The issue of agitation by the Niger Delta militants, which dates back to 2006, can be traced to several years of neglect, political and economic marginalization, environmental degradation, bad governance and policy inconsistency by successive administrations as well as the divide and rule policy of the multinational oil companies operating in the region. The region, richly blessed with abundant oil and gas deposits, contributes about 70% of the country’s national wealth.
However, in a bid to address the agitation which adversely affected the daily oil production, in addition to the substantial loss of revenues prompted the Yar’ Adua administration to set up the Presidential Amnesty Programme in 2009 as a means of reducing the crisis to its barest minimum.
The continued agitation by the militants has however proven that the purpose for which the amnesty programme was set up is yet to be actualized.
This, no doubt, has created an unfavorable impression of insecurity in the region, especially during the regimes of successive coordinators of the programme which allegedly have been characterized by misappropriation of contracts and scholarship racketeering running into billions of naira.
As a result, some of the multinational oil companies operating in the oil rich Niger Delta have found it difficult to relocate their headquarters to the region and by so doing depriving the region of the revenue accruable from tax as well as the employment opportunities that would have benefited the youths of the region.
The Presidential Amnesty Programme under the leadership of Colonel Dixon Milland Dikio has strategically recorded tremendous successes unlike those before him. This can be measured by the relative peace being enjoyed currently in the Niger Delta region. Dikio’s strategic policies aimed at genuinely rehabilitating and re-integrating the ex-agitators back to the society has undeniably established the fact that indeed the Niger Delta region is not as insecure as it has been negatively portrayed.
Before now, there have been series of protests by the ex-agitators over delay in their monthly stipends of N65,000 as well as diversion of funds meant for the various scholarship and vocational training programmes.
But since his appointment as the interim administrator, Dikio has succeeded in ensuring that ex-agitators receive their monthly stipends as and when due.
According to an ex-militant leader and former Commander of the Bakassi Freedom Fighters (BFF), General Franklin Duduku, the timely payment of the stipends was one of the positive steps taken by Dikio to stabilise the Niger Delta region and sustain the peace in the area. He said before the current amnesty boss came on board, ex-agitators were used to blocking the major roads in the region, including sections of the East-West Road for series of protests before the amnesty office would release their stipends.
Duduku recalled that in most cases, the amnesty office owed ex-agitators arrears of unpaid stipends provoking avoidable disturbances and restiveness among the youths in the region. But he said such ugly narrative has changed because Dikio lived up to his promise to pay ex-agitators their stipends on the 25th of every month.
He said: “This current amnesty boss has proved to be a performer and a keeper of promises. This is the best deal the ex-agitators have had since the creation of the programme. I always recall with nostalgia how we used to engage in endless protests, blocking major roads including the ever-busy East-West road before the amnesty office would release our stipends. In most cases the stipends were owed for many months before payments trickled down to us.
“Such development caused unrest in the region and threatened the fragile peace in the Niger Delta. But this ugly narrative changed immediately Dikio took charge of the amnesty programme. He promised that he would pay ex-agitators on the 25th of every month and he has kept to that promise. This month, the 25th fell on a Saturday, but the next Monday, all ex-agitators received alerts in their various bank accounts. This is commendable”.
However, the rot in the amnesty office caused by the established criminal enterprise has been tolerated for too long by previous coordinators of the programme because of the external involvement of highly influential beneficiaries of the illegal revenue from phantom contracts and scholarships.
At the inception of his appointment, the interim administrator carried out a gradual overhauling of the programme by flushing out the bad eggs involved in contract and scholarship racketeering in the amnesty office which was resisted by external forces privy to the spoils. In spite of the threats, frustration and intimidation, some of the key officers who for long have been milking the PAP dry were dismissed.
In its quarterly meeting in Port Harcourt, the Niger Delta Anti-corruption Forum (NDAF) acknowledged Dikio’s courage in sanitizing the amnesty office which was a pointer to the fact that his military background was not a fluke. The group, through its coordinator, Samuel Joe Samuel, alleged that such dubious characters in the amnesty office use fake contractors to plunder the resources of the PAP.
