innovations that are improving people’s living condition, throwing up opportunities that were never there and building capacities. These are all in keeping with the mandate of the Presidential Amnesty Programme.

Everything we have done is there in the open and can always be analyzed and evaluated. We are transparent and as you may be aware our priority is to the ex-agitators and because we are impacting their lives, this is also adding value to the entire region through programmes like the scholarship scheme which is breeding a whole new generation of sound leaders from the region. At the end communities in the region will be the better off.

 

How many beneficiaries are currently on your list and what other policies have you initiated to address their needs?

 

Our statistics are not static because there are almost new developments every day, so we keep upgrading our database and the figures keep changing. We are seeking partnerships in the oil and gas sector to absorb some of the beneficiaries who will undergo training in the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria [NAPTIN] to which the vocational training centre at Bomadi will be affiliated to. Our policies are well thought out and are expected to stand the test of time.

 

They are also in line with global best practices. For instance, the cooperative scheme is designed to adhere to the needs of the ex-agitators and if there is anything the PAP needs more than ever before is funding to enable us to bring in more beneficiaries into the cooperative net and thereafter tend to other growth-oriented groups in the region.

 

What level of engagements exist between PAP, traditional rulers and communities in the region?

 

There is a robust relationship existing between the PAP and all stakeholders of the programme. This includes traditional rulers across the 9 states of Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Abia, Imo, Akwa–Ibom and Cross River. Our stakeholders’ engagements have been held regularly at the inter-personal level with our revered royal fathers. Engagements are a continuous exercise with all stakeholders including elders, leaders of thought, leaders of ethnic nationalities and leadership of the three phases of the programme. We also ensure that opinions expressed by stakeholders are always taking into consideration in policy formulation and therefore making them active participants in schemes initiated by the PAP management. Their relevance in keeping the peace in the region cannot be overemphasized and their roles have contributed hugely and this is key to our success stories.

 

As stated earlier, our mandate is to rehabilitate and reintegrate the ex-agitators, but we are conscious that for the PAP to successfully carry out this mandate, communities in the Niger Delta need to evolve for there to be a paradigm shift. Therefore, the communities are part of our areas of priorities. Siting of the vocational training centers in communities in the region is part of the PAP agenda to grow those communities which will in the future spread the tentacles of growth to other areas.

 

Given the challenges that preceded your appointment, how are you warding off contractors and other corrupt elements who saw the programme as a national cake?

 

Most of the criticisms we have been subjected to emanated from the need to change from the old ways because you cannot continue to do things the same way and expect a different result. Contracts needed to be verified and those contractors who genuinely executed their jobs have been paid. Every Kobo we have been able to save by plugging all areas of leakages has been ploughed back into taking care of critical areas such as the scholarship scheme, welfare of the ex-agitators who are the direct beneficiaries of the programme and the cooperative scheme which is impacting lives. Let me emphasize that some of us were raised under a very strict culture of discipline with a very high pedigree which we hold very dear and will continue to protect.

 

What challenges are the agency going through, e.g., sourcing Forex for the school fees of ex-agitators schooling outside Nigeria, and how have you been able to surmount them?

 

The challenges confronting the PAP are very obvious. The programme was established almost a decade and a half ago and between now and then, so many things have changed. The cost of everything we do at the PAP has gone astronomical without a corresponding budgetary increase. Tending to our offshore scholarship obligations is an uphill task, so also is the onshore programme as all our partnering schools have hiked their tuition and related payments. The value of the ₦65,000 monthly stipends for ex-agitators is no longer the same as it was 14 years ago. With prudent management of our scarce resources, we have been able to hold our heads above water level. It is a hard task, but we are prevailing.

 

What role has your military background played in your commitment to realisation of the objectives of the programme?

 

The amnesty programme as you already know is a security programme and almost everything about its activities needs to be approached in a security manner. Beneficiaries of the programme though non state actors were very conversant with the use of weapons and in unconventional warfare. Having voluntarily surrendered their arms did not in any way eliminate what initially pushed them into militancy. To successfully manage them you need someone with combat experience in addition to some level of diplomatic skills and exposure in the art of relating with diverse and sensitive people in a tactful manner.

 

Could you give us an insight into your background?

 

I am Major General Barry Tariye Ndiomu (Rtd), from Odoni community in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. I attended Federal Government College Ilorin (1974 –1979) and was admitted into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) 29th Regular Combatant Course on January 3, 1980.

In recognition of my leadership qualities, I was appointed Cadet Sergeant Major in the NDA and later Junior Under Officer and Commander of the Colour Party during the passing out parade (POP).

I was posted to the elite Nigerian Army Corps of Military Police upon commission on the rank of Second Lieutenant on 17 December 1983. I have held several commands and staff appointments in the course of a most successful and distinguished military career. I was posted to my alma mater purely on merit where I served as an instructor and later commanded the Demonstration Company for several years.

In the course of my distinguished career, I was appointed the Nigerian Defence Adviser to the Republic of Chad from 2006 – 2009. I was the Commander, Army Headquarters Garrison, Abuja from 2014 -2015 and later Chief of Training and Operations in DHQ the time a major operation supervised by me was successfully launched to eliminate pipeline vandals in the Arepo area of Ogun State.

Towards the tail of my career, I was posted to the Nigerian Army Resource Centre, Abuja as a Senior Resource Fellow. I had numerous operational exposures having served in ECOMOG in 1991 and also at the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM 3) 1997 – 1998, where I honed my skills in negotiating disputes and conflict resolution.

I retired from the Nigerian Army after over 35 years of meritorious service on 17 December 2017. I have a degree in Law and have been called to the Nigerian Bar having graduated from the prestigious University of Ibadan and the Nigerian Law School Lagos (1984 – 1988). I am therefore, a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. I am an expert in policy formulation and strategy, having graduated from the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in 2009 -SEC 31. I am also a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School and the Aga Khan University where I attended courses on adaptive leadership.

In my quest for knowledge, I attended the George C Marshall Centre for European Security Studies, Garmish-Patenkirchen, Germany in 2016 where I studied with particular interest, the Security Implication and Effects of Migration of Africans to Europe, and proffered solutions. I also attended the Senior Management Course at the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, Badagry in 2017.

I have some publications to my credit; a paper on the need for Nigeria to be made permanent member of the UN Security Council, The Chadian Internal Conflicts and its implications for Nigeria; The role of the Armed Forces in Counter Terrorism and other Violent Crimes in Nigeria and lastly a paper on the Nature and Causes of Conflict in Nigeria: A panacea for Conflict Resolution.

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