Mr. Kingsley Kuku is Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme. He speaks on the successes, challenges, and post-2015 fate of the five-year
amnesty programme pronounced by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on June 25, 2009, which has been implemented since 2010. Kuku says the amnesty programme has discharged its mandate
and calls on other relevant federal government agencies to keep their parts of the amnesty deal.
He also bemoans the endless appearance of ex-militants in the Niger Delta seeking inclusion in the amnesty programme, saying this could doom both the programme and peace in the region, in this recent interactive session with journalists in Lagos. Vincent Obia brings the excerpts:
What is the update on the amnesty for Niger Delta armed agitators proclaimed by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009?
At the end of the deadline, 20, 192 persons came out from the various states, various camps in the Niger Delta, led by leaders like Chief Tompolo, Chief Ateke Tom, Boy Loaf, Fara Dagogo, and so many ex-agitation leaders.
We have said it severally that the acceptance of this offer was voluntary and government entered into a contract with those who accepted this offer by promising a proper and non-forceful DDR programme. By DDR I’m talking about Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation or Reintegration of those who accept the offer of amnesty.
What is the extent of implementation of the DDR?
As I’m taking to you, the entire 20, 192 persons, being the first phase, the original phase of the presidential amnesty programme, have been disarmed; they have also been demobilised at Obubra in Cross River State.
We are at the reintegration phase, the last arm of the DDR exercise for the 20, 192.
As we were going on with this programme, the successes of the programme have turned out to be the points of agitation by those who were no involved from day one. And it pushed us to a realm where more Niger Delta youths, more persons in the Niger Delta agitated, demonstrated. They blocked the East-West road, came to Abuja, demonstrated and claimed to have been part of the Niger Delta agitation, to have been ex-militants, ex-agitators who didn’t believe in the 60 days grace period and its implications and that now believed that the programme was real and they must be accommodated.
How did government react to these fresh demands?
The federal government in October 2010 added 6, 166 ex-agitators whose arms and ammunitions were collected and received by the JTF and other security agencies in the Niger Delta, pushing the total number by the end of December 2010 to 26, 358 ex-agitators in the presidential amnesty programme.
A few of us thought that was going to be the end of the programme and we were going to have the opportunity to consolidate, concentrate on what we are going to do in the realm of reintegration. Again, the 6, 166 ex-agitators of what we would later call the second phase of the amnesty programme, have been disarmed, they have also been demobilised. We will reintegrate them at the time we are through with the first phase, so that the last will not become the first in terms of those that will benefit in this programme.
Are there any further agitations for inclusion in the amnesty programme?
Surprisingly, security agencies in the Niger Delta, again, have come up with scenarios of receipt of further arms and ammunitions from youths in the Niger Delta, who as far as I am concerned are claiming to be part of the Niger Delta agitation. It gives us a sense of an unending disarmament programme, which is not in tandem with the spirit of those of us who planned the amnesty programme when General Godwin Abbe was made chairman of the first presidential amnesty committee.
The terminal nature of this programme was made very clear, from 2010 to 2015. A five-year presidential amnesty plan was approved. So the programme we are running is not unending, it’s a terminal programme; it has to terminate come 2015. That is going to be the end of the five years plan date.
Is there room for a review?
However, the country has a responsibility to x-ray and review the programme at the terminal date and see its relevance in terms of continuity in the country or whether we would be able to find alternative existing or statutory government platforms to continue the projects the amnesty programme has started, if not ended. Because a situation where the amnesty programme would have a few people left in 2015 has nothing to do with disarmament or demobilisation. It’s going to be in the realm of reintegration.
What would be the fate of persons whose programmes under the amnesty scheme continue beyond 2015?
Imagine that you sent somebody to the university this year on the platform of this programme and the person’s university education is going to last four years. Already you know that from 2013 he is going to finish his university education in 2017. Should we because of that say that the amnesty programme must continue in the name of those who are going to be in the university at the time?
