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Niger Delta: Tough decisions, great expectations as Amnesty Programme reboots

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This is owing to the determination of new Interim Coordinator, Major-General Barry Ndiomu (rtd), to reset the scheme along its founding objectives.

The programme, upon conception by the late President Umar Yar’Adua was primarily to drive disarmament, training and reintegration of ex-combatants, who had taken up arms in their agitation for a better deal for the oil-rich region.

With more than five administrators since its inception in 2009, many questions have emerged about the operations of PAP before September 2022.

In all its areas of operations, the scheme is believed to have derailed from its mandate, leading to calls for its re-engineering by stakeholders.

The current leadership, which assumed office in September this year, has so far not hidden its intention to return PAP to the path charted by President Yar’Adua

To achieve that, so many tough decisions have been taken and the results have raised questions about how the scheme had been managed in the past.

Apart from disarmament, the training and integration aspects of PAP mandate were found to have been questionably handled.

While some former fighters have been trained, reintegration is still a major challenge. And that is one of the critical issues before the Ndiomu-led leadership, especially in view of irregularities discovered in PAP’s database.

Leadership

From the inception of the programme, successive leaderships of PAP had claimed to have reintegrated some of the ex-fighters after undergoing vocational training or completing their studies.

However, it was gathered that the reintegration phase of PAP remains a challenge.

As discovered by the new leadership, the system only succeeded in sustaining the beneficiaries with stipends but failed to successfully establish them in the society.

Only recently, Governor Duoye Diri of Bayelsa State hinted that more needed to be done in achieving PAP’s mandate.

He said:” I would like to look more at the issue of reintegration. The reintegration is more like a continuous process of building human capacity and for you to continue to build human capacity, it follows that the amnesty programme must be on.”

Disengagement after training, empowerment and engagement should have been the case as contained in PAP’s mandate, the reverse appears to be the case.

For instance, instead of decreasing the number of 30,000 ex-fighters, who were captured at the inception of PAP in Cross Rivers State was found to be on the increasing side thirteen years after.

Multiple names

Before October this year, what was on the ground was a situation where multiple names existed on PAP’s database with the sole aim of defrauding the scheme.

The newly appointed Interim Coordinator of PAP, Major-General Barry Ndiomu (rtd), who made the revelation, explained that it was a situation whereby an individual was collecting the stipends meant for 10 to 33 persons every month.

He said some beneficiaries who had undergone training and empowerment were found on the database receiving stipends instead of exiting from the programme.

In addition, some delegates on the bulk payment scheme are equally collecting the monthly stipends besides other forms of fraud in the system.

Ndiomu explained the situation thus: “Now when I took over office, they still had the 30,000 intact, based on our records. But you will agree with me that that is not realistic; what that means is that nobody died, nobody graduated from the university and got gainful employment and so I decided to investigate.

“But strangely in the course of investigating, if we could justify that of the bulk payment programme of the ex-militant leaders, we now found individuals with single BVN having multiple payments into their accounts with a single BVN, so which means a single BVN receiving 33 stipend payments of N65,000 monthly. We want to understand exactly why an individual had 33 stipend payments into his account.”

Apart from this, upon assumption of office, Ndiomu, among others, discovered alleged fraud in the scholarships offered by PAP.

Slots meant for Niger Delta indigenes were said to have been sold to outsiders, thereby depriving natives the educational grant provided in the programme.

The findings were the outcome of a verification exercise embarked upon by the new leadership.

Discovery

Apart from leaving Niger Deltans and non-natives concerned, the result has continued to attract support for the current efforts at enthroning transparency in the system.

Instructively, Ndiomu’s discovery of irregularities embedded in the system wasn’t isolated.

In 2020, Nextier Security, Peace and Development (SPD), report on Assessment of PAP, observed that “Like most bureaucratic institutions in the country, the PAP suffers from lack of transparency, consistency, and effective management of resources.”

It stated that in 2017, the Amnesty budget almost tripled, with an additional N30 billion ($98.47 million) released and an extra N5 billion reportedly added at a later date even as the annual budget was N20 billion until 2016.

