“There is nobody from Niger Delta that would not know about Kaiama. We have won and we have won. We have battled and now we are going to be empowered.”
Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Kaiama, headquarters of Kolokuma/Opokuma in Bayelsa State is the home of the Niger Delta struggle. The name Kaiama is symbolic for the Ijaw nation. It is the home of Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, the Ijaw freedom fighter that took Nigeria by storm in his 12-day revolution that attempted to redress the marginalisation of the region. Kaiama is also the birthplace of the modern Niger Delta struggle as represented by the Kaiama declaration in 1998 by young Ijaw revolutionaries in the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) led by the late Oronto Natei Douglas, Dr. Felix Tuodolo and others.
Every Ijaw from Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom that believes the Ijaw struggle for self-emancipation has a special place in their heart for the town Kaiama. It was therefore not surprising that Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo, Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta/Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme would flag-off the rejuvenated amnesty programme in Kaiama.
The historic importance of Kaiama in the struggle of the Ijaw nation and the Niger Delta cannot be wished away and Dokubo underlined this point when he noted that the focus of the amnesty is to ensure all Niger Deltans qualified to be empowered are not left out.
Dokubo’s first point of call was the office of the Deputy-Governor, Rear Admiral John Gboribiogha Jonah (retd) where he outlined his vision of the amnesty programme and the reasons it is necessary for every Niger Deltan to support the programme as its overall objective for the region is huge.
“Amnesty has been there but most of us from this part of the country have not used it effectively. If we have, most of our people would not continue to suffer. The programme is based on two pronged issues, one is maintaining security, and the other is enhancing the prosperity and health of the Niger Delta people. I met the programme at the period they have done demobilisation, rehabilitation. Now I am dealing with the reintegration; that is how we can salvage communities that have been affected by conflict so that they can be part of the system and also benefit from the wider Nigerian society. The people of the Niger Delta region, for a very long time, have been marginalised, ostracised and oppressed. Now we have come to a position where we can focus. I believe this system has changed. The responsibility of government, the present government in particular, clearly states that it wants to nurse back communities in Niger Delta to health in such a way that they would be part of the bigger picture. Niger Deltans are not lazy, we work hard, and anybody that says we are lazy is making a very big mistake. How many people can go out into the river in the early hours of the morning to catch fish? When the Federal Government decided to start this programme about training, retraining and reintegration, it was not because it was a soft touch but because it was necessary. I am here to emphasise this programme. Let us embrace this system and ensure that the programme is effective for our people.”
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He was not done yet as he lamented what he described as the laid back attitude displayed by some people in the region. He said he was bothered and has decided to take the bull by the horns to do everything humanly possible to ensure the success of the empowerment programme.
“We have been laid back for a very long time and as a Niger Deltan, it worries me. I believe that with my presence in Kaiama to look at the empowerment programme, this would change. The empowerment programme is not different from what it used to be. The new introduction is that we don’t have to give kits for people to carry away and sell; we want to give kits that would be used there to do your job and earn a living. I want to say that this programme is a new start and what I want from the people of Bayelsa is support. Bayelsa State is the Jerusalem of the Ijaw nation. This is the only homogenous state of the Ijaw people. This is why I have come here to flag off the empowerment programme. This programme is going to be very effective because now it is different. It is different because we are going to enhance and empower people to work, get something for themselves, and stand tall among Nigerians to ensure that the Niger Deltan people would never be looked down on again.”
Jonah who touched on the historic importance of Kaiama said the new direction Dokubo has given the amnesty programme would receive support from all well meaning Niger Deltans.
“The programme cannot last forever; there must be an exit point. There must be exit strategies that would lead to that point. One of the programmes I am seeing the coordinator coming to flag off is one of those channels we can use to exit this programme without pain. The exit must be painless and that is why he is here. We are all aware how this programme came about. There was a legitimate reason to establish this programme, people fought for it. For this direction that you are giving, you have our full support. I like the direction you are giving. As far as we are concerned, Kaiama is very important. It is symbolic of our struggle and where we all fall back to when we want to fall back.”
At Kaiama where beneficiaries defied the rain to wait patiently, Dokubo paying homage to those who have led the Niger Delta struggle said now was the time for all qualified people in the Niger Delta to be empowered.
“There is nobody from Niger Delta that would not know about Kaiama. We have won and we have won. We have battled and now we are going to be empowered. Empowerment is the last stage for the peace process in the Niger Delta and I am here to flag-off this programme. My purpose in this programme is that every person from the Niger Delta who is entitled to be empowered would be empowered. Nobody would be left behind, wherever you come from. As I am here, I also think about history, the history of the Kaiama declaration and crisis in the Niger Delta.”
The former secretary to the Bayelsa State government, Chief Serena Dokubo-Spiff in his goodwill message commended Dokubo for giving a different face to the amnesty programme. According to him, though the people of the Niger Delta have suffered for so long, the present government is toiling day and night to give succour to the people.
“Let me seize this opportunity to commend President Muhammadu Buhari for sustaining this most worthy amnesty programme. Like Oliver Twist, we want more for us. I want to commend Prof. Dokubo who has given a different face and dimension to the amnesty programme. The people of the Ijaw nation believe in your leadership of the amnesty programme, we believe in your coordination and we believe that you are the person that would take us to the glory land. Let us tell ourselves the plain truth, we are angry because of the marginalisation but the government of the day is doing something about, as epitomised by this great event that we are having. Therefore, let us end all restiveness and come together to work with the Federal Government and governments of the Niger Delta region so that we can achieve the purposes to which the amnesty programme was established.”
Two of the beneficiaries, Sime Solomon and Erefa Efaga applauded the new initiative, noting that the start-up packs being distributed has definitely changed the face of the amnesty programme.
Mr. Gabriel Amadi, a beneficiary, urged beneficiaries to follow the programme with all their heart as success story was not meant for the faint-hearted. “I have been a successful man through the Amnesty programme. I was empowered in 2016 as a fish farmer. The Amnesty programme empowered me with two tanks but today I have 12 tanks and 55 Fishing ponds. I can hatch, I produce fingerlings. I sell to individuals that are farmers like me. I can say proudly that through this Amnesty programme, my family can never remain poor. Through the knowledge I have in the programme, I have included poultry and now I have 300 layers. My advice is that if you are empowered today, take it serious. The reason I succeeded is because I put interest in it. We are about 50 that were empowered and I am the only one that is successful because I take it serious. This is why I am here to encourage you to take it serious.”
The Amnesty programme under Dokubo has placed the ball in the Court of the ex-agitators, now is the time for the Niger Delta resilience spirit to be on full display with skills acquired in the course of the programme.