We do believe that government is a continuum. There are other MDAs of government, which are also doing scholarship programmes. In our own wisdom, if we are through with the skills acquisition programme for those who are not in longer programmes, those in educational programmes that are entitled to longer benefits in terms of four or five years education programme, can be inherited by the PTDF or other government agencies, even the Federal Ministry of Education. Scholarship boards can inherit them for us to comply with the terminal date of 2015 for the presidential amnesty programme.
Nigerians must know that this programme is meant to end 2015. The Niger Delta people and the youths in the Niger Delta must know. Those in governance, in oil and gas policy-making machinery must know that this amnesty programme is planned to end 2015. It cannot remain unending, where every unemployed youth or group of women can wake up the next morning and call themselves a name and block the East-West road, Abuja road, and agitate to be included in an unending programme, whether you are entitled to it or not.
Until we are able to make Nigerians understand that this is the way this programme is, the sanctity of this programme will be misunderstood. People will begin to misinterpret the intent of government with respect to this programme. As one of the planners of this programme, I cannot kill this truth. We must continue to tell Nigerians this truth. It is in the light of that spirit of ending this programme in 2015 that we are continuing with our reintegration programme and the demobilisation programme.
What happens to those who have submitted arms to the military authorities after the second phase of the amnesty programme?
The JTF and other security agencies have come up with another compilation of names who claim to have submitted arms as ex-militants in the Niger Delta. And today, the federal government has instituted an investigation panel led by Air Vice Marshal Gbun, supported by many military and police officers, with a few civil critical minds. They are moving down to the Niger Delta with the military and security formations in the region to verify the claims of submission. If today, a group of youths say they have submitted 1, 000 AK47 rifles, the Gbun taskforce, which we call interagency taskforce, must verify the truism behind the physical existence of this 1, 000 AK47s claimed to have been submitted by these youths in the Niger Delta. If that is verified, they must physically transmit them to the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu, where we will physically destroy these arms and ammunitions. Because the ones the federal government collected in the phase one and phase two of the programme have been physically destroyed at Enugu.
Do you think there would be an end to the receipt and destruction of weapons from repentant armed groups?
I was privileged at the time to have been appointed special adviser to the president and chairman of the presidential amnesty programme. And I actually on behalf of Mr. President participated in the destruction exercise at a community called Ukpanta in Enugu State. This exactly will be done to these arms and ammunitions if found to be true as claimed by the security agencies. If it is true that they have disarmed and these arms and ammunitions are being collected, an additional 3, 642 ex-agitators would be added. And as far as the presidential amnesty programme is concerned, and as far as Mr. President is concerned, that is the final phase of the presidential amnesty programme in terms of inclusion. But the amnesty programme is not a platform to engage or empower every non-ex-militant, unemployed youth, woman or man in the Niger Delta.
How can the pressure on the amnesty programme from unemployed youths in the Niger Delta be dealt with?
Suffice to say here that as of 2009, oil production was as low as 680, 000 barrels per day. Allocations to states in the Niger Delta were that low. Now peace has returned, facilities are safe. Oil and gas production are on the increase. The amnesty programme has been able to come up with an additional two million barrels per day, talking from 2009 to date. The Niger Delta states are getting more money from the Federation Account, accruing from increase in production.
The question is, must every Niger Delta youth be made to accept to be called an ex-militant to be trained, or be included in the amnesty programme to be engaged? No.
It is the belief of the presidential amnesty programme that the states of the Niger Delta must constitute alternative youth empowerment, women and locals engagement programmes in their various states and stop youths who do not have rights to claim of militancy or agitation, which ended with the amnesty programme on October 4, 2009 with the addition made in October 2010.
May it end today and let the states take responsibility for youths, women and young men in their various states in terms of providing platforms of engagement and empowerment. This is the only way the amnesty programme would survive, even till 2015.
What would be the repercussion of persistent agitation for inclusion in the amnesty programme?
If we continue to open the East-West road to demonstrators in the name of calling themselves, illegally, ex-militants and forcing the hand of government to include them in the amnesty programme, security agencies in the Niger Delta would be looking at them because of possible complicity, then we are heading for doom even with the presidential amnesty programme. And when that happens, the Niger Delta would boil again. Production will come down and definitely, state allocations will be down again. The Niger Delta will be back to abyss. Nigeria will suffer more. This is the relevance of the programme we are running.
