Damilola Makanjuola, Abuja
Sabotaging pipelines, kidnappings, killings, destruction of government property, oil siphoning and a host of other peace-threatening activities had characterised the oil-rich, Niger Delta region of Nigeria for several years, up to 2009. The demands of the region over the years had been emancipation from neglect and injustice for the inhabitants of the region. The region, which houses crude oil—the economic mainstay of the Nigerian state—has suffered neglect over the years, as their needs have been constantly ignored.
It was the vexation of the people, which arose from the perennial neglect that led to the birth of militancy in the region. Several militant groups with membership running into several tens of thousands started building up arms and taking the laws into their hands. Headed by self-styled “Generals,” these groups forced many foreign oil companies operating in the region to remain idle by blocking their activities. They kidnapped, killed and carried out several acts of illegality. Above all, their brigandage caused a deep plunge in the country’s oil production capacity from above two million barrels a day to less than 700,000 barrels a day.
The inefficiencies of several government peace-keeping initiatives as well as the unsuccessful search for a lasting solution to the scourge of militia attacks in the region caused the late President Yar’Adua-led administration to constitute a technical committee, charged to proffer solutions to the spate of attacks. As part of the solutions proffered by the committee in its report to President Yar’Adua on December 1, 2008, the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) was launched on the June 25, 2009.
The Presidential Amnesty Programme had a mandate of restoring the oil-rich region to its original state of peace in order to re-attract foreign oil companies, whose staff had fled the region for fear of their lives. It also faced the task of having the militants drop their weapons, renounce militancy and sign an undertaking of their resolve to return to civility. In exchange for which the Nigerian government promised to rehabilitate and reintegrate the ex-militants under a Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) programme.
The previous peace-keeping initiatives in the region had witnessed Disarmament, Demobilization and Rehabilitation but the Reintegration phase remained a mirage. The reintegration phase typically features training, education, knowledge, vocational and skill acquisition. As soon as Professor Charles Dokubo took over the office of the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta and was made the Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme in March 2018, he rolled out initiatives on reintegration.
Dokubo explained his mission in a chat with journalists recently, “I came in with an agenda. In the past, the two Ds have been concluded; that is disarmament and demobilisation. Now I am concerned with the reintegration phase. The people of the Niger Delta in the past had claimed that they have not been given access to things that they should have benefitted from in the area, especially in the oil industry. I decided to look at the issues and how to redress them. I discovered that you cannot redress the issue by just paying stipends to the people. We must create an environment in which they can be educated, vocationally trained and empowered so that they can attain heights and also have access to employment opportunities in the Programme.”
Dokubo explained that reintegration is a life-long process which could make or mar the entire amnesty cycle due to its sensitivity. He said this phase is to ensure permanent disarmament and restoration of sustainable peace to the region. Reintegration, when eventually achieved, would offer the ex-militants the opportunity for self-reliance which would lead them to resuming productive lives. Parts of the initiatives for this phase include job placements for the ex-militants, offering them micro-credit facilities, business support and so on. These are areas previous leaderships of the PAP were yet to consolidate on. True, the ex-combatants have been educated and trained in certain areas, but what becomes of them after such trainings if they are not empowered to set up their businesses or placed on jobs?
In Professor Dokubo’s words, “We are still appealing to the international organisations, agencies and oil companies to assist in the reintegration project so that the ex-combatants will be fully empowered and engaged in gainful endeavors. Militancy in the Niger Delta is not purely a Nigerian affair because it affects international oil companies directly.” Since he took over in March last year, education has enjoyed prominence as the numbers of graduates have increased exponentially to over 20,000 students. About 2,577 are currently in school. Of this number, 1,060 students are in private and government schools across the country. 1,517 are currently studying in various Universities across Africa, Asia, Europe and America.
Still on education, 2,799 are in Nigerian Universities, while 207 students are schooling in Universities and Colleges abroad. Currently, 20 persons are undergoing specialized training in Aviation at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT). Plans are also underway to collaborate with some state governments in setting up Vocational Training Centres in different areas of expertise. Two of these centres have already been completed. These are the oil and gas training centre, Agabada-Obon in Ondo State and the Basic Skills Training Centre in Kaiama, Bayelsa state.
In the area of vocational skills, 18, 602 ex-militants have received training in various areas of engagement. These are as follows: Agriculture 2,265; Automobile mechanics 1,171; Aviation 187, Boat building 152; Entrepreneurship 2,074; Carpentry, plumbing & pipe fitting 402; Crane/heavy duty operations 1,536; Electrical installation &maintenance 714; Health Safety & Environment 249; Music/Fashion/Entertainment/Catering 1688; Welding/Fabrication 4,686 and others. Over 3,000 ex-militants are currently being taught one vocational skill or another while another 5,578 are awaiting training, as this is done in batches.
It is good to explain at this point that within the context of PAP, an entrepreneur is a person who tries to do something new, visualizes a business opportunity, organizes the necessary resources for setting up a business and bears the attendant risk(s). So far, PAP has attempted to set up businesses and provide jobs for its swarming youth population, but it has been discovered overtime that PAP cannot single-handedly attain this feat alone. Currently, PAP is seeking partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) as well as various organizations to achieve this.
Taking into cognizance the need to constantly engage the already trained ex-combatants, a few of them have secured employment opportunities in the public and private sectors within and outside the country. Yet, the programme is still faced with the challenge of setting up Small and Medium Scale businesses for more than 4,000 persons; else it faces the risk of having them return to militancy. God forbid!
The sustainability of this programme remains the major challenge. Professor Dokubo in a media chat emphasized that the menace of militancy had become a generational issue before the government’s intervention. Hence, the amnesty programme would remain relevant until there are no longer traces of militancy in the Niger Delta region. This also explains why militants are still being paid till date. Until the cycle of reintegration is completed, it could be dangerous to leave them hanging on a balance; jobless.
Economic re-integration is another challenge of the programme, as there is the need to get the ex-militants employed upon completion of their educational or vocational courses. Generally, the employment index in Nigeria is still very low. As such, available jobs can only meet the demands of a few. It is upon this premise, that the government seeks continuous partnerships with local and foreign organisations to provide jobs for the ex-militants.
In summary, it is global practice that the reintegration phase determines the eventual outcome of an amnesty programme. To this end, the reintegration of ex-militants in the Niger Delta region must remain a continuous activity until all ex-militants get engaged with alternative means of livelihood. Having achieved Disarmament, Demobilization and Rehabilitation in previous PAP administrations, all hands must remain on desk to see the reintegration phase successfully completed.
The next one year of Dokubo’s stay at PAP is expected to be far more productive. Having learnt the ropes and having completed most of the projects initiated by his predecessors, it is time for him to take bold steps forward and ensure that the idea of reintegration is given practical meaning. Something must be done to stop pockets of violence in the Niger Delta master-minded by lazy, unoccupied ex-combatants who are yet to be reintegrated. They must be provided for in terms of employment and empowerment for entrepreneurship. There is no time to waste because sooner than later, the Programme will come to an end.
• Makanjuola writes from Abuja