By Sam Okubokeme
Students of contemporary history have since proclaimed that one of the best demonstrations of continuum in governance in our era is what has been taking place in the Caribbean Island of Guyana. The reference is to what the government did in 2008 when there were food riots worldwide including the Caribbean nation.
The authorities pumped a whopping $2.8b into agriculture, specifically for drainage and irrigation for massive food production. This not only ensured the country was saved from famine. But also it laid the basis for the country to push to become the bread basket of the CARICOM member states that include Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Surinam and others.
How was this achieved? The principle of continuum of governance was applied by the administrations that succeeded Guyana’s government that initiated the agricultural policy in 2008. Those governments were never influenced by the fact that the initiator belonged to a different political party. Keen observers now refer to the Guyana experience as the “continuum of interventions in agriculture.”
Today, I see this beauty of continuity at work in Nigeria following the way the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has gone with the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme now headed by retired Brigadier-General Paul Boroh. The president’s decision to extend the life of the scheme by two years is a clear indication that government, indeed, is a continuum. It didn’t matter to him that the programme was initiated by his predecessors, who belong to a different political party.
He opted instead not to play politics with the well-being and stability of the region that produces the country’s wealth in spite of the vicissitudes and the attendant fall in the price of oil in the global market.
There are two conclusions to draw from this. First, it sends strong signals to the people of Niger Delta that the amnesty initiative, with all its goals of rehabilitating the repentant militants and empowering its people is an ongoing affair, not a one-off contract of a government or a political party. It is a national preoccupation. The extension is a value-laden admission that the oil-rich Niger Delta remains as much a critical contributor to the national wealth. Never mind the relatively low revenue oil is giving the country at the moment.
Secondly, the extension of the programme,which was earlier speculated to end in December 2015, reflects the confidence President Buhari has in Boroh, the man currently directing its affairs. He was appointed on July 28, 2015 and promptly assumed duty on July 29. But his work has so far convinced the government that some exciting developments have taken place under his watch for it to earn the support of the people of the region.
Thus, there is renewed confidence in the amnesty for the ex-militants. This has completely displaced the forlorn pessimism that Buhari would scrap the scheme without allowing the dreams of the beneficiaries to be fulfilled or to get to the logical conclusion.
On this score one has to laud the efforts of Boroh in a number of respects. He has begun a commendable plan to “graduate” some 3,232 beneficiaries from the programme as a first step of an elaborate exit strategy. These youths have been trained in various academic disciplines and vocational skills. Others are being given set-up or starter packs to enable them stand on their own in the business world.
The implication? The Federal Government will no longer pay them monthly stipends. What does this translate into in the long run? The central government in Abuja will be saving a huge N2.52b in stipend payment per year. That is what Boroh is throwing into the treasury bag of the government from his little corner at the Amnesty Office.
For a government seeking funds to enlarge its revenue base and fund budget estimates for capital and recurrent expenditure, this is no little contribution at all.
Boroh has also started a verification exercise of the number of former agitators in the programme. This move is not meant to abort this aspect of the programme as some mischief makers had speculated. Rather it is only designed to enable the new managers of the programme know the actual list of beneficiaries onshore and offshore to allow for frugal allocation of funds. The real intention is to let money go the way it is planned and not to the wrong hands. Again, some good money is going to be saved for better purposes.
The point also has to be made that following the renewed confidence in the programme, more than 1,500 youths of the region recently renounced violence and embraced peace voluntarily. It is doubtful whether it will be possible to absorb them in the programme at this stage. But observers, however, agree that their action would enhance the peace and security of the Niger Delta. The expectation is that with these warlords and violence-prone individuals laying down their arms, the country would witness less attacks on oil facilities and pipelines.
It bears emphasizing that the Amnesty Programme continues to play a major role in upholding the peace of the region nay the nation despite the economic challenges the country faces at the moment. With the onslaught of Boko Haram
yet to be fully tamed in the northern flank of the country, we do not need clairvoyance to prevent another uprising in the southern flank.
The beauty of democratic governance is that although administrations go and come, governance along with the need for the people to continuously enjoy the breeze of the good things of life is a sacred covenant between the people and their rulers. The Amnesty Programme under Boroh is proving just that.
•Okubokeme is an Abuja-based public affairs commentator