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The Special Adviser to the President on the Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Prof. Charles Dokubo, is not just a scholar of international repute but an accomplished academic with many scholarly papers to his name. His appointment as head of the Amnesty Office has, however, thrown up fresh challenges that task his ability to swim through an ocean of man-made encumberances that demand grit and determination. In this interview with some journalists in Abuja, he speaks on his vision for the Niger Delta and efforts being made to reposition the programme for the benefits of the region. Our Managing Editor, Northern Operations, YUSUF ALLI and Deputy Editor, YOMI ODUNUGA, were there. Excerpts:
It’s been over a year since your appointment as the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme, how would you describe the experience?
I was appointed to head the Presidential Amnesty Office on March 13, 2018. Coming from an academic background, this is where we use theory and practical together. Yet, it was a different setting. All the books that you’ve read about amnesty, conflict resolution and all the things put together; it was a trying and challenging time for me bearing in mind that I didn’t even understand the nature of the programme which was set before me. But, like every other challenge, I took the bull by the horn and tried to look at what the process is because what we hear about amnesty today are the negative things inside and I want to know how the negative connotations started. The first step I took was to set up a committee, headed by a professor, to look into the problems. So, I called the professor, who has been there since the beginning of the programme, and I also called some other people who were familiar with the programme to look into it and find out the challenges that we are facing and how we can remedy the situation so that this programme and this agency can nurse back the Niger Delta community to better health and see how our people could acquire the knowledge and standard, just like any other part of Nigeria. So, after they submitted the report, I looked at it from the background of the set objectives of the amnesty programme.
This amnesty programme is home-driven. But, if you look at the amnesty programme, in other places they don’t come from the top down. They come from the bottom up. This situation was very peculiar because the government decided to give amnesty to those in the Niger Delta who have been involved in conflicts and the contestation of the legitimacy of government holdings. Be that as it may, to me, it has created an environment to contain the conflicts in the Niger Delta. The people of the Niger Delta, for a long time, have seen themselves as marginalised, oppressed and repressed, and that the region is also full of contestation and protestation. This programme was not only designed to maintain peace and security in the Niger Delta region, but also to provide human developmental index for the people of the Niger Delta so that they could acquire skills they have not acquired before, stand tall in the society and also attain heights so they can take care of themselves.
Would you say it was easy for you to change the mentality of some of the participants, especially the general belief that the Amnesty Programme was some sort of milk cow that some privileged persons in the region can feed fat on? I would also like to explain the mentality of the people of the Niger Delta and the concept of entitlement that has taken root in their lives. So I have to look at the holistic view of what I can do. I realise it is a DDR programme.
They’ve done the DD so far and I was to do the rehabilitation aspect of the programme. How do you rehabilitate a people to nurse them back to health so they can be like other Nigerians and live the life other Nigerians live? To rehabilitate, they must acquire training skills, medium and lower skills, educational qualifications. People have been educated abroad; they have obtained degrees. Some of them have obtained distinctions in the degrees they pursued. For example, there was a girl that had a first class from the University of California at the Law School and she was given an immediate scholarship.
These are all products of the Amnesty Programme that people rarely hear about. When I took over the realms of affairs, I met structures in various Niger Delta regions on various stages of completion. If you want to train our people to make them to have jobs, there are institutions that should be set up so that we don’t have to send people abroad all the time. I was even surprised to find out the people who are reading history were going abroad while Nigerian universities offer history and political sciences. So, I was not going to condemn anyone because I wasn’t there from the beginning. So, I started from the rehabilitation programme. I looked at the people in the database, those who were being trained; those who were in training, those who were awaiting training, and those who are waiting for integration back into the society.
What I tried to do was training for the sake of education that would give jobs for those who have been trained. People graduated and all that, but also there was a new concept that was developed to impact on communities that were not only dealing with the militants that had been disarmed and demobilised, but also communities that have been affected by this conflict in the Niger Delta. So, they were people that had been given training from impacted communities. So, the first thing I tried to do, which I believe is also one of my objectives, was to meet the critical stakeholders of this programme, and when I say stakeholders, I mean the elders of the region, the militant leaders. I met them in Lagos and I tried to buy them into my ideas of what I wanted to do with the Amnesty Programme, how I want to bring stability and security and also development to the Niger Delta region. And how did you plan to achieve that considering the fact that some of the exmilitants were already showing disaffection with the present government and even vowed to return to the creeks to continue with the struggle? For me, the project is two-pronged, maintaining peace and security in the Niger Delta as well as carrying out developmental objectives so that while there’s peace, there could also be development.
