By Mary Oyibocha-Agbajoh
The history of Niger –Delta region and the introduction of Presidential Amnesty Programme, will not be complete without mentioning the name of late President Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (GCFR).
Before his assumption of office as President of Nigeria on May 29, 2007, there were threats to lives and property as a result of the activities of the militant groups in the Niger Delta region. These threats bothered not only on the people of the region but the oil companies and the Nigerian state as a whole. More importantly, the militants in the region were constantly involved in killings, kidnappings, hostage takings, destruction of oil installations and facilities, and confrontations with law enforcement agencies.
Thus, in order to restore peace to the region, President Yar’Adua introduced the Presidential Amnesty Programme. By granting amnesty, the government purged the ex-militants of all records of accusation, trial, conviction, imprisonment, and as well granted them the opportunity of starting life on a clean slate.
To achieve its objectives, the government introduced disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation, and sustainable reintegration.
After 10 years in existence, the Presidential Amnesty Programme to a large extent has achieved most of its objectives.
At least, it has stopped the incessant attacks and sabotage of oil facilities. At the oil production level, there is a remarkable improvement from what it was before the programme was set up and what it is now. It had restored peace to the region which has made it possible for the Federal Government to have a free flow of oil thereby increasing government’s revenues.
As for training and education, the programme promised to train 30,000 people who agreed to lay down their arms. It is on record that over two-thirds of them have been trained, educated and given vocational skills in various fields. There is evidence that no fewer than 1,050 of the ex-agitators have so far graduated from the programme, while thirteen of them have studied up to the PhD level. The programme has equally trained several pilots, lawyers, engineers, welders, and the likes.
Despite that the programme has achieved relative success in the aforementioned areas, a lot still has to be done in their reintegration as the final stage of the programme is reintegration. After training, the youths need to be effectively absolved and reintegrated into society so as to erase the mentality of hostility from their thoughts.
In order to re-interface with the society, the ex-militants require more reception by the people in order not just to become better members of the society, but to as well add to the development of the nation in their various endeavours. Receptive in the sense that they should not be looked down upon as ex-militants.
Furthermore, delays in payment of militants’ allowances and allegations of government insensitivity have undermined the integrity of the programme. Aggrieved amnesty beneficiaries have resorted to public demonstrations, issuing threats, engaging in violent protests, destroying public property, and in some cases have returned to criminality as a result of their frustrations
It is advisable at this point that the federal government ensures that the programme is well-funded, especially in the area of provision of empowerment for youths, who benefitted from various training. This will assist beneficiaries to stand on their own and become employers of labour contributing their own share to the economy of their fatherland, as the original plan was designed to achieve.
For instance, those trained in rubber technology should be empowered so that they can own farms and start producing rubber. This will reduce the import of rubber products and increase its export. Although, training under the Amnesty Programme is adequate empowerment of the beneficiaries is not. The opportunity for employment is not there. But when they are empowered, they would be able to employ themselves and others.
It has been observed that much money goes towards paying ex-militants’ commanders, managers of the programme and the surging number of consultants and contractors to the extent that the programme itself is now perceived as being a very lucrative business. Many people now form organisations to benefit from the largesse.
Conclusively, it is advisable that the government should look into the grievances of the ex-militants.
*Mary Oyibocha-Agbajoh, a social commentator, writes from Abuja