Road to sustainable Amnesty Programme in Niger Delta
The recent motion by the Senate calling on the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemp Adeosun, to release the sum of N15 billion being the backlog of allowances and payments for the training and education of former Niger Delta militants under the Amnesty Programme, which was provided for in the 2016 budget, is a welcome development. The House of Representatives had, a day earlier, passed a similar motion.
The timely release of the outstanding funds without further delay would save the country an international embarrassment that may arise from protests by beneficiaries of the programme, especially those receiving training in various institutions in different parts of the world.
While presenting the motion on the floor of the House, Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, had drawn attention to plans by some of the beneficiaries in the United Kingdom to stage demonstrations at the Nigerian High Commission in that country to protest the delay in releasing the funds to enable them to meet their financial obligations to the institutions where they are undergoing training.
Reports from South Africa, United States, Philippines, Malaysia, and other countries where former militants are also undergoing trainings indicate a similar level of restiveness, with some facing the threat of expulsion from their institutions. Certainly, the country can do without any untoward development that could have negative impact on its image.
It is gratifying to note that the Senate does not only want the money released as soon as possible, it has also set in motion a machinery to unravel the cause of the delay, with a view to guarding against a reoccurrence in the future.
Without prejudice to the findings of the Senate committee, the cause of the delay in meeting government’s obligations to the amnesty beneficiaries may not be located too far away from the government’s commitment to ensuring accountability and transparency in the disbursement of funds under the programme.
A similar delay occurred in the first few months of the current administration, and only a timely intervention by the government averted an ugly situation.
Without doubt, the return of permanent peace to the troubled Niger Delta hinges partly on solutions to the unemployment problem that has fuelled militancy in the region for more than a decade.
That was what the Amnesty Programme of the late president, Umar Musa Yar’Adua, unarguably the most ambitious programme by any administration before it to address the problem of unemployment in the region, set out to achieve.
Timi Alaibe, the then presidential adviser and chief executive officer of the programme, is said to have achieved the feat of not only disarming and rehabilitating the militants, about 26, 000 in number, but also succeeded in reintegrating them into the society through a hitch-free implementation of the programme. Reports claim that under Alaibe, there was a measure of transparency and accountability in execution of the programme.
That’s why we did not hear stories of delay in paying the militants – those that are placed on monthly allowance of N65, 000 – and those in various institutions around the world for different trainings. And, by extension, no stories of demonstrations by militants over unpaid allowances.
The reason for the relative ease with which Alaibe and his team executed the programme may not be unconnected with the fact that it was the responsibility of one agency, the one he headed. This promoted transparency, accountability and easy management in the manner funds were disbursed.
It is therefore possible that problems set in when other non-concerned agencies began to dabble into execution of amnesty programmes for the militants. For instance, the mandate of the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Administration (NIMASA) does not include execution of amnesty programmes for militants.
But we saw during the tenure of the immediate past administration of the agency how it reportedly got involved in sponsoring repentant militants on training programmes in different parts of the world, apart from other amnesty programmes.
It may not be farfetched to suggest that during the immediate past dispensation, the two agencies – Amnesty Programme Office and NIMASA – may have been working at cross purposes.
While it is necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff through painstaking investigation into the management of resources meant for sustenance of the amnesty programme during the previous dispensation, care must be taken to ensure it does not in itself constitute a clog in the wheel of progress in current efforts to find long and lasting solutions to the problem of unemployment in the Niger Delta region – an important component of the whole package.
If need be, the federal government may find it necessary to look into the handling of the amnesty programme by Alaibe. It may be safe to assume that he did not execute the programme in abstract terms. He must have designed a template for its execution. This is more so because he authored the Niger Delta Development Master Plan, of which the amnesty programme is a part. There must be something on paper others can learn from.
It must not be forgotten that the amnesty programme is just an aspect of what should be a holistic approach to resolving the issues of the Niger Delta. The highly commendable dialogue approach of the federal government in solving the problem of the region once and for all is evident in the relative peace that has reigned in the region in the past few months. This is just the first step. Subsequent steps should involve a more streamlined and sustainable approach to executing the amnesty programme to ensure it achieves the objectives for which it was designed, in a hitch-free manner.
Tijani, a social commentator, wrote in from Kaduna
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