He noted that their cruel actions have derailed the programme and constrained genuine efforts to meet up with the statutory obligations of the PAP.
The group said: “A lot of people are not aware that 50 to 60 percent of the contractors handling various projects are staff of the amnesty office. They use people to front for them. It is also on record that most of the contracts they award to themselves do not exist.
They just get the money and lavish. It is the same thing they do with the PAP scholarship that is meant for people of impacted communities. They hijack the scholarships and sell slots. In some schools there are only about 20 to 25 students but the amnesty office pays the fees of as much as 50 to 60 students.
“Their illicit activities have made them extremely wealthy. In Abuja alone, these people have choice properties here and there at the expense of the original beneficiaries of the programme. And a lot of our people don’t know about it. When Colonel Milland Dixon Dikio said he wanted to reposition the PAP, they declared war on him, frustrated every move he made but the man has lived up to his military background. He has shown capacity to do the right thing.
“We are proud of him and we admire his boldness in the face of the sponsored attacks against him. It is left for him to go after the rest. There are more people who are also involved in the sharp practices”.
The group insisted that those erring officers who have been shown the way out must be prosecuted because of the magnitude of their crime so as to serve as a deterrent to others.
“We’re calling on the Interim Administrator of the PAP, to ensure that those culprits and their gang of collaborators are brought to justice. It is not enough to sack them, they should be arrested and prosecuted.
“Everyone who is involved in contract and scholarship scam should have their day in court. This will serve as a warning to others, minimize the level of corruption in that office and make the PAP work well”.
The amnesty boss has continued to maintain his broad vision of repositioning the PAP, building the capacity of ex-agitators and general security and development of the region through his strategic engagements with critical stakeholders in the region to strengthen the PAP and get them to play their various roles in the Niger Delta Recovery Plan.
Announcing his key reforms in the Amnesty Programme, Dikio said that PAP will no longer be contractor-driven, adding that the era of servicing contractors and their cronies are gone for good. He also noted that the PAP would no longer patronize contractors at the expense of the ex-agitators, the real owners of the programme. According to him, the programme would no longer fund the scholarship of students in areas that had no comparative advantage to the region.
“We will focus on training in those areas that we have comparative advantage. Hence, rather than train our people as pilots where they will end up looking for non-existent jobs after undergoing such an expensive training, I will rather train our people in the maritime area where we have natural, latent abilities.
“We are adopting the Igbo apprenticeship system – train, mentor and employ. It’s an end to end package. There are outstanding 8,000 ex-agitators registered, captured in the amnesty programme that are yet to receive training. Those 8,000 people are going to be our focus. We will also focus on those who have been trained and have not been empowered”, he said
The amnesty also embarked on a familiarization tour to the Niger Delta region to identify personally with the people, hold meetings and deliberations with the relevant stakeholders on the need to intensify efforts to sustain peace in the Niger Delta.
During one of the visits in Delta State, Dikio and his entourage stopped at the palace of the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom where he met with the His Royal Majesty Ogboro Gbaraun II Aketekpe and other traditional rulers on the need to build peace and mitigate violence within their domain.
The interim Administrator also visited the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, where he was conducted on a tour of the institution’s facilities by the Registrar, Mr. Anho Nathaniel Esoghene. In the course of the tour, a convinced Dikio noted that the University could be used to train beneficiaries of the Programme in alignment with the policy to train the beneficiaries in a suitable environment that would bring out their natural talents.
Dikio also visited the Bayelsa State Medical University in Yenagoa, where he toured the facilities with a view to assessing the capacity of the institution to train some beneficiaries of PAP as health professionals. He insisted that the selection process for the PAP’s scholarship scheme must be based on merit.
“We are here today as part of our partnership and strategic linkages with institutions of learning across the country and beyond, to meet with the vice-chancellor and his team at the Bayelsa Medical University to assess the institution’s capacity and capabilities to train some of our beneficiaries as medical professionals.
