From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The Niger Delta region since the advent of democracy in 1999 has known no peace. It has been from one bumpy ride of trouble to another turmoil. Lives were lost, properties especially oil facilities blown apart and investments dwindled with grave implications for the region.
The Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) initiated by the late President Umaru Yar Adua in 2008 to bring lasting peace to the troubled region took off on a good note with Mr Ndutimi Alaibe laying the foundation, which Mr Kingsley Kuku built on until politics of appointment of the PAP coordinator took over.
Brigadier-General (rtd) Paul Boroh from Trofani in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State was appointed after Kuku. He barely found his feet when allegations of corruption crippled his administration. He had to give way to Prof Charles Quaker Dokubo from Abonnema in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State. He is a research fellow at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos. But forces beyond his control torpedoed his administration before it actually matured.
Investigations revealed that the state of affairs of the amnesty programme made ex-militant leaders to become disillusioned. They became restless and barricaded the East-West Road. Various militant groups sprang up and resumed hostilities with the blowing up of oil facilities.
It was the threat to the delicate peace in the region that prompted the new coordinator, Col Milland Dixon Dikio (rtd) from Mbiama in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State to embark on a troubleshooting visit to the region in the guise of consultative meeting.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly told him: “One thing I should tell you is that you should not bite more than you can chew as the saying goes. You should accommodate the projects which you think you can effectively carry out with your budget.”
Dikio also held a crucial meeting with the major ex-militant leaders on the way forward. They discussed the problem of the amnesty programme and its implication for peace in the region. The former five commanders of the defunct Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) who met with Dikio were the Amayanabo of Okochiri, Okirika, Rivers State, King Ateke Tom; Chief Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo, who sent a representative; Victor Ben Ebikabowei aka Boyloaf and Chief Ajube Bibopiri aka Shoot-at-Sight.
A source said the parley was to find lasting solutions to emerging threats to the fragile peace in the region: “Dikio was more particular about sustaining the peace in the region. He insisted that without peace the region would not develop and called on the big five to help in deepening the existing peace and eliminating all the threats in the region. It was a fruitful deliberation that strengthened the bond of brotherhood for the overall good of the Niger Delta.
He quoted the amnesty boss as saying: “This meeting is for us to sit down together in a friendly atmosphere and have a heart to heart discussion on the past, present and the future of the PAP.”
Richard Akinika, a pioneer of PAP, said: “The meeting was a familiarity visit. PAP is about the leaders, who came out boldly and submitted their arms. The previous two administrators after Kingsley Kuku failed woefully which informed suspensions, investigations and led to the emergence of this sole administration.
“For me as a pioneer of that programme what the man has done is the right thing. When you come to somewhere you need to meet with the people, who own the programme, seek their opinions and sound them out on what their expectations are and it will inform your starting point.
“If you don’t have the support of the owners of the project, it will derail. It was an opportunity for the leaders to meet themselves. Boyloaf, Shoot-at-Sight and King Ateke Tom. It was like the old days and the need for them to work together.”
At a meeting with opinion leaders of the region in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark who spoke first urged leaders of the zone to support Dikio to succeed: “I and other elders from the Niger Delta will continue to work with you to ensure your tenure succeeds. I want to urge all to continue to do all that is possible for us to keep the peace as we continue to fight for justice, equity and fairness in Nigeria.
“I equally urge everybody that is gathered here that through you and all our other brothers in the region to give our son, our brother the cooperation for him to succeed.”
In his goodwill message, an Ijaw leader, Mr T.K Ogoriba said: “I don’t want to believe that the amnesty programme is scam, we are hopeful that our aspirations and dreams will come through.” A former President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Mr Udengs Eradiri, said Dikio had good plans and programme in place but prayed God to help the administration to deal with the politicians that had consistently frustrated the former coordinators.
Dikio said summit was to interact with the custodians of the region. He said the meeting afforded him the opportunity to understand some of the plights of the people and promised to quarterly hold similar engagement.
He advised ex-agitators not to make protests a culture of pressing for issues in the Niger Delta noting that after 11 years of the programme, the approach in passing out message was not yielding the desired results. He averred that the ex-agitators in the course of protesting about the underdevelopment in the region had destroyed the already existing infrastructures thus making the region to remain in its old state:
“The approach of protest over the years has scared many businesses away from the region. Therefore, we must find creative ways to bring back businesses to the region. We are here in Bayelsa because of the ‘back-to-the-region’ tour. We have met with some critical stakeholders and also held a summit to discuss the future of the PAP.
“I am here basically to sell a new vision, a vision that we can change the paradigm. A toxic environment is antithetical to development. Even if we are right we shouldn’t shoot ourselves in the foot. We need to have more entrepreneurial approach to our issues. I am very confident that where there is hope there is a bright future.”