The body said PAP was being “marred by corruption, nepotism, prebendal and patrimonial acts.”

As of October 2020, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, said N712 billion was “wasted.”

“A lot of things happen to catapult the whole programme into other issues that originally were not intended.

“The predatory instincts of certain individuals came into the fore and the programme was turned upside down and as a result of this like, the administrator has just said, there was a lot of corruption, waste, the mismanagement within this period, N712 billion was wasted basically unaccounted for and this is due to so many issues, including corruption,” Monguno explained.

As a result of the situation, past administrations were accused of not meeting their obligations and commitments to contractors and students among others.

Findings in that regard showed that long before now, the scheme was struggling to fulfill some of its financial objectives despite huge budgetary allocations.

A UK-registered charity, SDN, had, in 2021, said: “Until 2016, the PAP’s annual budget was NGN20 billion, but in the last five years, it has been allocated NGN65 billion (GBP£146 million or USD$180.5 million), making it one of the Nigerian government’s largest line-item expenditures.

“Exactly how these funds are budgeted and spent remains a mystery, as neither the budget ministry nor PAP publishes even a basic breakdown.”

But as of September 2022 when the present leadership came on board PAP had a reported debt profile of over N90 billion.

Given the startling discoveries, many want to know if past leaders of PAP turned a blind eye to the happenings.

The question was reinforced by the fact that it took only but a short period to discover the entrenched irregularities in the scheme.

It would be recalled that as part of efforts at ensuring integration as envisaged by PAP’s mandate, federal government had, in 2017, directed that 350 best graduates of the programme be given employment.

Up until recently, the move that was reportedly facilitated by the Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo yielded no result.

In fact, observers believe that had steps been taken in that regard, some ex-agitators who remained on PAP’s database may have been gainfully employed.

Failure

However, the narrative is changing following moves by Ndiomu to ensure that trained former militants are employed by government.

The PAP head had, a few weeks ago, paid a courtesy visit to the Head of Service, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, to inform her that an earlier presidential directive to employ 350 ex-agitators who performed credibly well in their various institutions, especially those who made first class degrees has not been fulfilled.

Interestingly, the visit wasn’t without prospects as the HOS pledged to implement the directive, leaving stakeholders hopeful.

Yemi-Esan said: “We can accommodate them (ex-militants). It will be a pleasure that we do that because even in the civil service, people from that region (South-South) are very rare in the Federal Civil Service.

“Recently, I looked at the list of how many civil servants we have per state and clearly the South-South was not well represented.

“We must be able to support you to achieve great success in the Presidential Amnesty Programme. I need to say that we are here to give you all the assistance that you need from us; it is just a phone call. Even things that you think might be outside the purview of this office because it is important for me to see that you succeed in that position, so we will do everything to support you.

“We will look at our document. This is a memo that was written to the ministry of budget and national planning. So we will look at it again and see if the committee was set up and where the committee is and what happened.”

The retired general also had similar engagements with the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Alkali Usman, who assured him that Police is ready to partner with the PAP in the recruitment of officers, especially at the grassroots.

Ndiomu had said the scheme has trained a lot of youths from the Niger Delta region who would fit into the manpower needs of the Police.

As a result of the actions so far taken by the new leadership, there seems to be a glimmer of hope among stakeholders that PAP may eventually deliver on its mandate.

Speaking in that regard, the President of Federated Ijaw Natives, Mr. Benson Tombra, urged Niger Deltans to support current efforts at making PAP work.

He said:” We have always complained that what was happening in the Amnesty Programme called for concern. People thought we were making baseless claims. Now, Ndiomu has made the world know that PAP was only working to feed the greed of a privileged few. The gentleman should be supported by our people in his mission to realize the dream of the founders of amnesty. He will fail without our support because people are going to frustrate his efforts. They have the resources to fight him but we will resist any attempt to pull down this reputable Niger Deltan, who is on a redemptive mission.”

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