The possibility of using amnesty to manage the Niger Delta crisis was first raised by the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, which was established by President Umar Musa Yar’Adua’s administration in 2008 and led by Barrister Ledum Mitee. The Committee recommended in its report to the government in December 2008 that revenue allocation from oil and gas needs to be increased to 25% (an additional 12%) to allow the region to recover from obvious neglect of the past. It also recommended that the government begin what was termed DDR (Decommissioning, Disarmament, and Reintegration) to avert such negative trends as kidnapping, hostage-taking, and attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta.
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua conceptualised this programme by Nigerians, run by Nigerians, funded hundred per cent by Nigerians. He went further to choose people from the Niger Delta region to champion it. Although, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offered to assist Nigeria with the design and implementation of the DDR. Nevertheless, the Nigerian government established the Presidential Amnesty Committee (PAC) without the involvement of any international organization. The PAP was designed to demobilise, rehabilitate, and subsequently reintegrate ex-agitators.
The Reintegration Department is made up of three units: vocational training, education and post-training and empowerment. The vocational training unit is responsible for the placement of ex-militants in vocational training programmes and the education unit focuses on the enrolment of ex-militants in tertiary education institutions. The post-training and empowerment unit is tasked with helping ex-militants who have completed their training to find employment opportunities.
The Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) has had six different heads over the years, each contributing significantly to the programme’s impact. The first proponent of the amnesty programme was Air Vice Marshal Lucky Ochuko Ararile, while Timi Alaibe succeeded him in 2011. Hon. Kingsley Kemebradigha Kuku took over from Timi Alaibe as Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Office in 2011. In 2015, he was succeeded by Gen. P. T. Boroh. Prof Charles Dokubo took over in 2018 and he was succeeded by Col. Milland Dikio, as the program’s interim administrator in May 2020. Major Gen. Barry Tariye Nduomu was recently appointed to replace Col. Dikio to redefine and restructure the programme and provide purposeful leadership by putting in place structures and institutional frameworks that will encourage institutional transparency and accountability in the interest of beneficiaries of the initiative.
The programme underwent significant changes following the appointment of Kingsley Kuku as Special Adviser to the President of the Niger Delta in 2011. Kuku, a former Niger Delta activist and politician, expanded the programme into a comprehensive human-capacity development scheme. Following Kuku’s changes, ex-militants were able to enroll in long-term training programmes and academic degree programmes at home and abroad. From that point forward, vocational training could be pursued in Nigeria and foreign countries.
Under the leadership of Professor Dokubo, there was also a new thinking and dimension to the programme: the introduction of job placement programmes, micro-credit, cooperatives, business support, monitoring and evaluation. The projection was that for the programme to achieve its goals, Niger Delta youths would need to be taught to go through training and education, as well as assisted in rediscovering their potential and becoming self-sufficient, as this would keep them engaged. Dikio’s train, mentor and employ policy was another innovative contribution that will boost PAP success story if fully implemented.
According to available records, the beneficiaries currently on various training and educational programmes under PAP are approximately 3,243 as at October 2022. Currently, 1060 people are studying in not less than 10 universities — both private and public in Nigeria, while 1,517 are studying abroad in over 50 universities spread across Europe, Asia, Africa and the America. PAP is doing all of this because it recognizes that knowledge and education are critical to youth’s full and effective participation in social, economic and political development processes, especially those of the Niger Delta region that have suffered generational neglect and frustration. We are all aware of the importance of education for youth because it provides them with the knowledge, capacities, skills, and ethical values required to fulfill their role as agents of development, good governance, social inclusion, tolerance, and peace.
Today, PAP acknowledged that a greater emphasis on universal access to education, quality education, human rights education, and learning is critical for young people to address their aspirations and challenges, realize their potential, and influence current and future social and economic conditions and opportunities. The futuristic importance of education is incomparable, germane and cannot be compromised considering how backward the region was before the introduction of the amnesty programme. Therefore, giving room for any gap or alloying a loss of any academic session is not only disadvantageous but also reducing its success story. The educational training so far has been the most productive in PAP for now having produced a lot of graduates and master degree holders in various fields as well as a PhD. I am not certain if I would have had the privileged of completing my PhD programme without the Presidential Amnesty Scholarship.
In addition to sponsoring youths for university degrees from bachelor to Doctoral, PAP has exposed Niger Delta youths to training in variety of vocations including marine technology, heavy-duty operations, welding, diving, agriculture, boat building, oil and gas technology, aviation, fashion design, hotel and catering, cosmetology or hairdressing etc. The objective of these training and academic programmes was to ensure that ex-agitators had the necessary skills and capabilities for job placement and hence facilitate their reintegration into their communities.
PAP also had positive impact on the security situation in the country’s oil industry. Attacks on oil infrastructure have almost completely stopped, and as a result, the region’s oil production has increased significantly and sustained. This is related to the cessation of attacks on oil pipelines following the implementation of the PAP. Kidnappings of expatriates working in the oil industry have also largely stopped. The improved security situation increased oil production, which increased government revenues and helped improve Nigeria’s financial situation.
We must acknowledge the fact that there are still issues and challenges with the PAP. Militancy did not end with the PAP’s declaration. To do so would imply expecting armed robbery to end when armed robbers are sentenced and killed. It means that training and rehabilitation are ongoing processes, which is why it has been difficult to end the amnesty abruptly.
However, the issues and challenges need to be addressed before the programme can be regarded as fully successful. The issue of delisting graduated or trained and partially empowered beneficiaries without employment is like sending them back to the streets or creeks, which is totally contrary to the Niger Delta Amnesty Deal. Employment opportunities must be provided for ex-militants after graduation or vocational training. The 65,000 stipend should only be stopped after getting a job for the graduated ex-militants. For those that have acquired one skill or the other, the various companies should mentor and employ them for at least a year with reasonable empowerment.
The issue of political patronize at the detriment of the owners of the programme is a big challenge. Too much external patronage is affecting the purpose and target of the programme. Also policy implementation and sustenance has been an issue. The train, mentor and employ policy of Col. Dikio, the immediate past interim administrator, if fully and effectively implemented will drive the programme in the right direction in line with the aim and mandate of PAP which is to reintegrate beneficiaries fully into the society after training and empowering them to the status of entrepreneurs and employers of labour/or employable citizens who will become net contributors to the economy.
Furthermore, allegations of misappropriation have trailed the Amnesty programme. The process of allocating and disbursing funds is heavily politicised. The lack of transparency in the resource allocation process undermines the credibility of the Amnesty Programme. A larger portion of the funds appropriated for the amnesty programme in the previous fiscal years end in the hands of the political class, although, a large percentage of the youth within the creeks continue to live in inhumane conditions lacking access to good roads, water, electricity, hospitals, schools, and even telecommunication services. Going forward, any case of misappropriation that is proven should be prosecuted. This would give the programme some level of credibility.
The Amnesty programme, with its emphasis on soft power holds out hope for regional peace and security. Its efforts to develop the human capital of the area’s youth are admirable. According to studies, a major source of restiveness and militancy in the Niger Delta is the alienation of a large portion of the youth population from the oil economy, which is caused by a lack of relevant skills among the youths to fit into the region’s oil economy. As a result, the education and skill training made possible by the Amnesty Programme will go a long way toward resolving the region restiveness or crisis. Despite the challenges, with significant room for improvement, the programme can be regarded as a success. One of the vocal success stories of PAP is the attainment of a doctoral degree in Public Administration by a stakeholder from the prestigious Igbinedion University Okada, Edo State.