The Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), which was established on Thursday, July 11, 2009, as an offer of unconditional amnesty for ex-Niger Delta militants through a proclamation by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua on June 25, 2009, had no doubt brought peace to the oil rich Niger Delta region and boosted the nation’s oil gains.
However, the amnesty programme has been enmeshed in a series of alleged mind- boggling corruption as those managing it over the years have been accused of using the programme as a conduit pipe to siphon funds from public treasury to enrich themselves at the detriment of the intended beneficiaries.
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The ex-militants who are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiaries of the PAP programme across states in the oil-rich Niger Delta region are now crying out that they are not reaping the dividends of the programme.
The amnesty programme was made possible with the adoption of the United Nations (UN) prescribed Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) intervention model, combined with a home-grown process aimed at transforming the ex-combatants from militancy to gainful employment and change agents.
At present, PAP is in various stages of reintegration as government continues to make efforts to fulfill its promise to institute programmes to assist the provision of reintegration assistance to the militants.
Youths in the Niger Delta were being empowered through techno-vocational training, employment and offer of higher education scholarship.
A total of 30, 000 ex-agitators were captured in the Presidential Amnesty Programme Database.
The PAP also captured 822 women.
However, corruption allegations, missing funds and controversies have trailed the implementation of this phase of the re-integration programme with persistent change of the PAP coordinator.
In 11 years, PAP has had six coordinators; from retired Major-General Godwin Abbe (Edo, 2009-2010) as the pioneer Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and PAP coordinator/chairman to Timi Alaibe (Bayelsa), a former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); Kingsley Kuku (Ondo) and retired Brig-Gen P.T. Boroh (Bayelsa), whose tenures ended in 2015 and 2018 respectively, as well as Prof Charles Quaker Dokubo (Rivers), who was replaced in February this year by the current interim administrator, Colonel Milland Dixon Dikio (retd).
There was no major controversy when Abbe and Alaibe took charge of the office set up to address the unrest in the Niger Delta region via reintegrating the agitators back into the society.
But before Dokubo came, his two immediate predecessors, Kuku and Boroh, were said to have been the guests of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
President Muhammadu Buhari sacked Boroh in March 2018 and ordered the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (retd) to investigate the amnesty programme’s activities since 2015, “especially the allegation of financial impropriety,” which details were not given.
The amnesty programme provides an opportunity for each former militant to a monthly stipend and job training.
Pundits say the PAP leadership might have used the opportunity of job training and monthly stipend to siphon funds.
Boroh’s successor, Dokubo, was also suspended on February 28 this year by President Buhari.
Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, had said in a statement that the suspension was in line with the recommendation of a caretaker committee set up to look into allegations and petitions against Dokubo.
“Following numerous allegations and petitions surrounding the Presidential Amnesty Programme, the NSA set up a caretaker committee to look into the activities of the programme on the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Part of the committee’s task is to ensure that allocated resources are properly utilised in consonance with government’s objective of alleviating problems in the Niger Delta region and stamping out corruption in the amnesty programme.
“Consequently, the NSA recommended to Mr President that the coordinator of the amnesty programme, Professor Charles Quaker Dokubo, be suspended, a recommendation that has been approved, and which takes immediate effect.
“The president has also directed that the caretaker committee set up to review the programme should oversee the running of the programme henceforth, with a view to ensuring that government objectives are achieved,” the statement read.
The president finally sacked Dokubo on Thursday, August 27, 2020 and approved the appointment of Col Dikio (retd) as the PAP interim administrator, with effect from August 21, 2020.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, in a statement, said the appointment followed President Buhari’s approval of the disengagement of Prof Dokubo from office as the PAP coordinator with immediate effect.
The statement did not provide information on the motive behind his sack.
But in late 2018, Prof Dokubo had said that he would not bow to pressure to share funds meant for ex-militants, advising Niger Deltans to shun unnecessary criticism and support the amnesty programme.
He spoke in a meeting with the Niger Delta Amnesty Vendors Association in Abuja.
He also said he was disturbed by the desperation of some persons to harass and blackmail him for his refusal to disburse funds meant for genuine beneficiaries of the amnesty programme to people not captured.
“If you are not on this programme, forget about getting N65, 000.00 monthly.
“You must be captured by this programme to be entitled to payment of monthly stipend. Nobody from the Niger Delta has come to me that I didn’t give a listening ear.
“Right from the beginning, I have said I’m not going to use amnesty money for myself. I am in this office to serve,” he said.
Early this year, the Presidential Amnesty Programme raised the alarm over activities of fraudulent individuals and syndicates soliciting financial rewards for an advertised contract verification exercise scheduled to hold between on March 9 and April 10, 2020.
