The amnesty programme in the Niger Delta has been seen by some as having largely achieved its set objectives with one caveat however. The programme which was supposed to have wound down has suddenly been locked in an unending recruitment and training. Chairman of Grassroots Initiative for Peace and Social Orientation, Richard Akinaka who has been involved in returning peace to the region and one of the coordinators told Ahamefula Ogbu that lack of funds stretched the programme and was costing the federal government more. He also spoke on the economy, attacks by herdsmen, religious bill in Kaduna and Rivers Politics…excerpts
What is your assessment of the current situation of the amnesty programme which restored peace to the Niger Delta?
For me I think the programme is on course, we only as a country had little bit of transition; in normal political settings, transition affects a lot of things especially in this scenario where a new political and opposition party won election. The party had to come into government with their own appointees. We have witnessed that delay within a transition programme and I think from the point a substantive adviser was appointed, General P.T, Boro, the current Chairman of the programme has that tenacity and drive to ensure that the programme is brought to a logical conclusion in no distant time.
The programme is not an open-ended one, it is a programme for a particular number of persons that quickly need to be trained, set up and be reunited back to the society and as such, the earlier the government makes available resources for the programme to be urgently phased out, the better for the government because the more they delay the conclusion of the programme by inadequate appropriations, the more you cost government more money. From the beginning, if adequate funds were made available, it would not have taken three years to conclude, but because of the issue of funding, the programme keep delaying thereby giving opportunity for those who were not part of the amnesty programme to smuggle themselves into the process. For those going to school they can be handed over to the federal ministry of education or have their fees paid for so that immediately they graduate in four years’ time or when they do not graduate when they are supposed to, their parents will take over as government will not take responsibility for ones inadequacies. The government should give the needed funding for the programme so that this issue of every year amnesty continues should stop.
As a programme I think it has achieved its objective if I am to award pass mark, I would say 80 per cent because we know where we are coming from, when tension was high in the region, oil production was 700,000 barrels per day but now it is over 2 million barrels per day, so the essence of the programme was to stabilise the volatility in the region and peace in the Niger Delta which has been achieved. Of course you cannot take away criminality or insecurity as no country, not even America can boadt of that there must be some level of insecurity but basically the programme has achieved its aim.
You mean if the federal government had voted the required lump sum, the beneficiaries would not have been trained in batches but at once and the programme would have been concluded within time?
That would have been the most beautiful thing to do and like I said, initially it was 21,192, along the line, some people started agitating that they submitted arms to JTF and their names were not forwarded and captured in the programme, roads were being blocked on daily basis and I think they met with then National Security Adviser, General Gusau who saw their plight and advised the President to hearken to their plea and add them to the programme and it was done. There was another phase, another agitation again and all these happened because the implementation phase of the programme was staggered and haphazardly implemented; it was not linearly done. Till today, people are still protesting to be part of amnesty. All these things are happening because the people initially never trusted government intentions, so even those who came out initially used bush names to register, to document themselves but when they saw that government was serious and that people were being sent abroad for training, monthly stipends were being paid, coupled with unemployment rate in the society, everybody wanted to be part of the amnesty. It cannot be a social programme whereas it is a security programme aimed at reining in some people who were disturbing business activity in the Niger Delta so that there would be peace. If government had voted in the needed funds just like the best President this country has ever had Yar’Adua had a plan to spend N300 billion as one time take off of the programme to last for two years. If that was done, all these problems of amnesty would not have happened but Goodluck came on board.
Very unfortunately a man from the region who we all expected would give the required attention to the programme came and did not. If the money government spends in fighting Boko Haram had been expended on the education of the north east, I don’t think we would have had Boko Haram today. If you develop the people you won’t have need for security challenges, you can have pockets of insecurity that can be taken care of by the police but if government is sincere, the money it has expended fighting insurgency and even militancy in the Niger Delta from the onset is enough to turn the country around. So why wait for crises to happen? Do the right thing, develop the people who are suffering from pollution and degradation, train these people, give them adequate resources to exit the programme. Then let there be a focused attention on the Niger Delta; it can be a direct government intervention; it may not be NDDC which has abused the purpose of their creation after the first Board and Management Team of the Commission it became a political tool in the hands of those managing it. Today we can see the failure of NDDC. The amount of money voted for the NDDC compared with development in the region for me is a disgrace. Though this President may not have the legal power to scrap NDDC, he should look deeper at NDDC and see how he can restructure it for efficiency. We remember the days when the NDDC was still executing its mandate under Timi Alaibe and Chairmanship of Onyema Ugochukwu, it gave people hope. Development is not only physical but also involves manpower development. People were empowered, the era of Mazda bus and fishing equipment. There was no place then that you will go without seeing the presence of NDDC, even the road to Goodluck Jonathan’s place was done by NDDC under Alaibe. After the dissolution of the first Board, NDDC became a tool in the hands of politicians where one person in the Villa will control contracts worth billions for which monies are paid without execution of the contract. The failure of NDDC under Goodluck Jonathan was his fault for being unable to supervise agencies under his administration and it was under him that the East-West road which we thought someone from this region being President would be eager to complete but he didn’t. Amnesty programme could have been concluded within two years if not for the paucity of funds.
You expressed disdain at the current state and performance of the NDDC, would you want it scrapped?
Well for me, Nigeria is one country and there is no basis for division; the only thing that engenders crises is bias and ethnic concern. If not for that, what stops the federal ministry of works to do the roads in the Niger Delta? What stops the federal ministry of Housing from building houses in the Niger Delta? Must Niger Delta have a separate development agency to develop? The interest in our region is because of the oil that was found here and if there is any intervention, it could be done in terms of a trust fund, like for education or environmental problem. Oil companies are required to contribute a certain percentage of their profit to the NDDC but are they doing so? Some are not because they are not seeing the results of their contributions due to how the funds have been managed. NDDC is a commission set up by law but it can be amended and used as a poll to save for the rainy day.
