- Over 9,000 militants ready to disarm, task force recommends two-year extension of scheme
Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja
The emergence of new militant groups, ready to surrender their arms and get enlisted in the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) for ex-agitators in the Niger Delta is posing fresh challenges for the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) interventionist scheme.
The new groups with armed militants running into several hundreds are operating in various states of the Niger Delta and South-west.
In Arepo, a border community between Lagos and Ogun States, no fewer than 1,500 militants have opted to surrender their arms and embrace the amnesty.
THISDAY investigations revealed that the militants in this location have already made overtures to the Amnesty Office, and are on the verge of being verified.
According to our findings, the Amnesty Office’s top echelon and very high ranking federal government officials and security operatives are billed to depart Abuja for Arepo soon, for an on-the-spot assessment and verification of the status of the militants.
The exercise is preparatory to the disarmament phase, where the militants will formally lay down their arms and be granted amnesty.
Apart from the 1,500 militants in Arepo who are ready and desirous of surrendering their arms, THISDAY gathered that the situation is not any different in Cross River, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Ondo and Rivers States.
None of the new groups of militants spread across the various states and currently waving the olive branch for amnesty has fewer than 1,000 men, THISDAY learnt.
A source very conversant with the new groups told THISDAY that no fewer than 9,000 militants are clamouring to be disarmed and granted amnesty
At a recent press briefing in Abuja, the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Brig-Gen. Paul Boroh (rtd), had dropped the hint that a new group of militants desiring to be disarmed had sprung up in virtually all the states in the Niger Delta and beyond.
Boroh, who could not at that point give the total figures, stated that each of the new groups had hundreds of militants, adding that their contact persons were regularly in touch with the Amnesty Office seeking to get the process process of disarming them underway.
Another source told THISDAY that only President Muhammadu Buhari reserves the right to authorise the disarmament and granting of amnesty to the new militant groups.
On that premise, he argued that for some top government officials to be getting ready to head for Arepo any time soon, the president must have given the green light.
But while the quest by the new militant groups to voluntarily surrender their arms is considered as a positive signal in government quarters, the aspect that appears to be rankling the federal government is their desire to be subsumed into the PAP.
The PAP was initiated by the administration of late President Umaru Musa Ya’Adua on June 25, 2009 with 26, 358 ex-agitators granted amnesty after meeting the government’s deadline to surrender their arms.
Following a seemingly unabating violent protests in the Niger Delta and Abuja by ex-militants claiming to have been excluded from the scheme, the immediate-past president, Goodluck Jonathan, had in late 2012 approved the inclusion of an additional 3,642, bringing the total number to 30,000.
On assumption of office last year, President Muhammadu Buhari had announced the terminal date of the programme as December 2015.
The PAP, which is a DDR programme, is a very expensive one, and the apprehension in government quarters is that granting amnesty to the new groups would pose fresh and daunting challenges.
At a time when the economy is in the doldrums with serious liquidity squeeze, the thinking is that funding another DDR programme is not a viable option at the moment.
There are strong indications that although he government is worried by the cost-implications of managing a new crop of repentant militants, they may come under a new nomenclature, different from the PAP.
By their expensive nature, DDR programmes across the globe are usually run by the United Nations Only Nigeria has on its own so far run a very successful DDR programme from the scratch.
It is believed that its success has provided the fillip for the emergence of the new militant groups currently seeking to surrender their arms and ‘enjoy a piece of the cake.’
THISDAY learnt that the federal government is being extremely circumspect in handling the situation in order not to unwittingly give a wrong signal that might engender further proliferation of such groups, and further elongate the programme.
The programme was allocated over N69 billion in 2015 and got about N45 billion in the 2016 federal budget recently passed by the National Assembly.
With this development, funding a programme which might later include new entrants from the various militant groups seeking to be disarmed and enlisted, is envisaged to be a major challenge.