This followed reports that some unscrupulous individuals and syndicates were seeking monetary rewards from contractors, with a promise to influence the outcome of the verification exercise or cause companies to be listed for verification.
A statement from PAP office reads, “The Presidential Amnesty Programme has put in place a transparent process for verification of contracts.
“Therefore, no third parties have been assigned to discuss, negotiate or promise payments or receive gratification on behalf of the PAP.
“Any individual or group which seeks to corruptly benefit from the contract verification exercise will be investigated and prosecuted.”
- ‘N712bn amnesty funds unaccounted for’
Meanwhile, the interim coordinator of the programme said the programme was not sustainable after 11 years.
The NSA, on Friday, October 9, 2020, said not less than N712billion spent on the PAP could not be accounted for.
Monguno said this at the Presidential Villa, Abuja while speaking with State House reporters after briefing President Buhari on the amnesty programme.
He was accompanied by the PAP interim administrator, Col Dikio.
‘Amnesty programme can’t continue forever’
Monguno said the interim coordinator was brought in to stop corrupt practices in the amnesty programme, adding that there is no place on the surface of the earth where programmes meant to be palliatory will continue forever.
He said, “This Presidential Amnesty Programme is supposed to be very serious.
“The original intention of the programme was rooted in the fact that the people of the Niger Delta have been suffering adversely as a consequence of so many issues: ecological, security and too many things, bearing in mind the burden the region has been carrying in terms of the natural resources there.
“So, the principal idea for setting up this programme was actually to look at issues of development and security.
When this programme was set up 11 or 12 years ago, we thought that sticking to the original timeline, in three years, the programme would end; that is the amnesty period in which the agitators would have been fully compensated and trained.
They would have acquired all the necessary skills and become more productive to the people of that region.
“Unfortunately, so many things happened.
“Three years became 11 years and now going to 12.
“This is because of the vicissitudes and vagaries of our society.
“A lot of things happen to catapult the whole programme into other issues that originally were not intended.
“The predatory instincts of certain individuals came into the fore and the programme was turned upside-down, and as a result of this, like the administrator has just said, there was a lot of corruption, waste, mismanagement within this period.
“N712b was wasted, basically unaccounted for, and this is due to so many issues, corruption being at the fore.
“I had to take this step to advise Mr President that this waste cannot go on.
“This programme is not supposed to be an open-ended.
“There is no place on the surface of this earth where programmes that are supposed to be palliatory will continue forever.
“At the end of the day, it will become a big problem and entanglement for the government.
Therefore, we decided to take immediate action by bringing in someone who can take a deep look at this programme.
He has served in places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Chad etc.
I must also add that he has been receiving a lot of cooperation and help from certain ministries.”
Dikio disclosed that the database of the ex-agitators was rather “dishonestly corrupted and several contracts awarded in total disregard of need and procurement processes.”
He said the programme was owing contractors the sum of N71,411,646,210.68.
This development, he added, informed President Buhari’s decision to overhaul the programme, aimed at ensuring that the dividends of the amnesty programme reached its original target beneficiaries.
He said reports had shown that not much progress had been recorded in some aspects of the demobilisation and reintegration components of the programme.
- ‘PAP not sustainable’
Dikio said the programme as currently structured was not sustainable and could not deliver the desired long-term benefit to the region and the country.
He said the ultimate success of the amnesty programme was in its ability to move ex-agitators from their previous lifestyles to sustainable livelihoods as peaceful members of their communities and net contributors to the economy.
He said this was the reason why the programme was designed to address development and security issues in the region.
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The national chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Air Commodore Idondesit Nkanga (retd), in a telephone interview on Saturday, said the amnesty programme had been enmeshed in controversies, just like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Nkanga, who called for the prosecution of those involved in corrupt practices that rocked PAP instead of “media trial,’’ said the law should take its course.
He said the amnesty programme was marred from the beginning due to failure to provide an exit strategy.
“There must be an exit strategy so that they would become useful to the society,” he said.
But Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), attributed poor conceptualisation of the PAP and absence of sustainability strategy to lack of proper consultation, especially at community levels, as some of the issues.
Rasanjani said the challenges exposed the amnesty programme to systemic loopholes and pervasive corruption, thereby preventing its fund from producing optimal results.
He called for the transition of the scheme into a youth development programme within a federal realm, to enable proper supervision and sustainability.
He also underscored the need to enhance transparency and accountability at the transition stage of the programme, which should allow for direct allocation of PAP budgets to the state development commissions for project implementation and supervision
- Ex-militants angry over delay in payment of stipends, scholarships
Some ex-militants who spoke with our correspondent in Port Harcourt expressed anger that despite billions of naira set aside for the payment of their stipends of N3,000, many of them have not received anything.