So, I took the concept for security that if human security was achieved, state security would also be guaranteed. Security is not a one dimensional thing. There’s also economic security, health security, everything. That is why, for me, it was a very challenging thing. We had to train people to have the knowledge of this environment and also to convert them to know that carrying guns does not always result in what you want. And when I showed them my position, they bought into it. Oil production at that time was very low. A country needs money.
Nigeria depends on rents and royalties from these oil companies. If that environment is stable and oil production is taking place, and the government is also getting rent, then we can take care of the developmental objectives of the Amnesty Programme. The benefits should go to the Niger Delta region. That is why I took this job and that was what I want to do with the Amnesty Programme. The first thing I did was to establish and commission the oil and gas cleaning centre in Agadagba, Ondo State. So I completed that place, got a set of the best Instrumentation engineers etc. They are training our people now in the middle level and lower level for the oil and gas industries in our country. Is there any timeline for the Amnesty Programme? Like I said earlier, the Amnesty Programme is government-driven. It is the directive of the government that I will take.
There is no time limit for the programme. I am just being a rational Niger Deltan when I ask: ‘Can any government sustain it forever?’ The President has promised to maintain it. But we should not lose sight. Let us use the agencies available in the Niger Delta to empower ourselves. Let us not wait because amnesty is there. Let us develop our capacities and capabilities so we can stay off whatever the government is doing and live our lives the way we should. That is my concern and my worry. What’s the size of the annual budget of the Amnesty Office? What they were giving us was about N65-67billion a year, about N5billion every month.
From that money, we used about N2billion for school fees and stipends, and the rest for contractors and running of the office. I have never seen such an amount of money in my life. As an academic, if I’m travelling from Lagos to Abuja to give lectures, my office would not even give me N200,000. So this money is not mine. When my sister died, I took my people home and I showed them where I was living. They were shocked that I was still living in my father’s house. I asked how could I have built a house? I’m in the institution. How much do they give me? So, whatever I get now, I appreciate and enjoy it. I don’t have to steal money. We come to public office but sometimes people don’t know our backgrounds. They see where we are going to but they don’t know where we are coming from.
If anybody knows my background, they wouldn’t even think that I steal money. I am from Abonima. My father’s name is Dokubo. In the Kalabari area, my father’s name is synonymous with money. Ask any Kalabari person. My father was the person who was to build a secondary school for Abonima. All the boarding houses belonged to my father; so I went to school on Dokubo scholarship. I wasn’t desperate for this job. The highest I expected was to be a representative to the United Nations. I didn’t even know about this job. I received a call from Abuja to do the job, I didn’t apply! People can try to tarnish somebody’s name, but I know where I’m coming from. I’m not coming from a poor family. Maybe those criticising your style of running the Amnesty Office think that you didn’t have the requisite experience to run such a programme.
Don’t you think so? On the contrary, I have written about this conflict before. Go and check my publications in the African Journal in South Africa. I’ve published a lot of things on this programme, the problem of the Niger Delta and the Nigerian states. I have done a lot about it. How many persons have so far benefitted from the training under the Amnesty Programme? The beneficiaries of this programme are about 30,000. That is the figure that we have on our database.
We pay school fees, we pay stipends to those in the creeks and all that. So, as of now and when I came in, we have trained about 1,300 and something people. What I am trying to do now is that I’ve set up a unit called job placement. We do not train for training sake. After training, we just put them to work. That’s the greatest part of the integration. Once you give them jobs, then they will exit the programme. So that is what my focus is on now. These are the things that I think should gladden the hearts of the Niger Delta people, to know that their people are also getting jobs and being trained to take care of themselves.
Source; The Nation Newspaper