At the peak of the Niger Delta crisis in 2009, many Nigerians were worried over the attendant losses recorded daily in many sectors.
Faced with the inevitability of bankruptcy and escalated incidents of insecurity beyond the Niger Delta region, Federal Government explored many options in search for a solution.
This was when kinetic response to the restiveness had failed to displace the actors, who were mainly youths of Niger Delta extraction.
Of the options government and non-state stakeholders proposed, granting amnesty to militants driving the crisis was adopted.
Specifically, government acted upon the recommendations of the Niger Delta Technical Committee (NDTC).
The unconditional pardon that came with amnesty, underscored the severity of militancy posed to the nation.
Official record of total money lost to militancy couldn’t be obtained, but it was widely reported and agreed that Nigeria was losing a third of its oil production at the peak of the crisis.
For instance, between 2006 and 2007, an estimated sum of $14.4billion tax and royalty income had been lost by Nigeria.
This was disclosed by the then Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC), Mr.Basil Omiyi, at a pre-conference workshop by the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE).
Also, in the first quarter of 2009, a few months before the amnesty declaration, daily losses were put at 1,101,488 barrels of oil daily. Within the same period, about 178.9 billion cubic feet (cf), of gas production was lost to the unrest.
In 2016, then Minister of Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said Nigeria lost $50-$100 billion in oil revenue at the peak of attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta, which slashed oil production from 2.2 million barrels per day to one million barrels per day last year.
It was based on the losses and the security threat militancy posed, that President Umar Yar’Adua granted amnesty to former agitators in August 2009, leading to the establishment of the Amnesty Office.
From inception till date, the scheme has been led by five coordinators, namely Mr. Timi Alaibe, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, Brigadier Gen Boroh, (rtd), Col Milland Dikkio (rtd) and Charles Dokuboh.
Thirteen years later, observers are keen about knowing if the key objectives of the programme: disarmament, demobilization and reintegration have been achieved under five leaders.
Checks showed that while what could be called total disarmament and demobilization have been realized, a lot is being done in terms of reintegration, engagement and employment.
Specifically, incessant attacks and sabotage of oil facilities by militants are no longer being recorded, leading to an improvement on oil production beyond the pre-amnesty period. But crude oil theft believed to be perpetrated by people in high places, including IOCs, had nearly driven oil production to the pre-amnesty stage.
On the pledge of training and education of 30,000 at the inception of the scheme in Obubra, Cross River State, some have been trained, educated and given vocational skills in various fields.
Some have graduated from the programme, while more than 10 have studied up to the PhD level.
Among the products of PAP are pilots, lawyers, engineers and welders among others.
Irrespective of the successes recorded, the pulse of stakeholders suggested that much needs to be done to ensure the total realisation of the dream envisioned by the late President Yar’Adua.
In fact, the optimum fulfillment of the objectives is based on how well the present leadership of Major-General Barry Ndiomu (retd), addresses inherited problems.
The federal government had, last September, appointed the Bayelsa-born ex-military chief as Interim Coordinator of the Amnesty Office. He succeeded another retired senior military officer, Colonel Milland Dikkio.
Apart from serving as the Garrison Commander, Nigerian Army Headquarters and Chief of Training and Operations, Ndiomu held other sensitive positions before he retired in 2017.
At the time Ndiomu emerged as head of PAP, government had mulled winding down the programme to the consternation of those with deep knowledge of its performance so far.
Two months ago, government had commenced the process to effectively shut down the PAP by December 31, 2022.
In a-13-point terms of reference titled: ‘Winding Down the Presidential Amnesty Programme’, Ndiomu was mandated to “Ensure the cessation of all processes of contract award immediately; identify and profile beneficiaries of the Presidential Amnesty Programme from inception between 17th and 31st October, 2022.”
However, stakeholders in the region stoutly kicked against the move, stating that among other things, a lot of its core objectives haven’t yet been realised. They also warned that it could lead to the resurgence of restiveness in the area.
This resulted in government’s decision to shelve the earlier plan of shutting down the programme.
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However, government, it was learned is determined to ensure that PAP is recalibrated to achieve its core mandate after which a piecemeal sort of winding down would follow.
To observers, most of the arguments against winding down PAP, highlighted the magnitude of work before the new leadership.
Most of the issues were found to be inherited administrative challenges from successive leaderships.
They include the bloated number of beneficiaries of the programme, over N90 billion debt profile, alleged systemic fraud and existence of non-Niger Deltans in the programme among others.