An ex-militant, Goergewill Akubo, who underwent a post amnesty training in welding and fabrication, said the programme was not able to achieve its goal because it was hijacked by some powerful forces.
He said they were owed arrears from October 2019 to April 2020, adding that they have been put them in a difficult situation.
“The forms of insecurity you are seeing in the Niger Delta region, such as kidnapping, oil bunkering, robbery, banditry and cultism are as a result of the failure of the post amnesty programme,’’ he said.
He also said that many of those who repented and surrendered their arms were not included in the training programme and other stimulus packages.
“Many of those who fall into this category pulled out and formed different cult groups.
“And the situation is really getting out of hand,” he added.
Another ex-militant who pleaded anonymity blamed the coordinators of the programme for not accommodating everybody.
In the same vein, some ex-agitators and beneficiaries of the programme in Bayelsa State said the backlog of their stipends and fees for those on scholarship programmes were still left unpaid.
They said most of the unpaid packages were owed by the administration of the immediate past coordinator of the programme, Prof Charles Dokubo.
They said most of them had to drop from the scholarship programme due to lack of sponsorship.
A beneficiary of the scholarship programme told Daily Trust on condition of anonymity that for over four months now, he had not received his stipend, not to talk about school fees.
He said most of the beneficiaries doing the programme with him had already abandoned it due to lack of sponsorship.
“They are talking about money missing while the beneficiaries are suffering.
“We can no longer pursue our programmes while people who don’t know anything about Niger Delta struggle are feeding fat from our commonwealth.
“We should not be tempted to go back to creeks.
When Prof Dokubo was sacked, we pleaded that one of the ex-agitators should be made the coordinator because he will understand our plight since he was in the struggle and understands our language, but the president gave deaf ear to it.
I am afraid that if the president continues appointing people that don’t know anything about the Niger Delta struggle into that office, they will still be problems.
He should try one of us and see the difference,” he said.
Another beneficiary, Onyibrakemi Gabriel, a student of Edwin Clark University, lamented that for about 23 months now, they have not been paid their stipends, which they were supposed to use in buying textbooks and for upkeep.
In Edo State, some ex-agitators told our correspondent that many things were wrong with the programme, thereby bringing untold hardships on the beneficiaries of the amnesty programme and the people of Niger Delta region.
One of the ex-agitators, Peres Ejune, who is the chairman ex-agitators in the state, said though they were still receiving stipends, some things were wrong with the programme.
He said the mode of payment had become worrisome and poorly managed.
“Initially, we were to receive the stipend by 26th of every month, but they later changed it to the end of the month.
“But when Prof Dokubo came in as the head of the programme, he changed it to two weeks of the new month.
“But now, they will pay one month and owe one month.
“They are owing us for September,” he alleged, saying they were subjected to untold hardship.
He, however, commended President Buhari for continuing the amnesty programme.
“We don’t blame the president but his special advisers on the amnesty programme and other staff who are indigenes of the Niger Delta,” he said.
He said the ex-agitators were in support of the probe of the NDDC and the amnesty programme to make them functional for the development of Niger Delta region.
Another ex-agitator, Ben Dowei, the founder the Niger Delta Volunteer Movement, noted that payment of their stipends had not been regular as it used to be.
“They have been paying the stipends, but for sometimes now, it has not been coming,’’ he alleged.
He said those schooling in Nigeria and abroad under the amnesty scholarship programme were the worst hit because they had not been paid for a long period.
In Akwa Ibom, the leader of the phase 2 of the amnesty programme, Mr Imoh Okoko, has cried out against the continuous marginalisation of ex-militants in the state.
Okoko told our correspondent that only very few of them had been receiving the N65,000 monthly stipend from the programme. He said many of them had not been paid for over 10 years.
He also said that no ex-militant in Akwa Ibom had benefitted from any scholarship programme outside the country.
According to him, efforts to get the problem sorted out have failed as there has not been any response to the letters he had written to the amnesty programme office.
He called for the restructuring of the programme in a way that each of the beneficiary states would have a director representing them.
He said the most important aspect of the programme was the empowerment of members.
He said many members were threatening to return to the creeks due to marginalisation and maltreatment.
“Akwa Ibom is totally sidelined from the amnesty programme. Our people have not been trained.
“From the period they have been sending people overseas to study, the original people from the state have not benefitted,” he said.
Meanwhile, in response to the controversies surrounding missing funds in the amnesty programme, a coalition of Niger Delta contractors, during a peaceful protest recently to the amnesty office, called for the disbandment of the committee set up to oversee the programme.
Protesting over the non-payment of their contract fees, they said some of them were owed for two years or more, even after executing their jobs successfully.