In the latest status report of the programme obtained by THISDAY, Boroh had pointed out that it is beset by various challenges, including the emergence of new militant groups seeking to disarm and be included in the PAP.
“These challenges would require not only FGN’s support but also the participation of the multinational oil companies, international community and organisations,” he said.
Boroh stated that the PAP, has succeeded in stabilising the security and socio-economic situation in the Niger Delta with the resultant economic boost in the region.
According to him, the DDR programme is now in the reintegration phase, considered the last and most enduring lap.
But he pointed out that there was no exit strategy in the six years of implementation of the programme until he assumed office.
“I inherited the entire 30,000 caseload of delegates (beneficiaries) on assumption of office in August 2015 with the mandate to reintegrate them into the economic mainstream.
“The task of securing job placement and sustainable empowerment for the beneficiaries in the face of limited job opportunities in the public and private sectors called for some radical and practicable steps that gave birth to inter-agency collaboration with strategic partners,” Boroh said.
Such partners include Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Niger Delta development Commission (NDDC), Ministry of Environment, and the International Oil Companies (IOCs).
Others are United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), European Union (EU), US Agency for International Development (USAID), UK Department for International Development (DFID), as well as military and paramilitary organisations.
These inter-agency collaborations and relationships, he stated, “are strategic in our Reintegration drive, especially NCDMB efforts in ensuring Nigerian Content compliance in the oil and gas sector, where we have the largest number of trained delegates.”
Already, Boroh has held consultations with some Service Chiefs of military and paramilitary organisations, who have reportedly indicated interest to support the reintegration drive of the PAP.
Meanwhile, the non-conclusion of the programme in December 2015 could be traceable to the position of the Transition and Empowerment Task Force, which was set up to ensure an effective closure of the programme in line with the terms of the Amnesty Agreement between the federal government and the Niger Delta ex-militants.
The task force had in its report submitted that the lack of exit strategy by the previous administration has created a deficit that made the proposed exit date of December 2015 unfeasible.
“Therefore, a limited extension of two years for the sustainable reintegration of the PAP for Niger Delta is desirable to implement the exit strategy with timelines that will not compromise national security.”
Such strategy/timelines include, among others, the following:
*The exit strategy should be properly communicated and accepted by stakeholders. This aspect is said to be ongoing
*The programme will not cost more than what is necessary to achieve the stated goals and objectives
*The transition and scaling down of the programme through restructuring. This is also said to already being implemented to save cos
* A biometric data verification of beneficiaries to enable a more prudent and cost effective management
* Ascertain actual status and cost implications of he caseload
*Calculate the cost of meeting government’s commitment to the programme
*Encourage a buy-in or support from international development partners, with the aim of cutting cost. This is also said to be ongoing.
The key recommendation in the transition exit strategy is the change of nomenclature of the Presidential Amnesty Programme to Presidential Sustainable Reintegration Programme.
This is believed to have the potential of strengthening the focus of the government and change the perception of the programme.
“It will help the government to erase the word ‘amnesty’ from our national life, so that no one, no ethnic group , no state and no region can take up arms against the state and aspire to such special pardon called ‘Amnesty.”
It is not clear if President Buhari has already approved the two-year extension of the programme as recommended by the task force.
But in the first quarter of this year, 3,232 ex-agitators (beneficiaries of the programme) are exiting, and is expected to yield a N2, 520,960,000 savings to the government.
Another 1,042 beneficiaries are also exiting in the second quarter, with N812,760,000 saved.
The third quarter will see the exit of 2,958 beneficiaries, and would lead to a savings of N2,307,240,000.
By the fourth quarter, 324 offshore students in the scheme are expected to graduate, with a N560,978,400 savings for the government.
This will amount to a savings of N6, 201,938,400 from 7,556 exiting beneficiaries.
The savings are accruing from stipends usually paid to the beneficiaries.
Of the 30,000 beneficiaries, 17,000 have so far completed their various training.