According to information obtained from the PAP website, no fewer than 30, 000 were captured in the programme, with 65 percent being youths from Niger Delta impacted communities.
It was learned that what Ndiomu met on the ground, was a situation whereby some beneficiaries who have been trained and empowered were still receiving monthly stipends.
The inconsistencies on the payment list were recently uncovered by an internal audit that was instituted by the new Interim Administrator to clean up the database of the programme.
The action had attracted criticisms from a few, but many hailed it, saying the programme is structured to run in three phases: training, empowerment and engagement, after which beneficiaries exit. But that wasn’t the case as the number of beneficiaries kept increasing up until when Ndiomu assumed office.
It is believed that the successful delisting of bogus beneficiaries, would save costs for government, and ensure the culture of exploiting the system is no more.
A source at the Amnesty Office, who spoke on the cleanup undertaken by the new leadership, said: ‘“The painful aspect of the issue is that a lot of people have fed fat from the PAP, many of them are called ‘billionaires’ today.
“The main agitators who fought, are not part of those who are billionaires today. They were exploiting the programme until Gen Ndiomu exposed their nefarious acts.’’
The source further revealed that over the years, scholarships were given to hundreds of non-Niger Deltans.
Such a situation was said to have denied deserving ex-agitators training, which is one of the three phases of PAP. The other stages of the programme are empowerment and engagement.
Another source compared PAP and Northeast Development Commission, saying it’s difficult to find any Niger Deltan working in the commission. He added that non-Niger Deltans, including those from the North, hold sensitive positions in PAP.
The alleged inclusion of non-Deltans in PAP, was, however, corroborated in an interview by the Grand Patron of Ijaw Youth Council Eselemo.
He said: “People like Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and others who are not from the Niger Delta benefitted, according to revelations.”
Also, Ndiomu was said to have met over N90 billion debt, which perhaps made the federal government include ascertaining the debt profile in his mandate.
The presidency is also said to have directed Ndiomu to, “propose a mechanism for the settlement of outstanding debts, if any, by 31st December 2022.’”
This unarguably confirmed the worries of stakeholders over the indebtedness of PAP.
Further findings about PAP, indicated that over the years, the programe has not created much value in terms of employment and engagement of the trained ex-agitators.
It is believed that had past leaders taken those aspects of the amnesty deal seriously, many trained ex-militants would have been well engaged in the oil industry activities even beyond the region.
Key stakeholders were of the view that had former agitators been fully involved in the massive investments in the sector, Ndiomu wouldn’t have inherited the challenges of engagement and employment.
This is why many stakeholders want the present leadership, having shown capacity and sincerity, to prioritize engagement and employment of many former agitators.
For observers, apart from the likes of High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, Asari Dokubo, Ateke Tom and a few others, who are now in productive enterprises, many ex-agitators are still struggling.
“If Tompolo, NNPC and other stakeholders had leveraged the Training and engagement of the ex-agitators in pipeline surveillance contract, it would have reduced the number of untrained ex-agitators and it would have been a win-win situation. The numbers will be trimmed down, just as more value would have been created for government,” a Delta-born stakeholder, who pleaded anonymity, said.
As things stand, PAP is a work in progress and not a concluded assignment. This was largely demonstrated through calls by well-meaning Nigerians for President Buhari not to wind down the scheme as planned.
Now that the President has given the programme a new lease of life with the decision not to terminate it, the onus is on Ndiomu to re-engineer its operations of PAP.
It is expected that he makes government see reasons PAP should be reconfigured as a social Investment programme.
Meanwhile, the PAP boss hasn’t left anyone in doubt about his desire to redesign the programme and make it inclusive to enable ex-agitators reap from their sacrifices.
He reiterated this when he met with leaders of phase One, Two and Three of PAP in Port Harcourt.
According to him, “there are a lot of misgivings in the way and manner the programme is being handled. Many of you are not feeling the impact of the programme, while a few others are feeding fat in the name of the programme. If they call you ex-agitators, that means you should be the first person to benefit from the programme before any other because of the huge sacrifices you made to restore peace in the Niger Delta region.
“That you are not benefitting from the programme implies that the programme needs to be redesigned in such a way that it can benefit you, hence the need to re-evaluate and rejig the programme to make it more beneficial to you. Therefore, I want you to buy the idea and think of the next steps that we can collectively take to make this programme more impactful in the region.’’