Niger Delta, Niger Delta Amnesty



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Makanjuola wrote from Abuja

The amnesty programme cannot be folded up until reintegration of the ex-militant is completed, writes Damilola Makanjuola

Conceived in response to a resource-driven conflict, which engulfed the Niger Delta region for several years until 2009, the Presidential Amnesty Programme was a solution that took so long to be thought of. The people, recognizing the contribution of the oil-rich region to the economic health of the Nigerian state, felt the need to be duly compensated in exchange for the exploration activities that take place in the region. These activities has adversely affected the locals of the region and has cost the people arable farm lands, death of aquatic lives, environmental degradation for which they had constantly cried out for government’s intervention.

When previous attempts to get government’s attention failed, they decided on the bloody militancy approach. Tens of thousands of youths in the region resorted to abduction of foreign oil workers, destruction of government installations, killings and so on. As a result, several foreign companies were unable to function maximally. In fact, some had to shut down operations because their staff no longer felt safe. This led to the crash of oil production from above two million barrels to below 700,000.

Recognizing that crude oil still remains the nation’s major source of revenue, government had to think up a solution to the looming economic crisis. This led the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to constitute a technical committee to address the situation. The Committee in December 2008 recommended the establishment of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP). This was accepted by the government in power and eventually launched on June 25, 2009.

Planned to last for five years, PAP was intended to have the militants exchange their arms and ammunition for unconditional national pardon. Not just that, their resolve for peace was also to attract human development capacity to the region as the government promised not only to disarm and demobilise them, but also to rehabilitate and reintegrate them under the global DDRR agenda. While the disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation have been largely achieved by previous leaderships of PAP, reintegration was and is yet to be achieved until Professor Charles Dokubo was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Coordinator of the programme in March 2018.

Since Professor Dokubo took over the reins, reintegrating the ex-militants has been the focal point of his leadership. Re-integration as analysed here includes provision of jobs for the ex-combatants, engaging them in skill acquisition and other rehabilitation programmes. In the words of Dokubo, this is the only way to transform their lives and provide them with a means of livelihood. Other features of this phase include: training, education, skill acquisition and empowerment. Speaking to journalists in a media chat recently, Dokubo stated that, “the programme predecessors were only interested in education and training without recourse to empowerment and job placement.” He explained further that without these empowerment and educative programmes in place, the amnesty cycle cannot be completed. Thus, a successful outcome would be impossible.

From his take over point in March 2018, more than 20,000 ex-militants have graduated from various schools. Vocational trainings have also experienced an exponential increase. These trainings, which are done in batches, have afforded a large number of the ex-militants opportunities for participation. Currently, 3,243 persons are undergoing various training programmes while 5, 578 are set to be trained in subsequent batches.

With regard to education, 2, 577 students are currently in school. Of this number, 1,060 are studying in about 10 private and government universities in Nigeria while 1,517 are studying in more than 50 universities across Africa, Asia, America and Europe.

Dokubo disclosed that regarding empowerment of the ex-militants, the current administration has explored the channels of skill acquisition, entrepreneurship development and vocational training. So far, over 18,000 persons have received trainings in various specialized courses, viz: agriculture, 2,265; automobile mechanics, 1,171; aviation, 187; boat building, 152; crane/heavy duty operations, 1, 536; carpentry, plumbing and pipe fitting, 402; electrical installation/maintenance, 714; entrepreneurship, 2,074; information and communications technology, 401; health safety and environment, 249; music/fashion/entertainment/catering, 1,688; welding/fabrication, 4,686; others, 2,185. Of the 3,006 receiving education; 2,799 are in Nigeria while 207 are in universities and colleges abroad.

To further drive the agenda on vocational training, Professor Dokubo set up the job placement and International Development Partners’ Engagement Unit on May 2, 2018. This unit is to provide platforms for collaborations with relevant organizations in re-integrating the ex-militants. One of such partnerships is with the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), where about 20 persons are currently undergoing training which 217 others are also receiving specialized vocational trainings in various organizations within the country. This brings the total to 237. Partnerships and collaborations are also being set-up with different state government’s Vocational Training Centres (VTCs) in different fields. One of such centres has already been inaugurated. It is called the Oil and Gas Training centre in Agadaba-Obon, Ondo State. Another one, the Basic Skills Training Centre has been completed in Kaiama, Bayelsa State.

This is all about integration. And this is the heart of the amnesty programme. Until this is addressed, the disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation aspects come to nothing. This is why amnesty programme cannot be folded up until reintegration of the last ex-militant is completed. Thus, those calling for an end to the payment of stipends to the ex-militants need to examine the global trends in this regard. This cannot be stopped anytime soon until a productive alternative is secured for all those involved. More so, the payment of stipends only serves as a palliative measure because it is evident that it cannot sufficiently cater for the ex-militants and their families. Thus, attempting to stop this payment would bring an abrupt end to the cycle as it would nullify the efforts made by previous administrations which delivered the disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation stages.

In the words of Professor Dokubo, “If the ex-militants cannot live productive lives after being rehabilitated, they may be forced to re-consider militancy as a means of livelihood.” Having a resurgence of militancy attacks is certainly not what the country wants to experience again. Since it is global practice that the reintegration phase determines the eventual outcome of an amnesty programme, reintegrating the ex-militants would remain a continuum until all of them get productively engaged.