Most recently we have had issues of pipeline vandalism whereas you are claiming the amnesty programmes had been a success, what do you blame for the development?
If you know where we are coming from, you cannot rid the society of criminals totally. Peace is not the absence of crises; definitely there will still be pockets of problems. Bunkering is still going on; the basic thing is that JTF was set up to tackle it. The government should look into their performance before now and if they are not performing, then government money should no longer be wasted on such agencies. There can’t be total security when people are not involved, that is why the new leadership by JTF that is adjusting to those requirements and is being commended. The idea of community engagement is the best way to tackle the problem and that is how vital information can be got. Amnesty programme has really helped the country. I think the JTF has abused the purpose of its creation.
Rivers election was quite violent and accusing fingers were pointed on former militants, what is your take on that?
The fact that there were former agitators doesn’t in anyway restrict them from politics. They are Nigerians who are from villages under local governments in a state. They have the same rights as others, to be voted for and to vote; so their involvement in politics is even a way of reintegrating them into society. Most of them are popular.
But don’t you think that the violence that happened in Rivers State could be traced to the ex-militants?
The truth is that what happened in Rivers State was popularity against federal might. It was like somebody in PDP going to any state in the north right now and trying to say you must vote for this PDP candidate. The truth is that Rivers State is a PDP state. APC won election in the north on the symbol of Buhari popularity which also gave the likes of El-Rufai the edge to win election in Kaduna State. Nigerians were tired of ways of doing things and elected someone who could give them some level of hope and Buhari was a symbol of that hope in decisiveness. So in Rivers State, there is nothing Amaechi or soldiers would have done to win the elections. Infact if APC wins any seat, then it is rigged. APC people and their leaders are not popular in Rivers State because the people who made him have left him.
Looking at the economy, the naira has weakened against international currencies, fuel scarcity and all that, how is it affecting your business?
There is more hardship in this country now than ever before. I have never witnessed this level of hardship but there is something I believe that the process of change entails a lot of things. When you are trying to change from a particular way of doing things to another way, those who benefitted from the former system will resist you with everything. That is why I am not castigating the present government. The issue of subsidy has not been helping Nigerians; it is a platform to enrich some people. He may not have said he was removing subsidy but what he is doing is tactically removing it which is good. The minister of petroleum should stop talking; he is talking too much, that is not how to do things. He gave a date for fuel scarcity to ease and it failed and he is still giving different dates. We should start de-emphasising years of experience in an industry as a new person can come in and do things differently and it works. We know the cabal issues and all the inter-plays in the oil sector, but he should stop talking and work. He has a strong President that will back up his moves.
Nigeria is a mono economy that is mostly government driven and when you stop commercial banks from keeping government money, you are telling them you want them out of business whereas they are the highest employers of labour in this country and immediately this TSA thing started, banks felt it more and decided to lay off workers so a government that promised employment ended up sacking the employed ones while you contracted out the retrieval of the monies from the banks to a particular company at a percentage. For one company to make that much money, why not keep it where it will benefit more than put it in fewer hands? Why not leave it with the banks and regulate its usage than take the monies from the banks and create unemployment? It needs proper monitoring of how government monies are used as no minister should be allowed to fix government money for himself.
What of the value of the naira now?
More than 90 per cent employment in this country is by small scale industries. Most of what they deal on are imported and those imports are dollar based. My wife sells clothing and she buys from America and if she buys one for $100 she could before when dollar was one to 200 she could sell for N25,000 but now you can’t sell what you buy for the same price at N25,000 because of the cost of the dollar; every import dependent business has been crippled. I deal on steel and I buy from Ukraine and it is the same thing. Steel that I use to buy for $2,000 and equivalent of N400,000 in Nigeria is with the present value of the naira will cost me close to N700,000. Whatever is required of government to help our foreign exchange is paramount and should be done.
What do you think of herdsmen attack across the country and proposal for creating grazing areas?
I am totally against that bill because those farmers are private businessmen. The land I need to do my business is acquired by me and government is not helping me to acquire where I use for my business. Did the government buy the ranch where Buhari keeps his animals? So they are making money and people buy the cows from them, they don’t give it out so why should government provide where they use for their private businesses? The idea of herdsmen attacking people in their farms is wrong, it is an embarrassment and indictment and the government should do all to ensure we live in peace as the attacks are polarising this country. The farmers should protect themselves. If I am in my house and someone is breaking in to kill me and my family, I will have no option than to fight back with everything I have.
What do you think of this religious bill Kaduna State is pushing through which requires licensing of preachers?
El Rufai is one individual I have respected over the years because of his performance as FCT minister which no other minister after him has surpassed. I used to congratulate my friends from Kaduna that the State would have a new look with El-Rufai on the saddle but he should not allow himself to be used as an agent of division. We know the polarisation between Christians and Muslims in Kaduna and being a Muslim, he should not allow himself to be used to divide the state. I have not looked at the proposed law but as a Christian our faith requires us daily to evangelise. If God has given us the charge, who is a governor to bar us from preaching the gospel? So if I have to evangelise in Kaduna I must get licence? It is against God’s directive. El-Rufai should withdraw that bill and set up a structure to check excesses of people who want to incite through preaching. Christianity is not religion but faith and El-Rufai should heed the voice of reason and withdraw it. If he sees anyone using religion to forment trouble, he should use security agencies to stop them and maintain the peace.