“Indeed, we are determined to train some of our beneficiaries in this sector who are capable of being employed in careers in the diverse field of medical science to bridge the manpower gap in the region”, he said.
Dikio, who later spoke to some of the beneficiaries of the scheme in the school advised youths in the Niger Delta region to strive for excellence in their chosen careers.
He advised the students to aim for extraordinary successes instead of settling for ordinary achievements in their professions. He asked them to correct their perceptions of PAP’s scholarship scheme reiterating that the programme was not an entitlement but a privilege.
The Amnesty boss who is passionate in producing the requisite manpower that is required to compete favourably anywhere in the world and within the country, said that henceforth PAP’s scholarship scheme will focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Speaking when he visited the Ijaw National Congress (INC) at its headquarters in Yenagoa, Dikio said the decision to rejig the scholarship scheme by prioritising the four courses was taken to align the manpower needs of the Niger Delta to the world’s present realities.
Dikio said: “We are rejigging our scholarship scheme and we want to focus on the STEM courses of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics because that is where the world is going. That is not to say that the humanities are not important. But as a matter of urgency and priority for us in the Niger Delta, we have to produce the manpower that is required to compete very favourably”.
Nevertheless, the Nigerian Navy while acknowledging the need for a partnership with the Presidential Amnesty Programme, has promised to work with the interim administrator to secure and develop the Niger Delta region through a programme on job creation.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, who stated this during a courtesy visit by Dikio in Abuja, said such development was possible through special skill acquisition programme to reduce tension caused by unemployment.
Commending the Interim Administrator for his efforts, Gambo said that skill acquisition and job creation were necessary for the development of the region and would go a long way to ease unemployment-related tension. He said that the Nigerian Navy would provide personnel support to operationalize the pledge of the ex-agitators to boost the security on the waterways.
Also, the Chief of Defence Staff, Major-Gen Lucky Irabor, while appraising the leadership style of Col. Dikio, said he has made the job of security agencies in the Niger Delta region easier. Irabor asked Dikio to establish partnership with the navy to enable the amnesty office take advantage of some of the naval training facilities in his drive to add value to the Niger Delta.
Dikio who led officials of the PAP to pay the CDS a courtesy visit in his office at Abuja, deliberated on the need to sustain the peace in the Niger Delta with emphasis on creating the enabling environment to make the region a preferred destination for investors and visitors.
He said part of his mission was to change people’s negative perceptions about Niger Delta to give room for businesses and wealth creation but regretted that constant protests were still giving the region a bad name. The amnesty boss said he had also changed the training model of ex-agitators placing emphasis on mentorship and employment.
“One of the mission goals of this administration is to change the narrative and make the Niger Delta a safe place to live and do business. Protests and other obstructive activities will utterly obstruct this from being actualized.
“Strategic plans have been put in place to implement the training, mentorship and employment philosophy. We hope that beneficiaries after being trained will be involved in several industries and on the long run, they will be empowered to start off their own businesses.”
Dikio, however, reiterated the fact that for the region to move forward the scheme must be changed from ‘Amnesty’ to the Niger Delta Stabilisation Programme (NDSP), insisting that with the current status “there are things we can’t do and there are countries we can’t enter”.
He said it was only reasonable to end the Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) aspect of the programme to begin a post-DDR phase of the scheme.
He said: “We must establish the Niger Delta Stabilisation Programme. We must change that name, terminate the DDR and open another thing. I have operated DDR in Cameroon and Angola. As far as this name ‘amnesty’ remains there are things that we can’t do and there are countries we can’t enter. We can’t make progress sitting in one place.”
He said the PAP was offering a platform to the ex-agitators through the cooperative model to enable them develop and own functional businesses, adding that all the beneficiaries of the scheme must organise themselves under cooperatives.
The Presidential Amnesty Programme is focused on its mission to successfully reintegrate its 30,000 ex-agitators into the society through its Train-Employ-Mentor empowerment model.
The model is designed to ensure that ex-agitators are meaningfully engaged; maintain the peace and security in the region while reducing their dependence on monthly stipends.