How would you evaluate the disposition of the National Assembly to the amnesty programme?
The leadership of the National Assembly and the members who do know and value the relevance of this programme have given enough support to it. We want to use this medium to thank members of the National Assembly, the president of the senate and the leadership, speaker of the House of Representatives and the leadership, chairmen of the House and Senate committees who have done so well to give basic support to the amnesty programme, knowing fully the relevance and contribution the programme’s success is making to the growth and development of this country.
Does the amnesty programme have a mandate for security in the Niger Delta?
We do need to state here that the amnesty programme, the way it is being managed, has nothing to do with securing the Niger Delta, from planning to execution. The mandate is meant to stabilise the security situation in the Niger Delta. This mandate, we have met, for God’s sake.
We are no security agency. The programme has no army, it has no navy, it has no police. It has no immigration, it has no customs. We don’t have ammunition, we don’t even have catapult.
Unemployment is not exclusive to the Niger Delta, but we must take very great interest in our areas, in particular. It is in the light of this that we further call on all agencies of government to do all they can to look into the complementing issues, which were pivotal to the proclamation of the amnesty programme.
What are these issues?
Before the Tompolos, the Atekes, and Boyloafs, Faras and the Henry Okahs did accede to the offer of amnesty, issues that had been long in agitation in the Niger Delta as per development, land and people’s rights, and justice issues were tabled before the government. These issues were agreed upon to be carried out. They have to do with the East-West road, the railway line, the coastal road linking Lagos to Calabar. They have to do with construction and establishment of new towns with modern facilities in the Niger Delta. These things were basic.
They have to do with establishment tertiary institutions, brining education closer to the Niger Delta people in the coastal communities. This has nothing to do with University of Port Harcourt; it has nothing to do with University of Benin. I’m talking about the local Ishan man who must be close to a university environment, who must have access to modernity, and not the man in Benin. I’m not talking about Yenagoa. Yenagoa could not have been used as the basis to weigh development in the Niger Delta. What does my mother or your own mother in Okerenkoko, Ezetu, Arogbo enjoy? What do they enjoy in those local communities where vehicles cannot drive to, despite what their communities are providing?
These were the issues of agreement. And until those issues are dealt with, the agitation in the Niger Delta will continue.
What is the linkage between these issues and the amnesty programme?
This is very key and it has nothing to do with the amnesty programme. The amnesty programme has provided the platform, which was not there, which was the excuse for lack of development in the Niger Delta, which was the excuse for contractors from the various federal ministries not to execute projects, for fear that they were going to be kidnapped. Now nobody would kidnap you. So there is need for them to go there; not living the entire development to the Niger Delta ministry. The Ministry of Works, Ministry of Environment, it was greed between our beloved late President Yar’Adua and our leaders that the Niger Delta environment has been destroyed and there is a need to re-generate that environment. So the Ministry of Environment must key in. There must be a cleanup exercise of the Niger Delta. When are we commencing that? Will the Ministry of Environment be quick enough in terms of funding to get this done?
It was in the light of the funding constraints, particularly, for the Niger Delta ministry that many people have misrepresented the Niger Delta minister and his performance in his ministry.
But do you think the Minister of Niger Delta has performed?
I am an adviser on Niger Delta to Mr. President. People pick on the Niger Delta ministry in the light of East-West road. There is need to understand the history of that road and what actually happened. I do believe that there is a communication problem; it’s not a performance issue. Because I know when our beloved leader, Olusegun Obasanjo, awarded the East-West road in 2006, it was for a little over N200 billion that it was awarded. Out of N200 billion plus, only N1.2 billion was released to SETRACO, Julius Berger, and Gitto Nigeria Limited. So will N1.2 billion work for what? The ministry needs to communicate this to Nigerians.
This is a road that has over 70 bridges that must be constructed. And the Niger Delta ministry under Elder Godswill Orubebe has constructed over 50 of them.