THE Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Brig. Gen. Paul Boroh (Retd), recently gave an indication of the federal government’s exit strategy for the programme, which will run until 2018. This development, which is bound to cause unease in some quarters, is welcome.
The Presidential Amnesty Programme is the outcome of years of engagement of the people of the Niger Delta by the Federal Government in a spirited attempt to curb the violent protests against decades of neglect of the region, and the negative impact of oil exploration activities. The programme, which came into being during the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007 and was originally designed to run for five years, has enjoyed many extensions because of the need to achieve its original objective of ending the restiveness in the region and re-integrating the militants into the society. In spite of this, it is necessary for the government to tread with caution as it plans an exit strategy for the scheme.
Now, it appears the government is ready to confront reality, as the programme must end one day. Looking at the bright side of this issue, it is an opportunity for government and all the stakeholders in the PAP to thoroughly scrutinize its impact on the larger Niger Delta region and find better ways of addressing the problems of the people.
As Boroh canvassed on the occasion, the PAP has been a relative success. Under its auspices, 17,322 of the beneficiaries have been trained, leaving a balance of 12,678. Of this number, 3,232 are currently undergoing training in various institutions at home and abroad with 95 per cent of its programmes billed to be domesticated from the 2015/16 session. The hope is that most of the beneficiaries who are yet to be trained could seek opportunities locally.
Apart from the money that government would save when the PAP finally winds down, what is more important is that the Niger Delta region would be given a breath of fresh air. At best, under the PAP, not more than 30,000 ex-militant youths would benefit, out of a surging population of over 40 million inhabitants of the region. This is why government needs to go beyond the amnesty programme to a more all-encompassing and enduring engagement of the people. In this regard, we welcome the present administration’s commitment to the cleanup of the entire region, starting with the Ogoni exercise, which is to commence next month.
It is actions like the clean up exercise, as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), which can help in quickly giving back to the generality of the people their natural habitats so that they can return to their traditional vocations and lifestyles, and excel. The long term survival of this country, if the truth must be told, lies in the complete appreciation of the divergences that exist amongst our people and allowing each part of the country to express itself and grow in a healthy competition with other parts.
We expect the Ministry of Environment, under the headship of Mrs. Amina Mohammed, to lead the new efforts to completely revamp the Niger Delta region. We expect, too, that this initiative will be complemented by the active collaboration of other government ministries and agencies, especially those with specific responsibilities for the Niger Delta region. The Ministry of the Niger Delta should also be reinvigorated in order to firmly deliver on its mandate of developing the Niger Delta region.
It was the failure of these agencies and precursor agencies like Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) to carry out this mandate which led to the restiveness in the region and the need for the amnesty programme in the first place. These interventionist agencies deviated from their core mandate of developing the region to becoming cesspools of corruption and conduit pipes for siphoning the hard-earned resources of the country into the pockets of highly-placed individuals in government and their agents.
The issues in the Niger Delta were left mostly unattended and allowed to fester, resulting in the youths of the region taking up arms against the federal government. Rampant kidnappings, blowing up of oil pipelines and premeditated sabotage of oil resources made the Niger Delta militancy the number one internal security threat to the country, prior to the upsurge of Boko Haram insurgency.
That is why, government in designing this exit strategy for the amnesty programme, must make haste slowly, so that we do not return to the days of violence and sabotage of the national economy in the region.