Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Six years after the inauguration of Niger Delta’s Presidential Amnesty Programme, the Senate yesterday commenced investigation into the utilisation of N328 billion budgeted for the smooth running of the programme since 2009.
The amnesty programme was initiated in 2009 by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua to rehabilitate disarmed militants who had been involved in massive vandalisation of oil pipelines as well as kidnap of expatriates operating in the region and consequently integrate them into the society.
Even though the programme had helped a number of disarmed militants to acquire education and various vocational skills since 2009, there had in recent times been allegations of corruption and mismanagement of resources allocated for the programme by its handlers.
These allegations prompted the Senate to mandate its Niger Delta Committee to conduct a public hearing on the handling of the funds for amnesty programme since inception.
While declaring the public hearing open yesterday, Senate President, Bukola Saraki recalled that it was exactly six years ago that the programme took off as he described the timing of the public hearing as a perfect time.
Saraki who recalled that the programme was designed to last for only three years, raised a number of rhetorical questions, which included why the programme had not achieved target goals six years after and why corruption inherent in it should be exposed through the hearing.
“The time of this hearing is a perfect time. Amnesty started six years ago and the purpose was to ensure the true development of Niger Delta and create opportunities for youths. Six years down the line, have we achieved the objectives? Have conditions improved? Has pipeline vandalisation improved? How has the money been spent? Until we find answers to these questions, we ‘ll be postponing the evil day.
“Six years down the line, we are back to vandalisation. Militancy is back. Can we conclude that the programme has brought the desired result? If no, why? What is the problem? Is it corruption? Who’s responsible? What is to be done? The truth must be told. We must expose those behind it for the sake of the youths. We can’t be here and speak for hours when there is no peace in Niger Delta…We ‘all be culpable if we keep quiet,” Saraki said.
In his address, the committee chairman, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, recalled that the amnesty programme was designed to create a better and more progressive programmes to better the lots of Niger Delta youths on one hand and the economic prosperity of Nigeria on the other hand, noting that “economic prosperity of the country is partly tied to peace and security of the Niger Delta region.”
He also recalled how the core mandates of the amnesty programme included
disarming militants who “engaged the federal government in a struggle to control the region’s natural resources with the consequences of heavy disruptions of oil and gas business, leading to massive economic losses.”
Other mandates of Amnesty Programme as highlighted by Nwaoboshi were demilitarisation of the militant youths in the region‚ aged between 15-39 years; rehabilitation and sustainable reintegration of the ex-militants into the society with acquired skills or training of various sorts.
However, Nwaoboshi who added that the programme was targeted at 30,000 ex-militants in the Niger Delta with a view to guaranteeing peace and security in the region, lamented that the programme had now been compromised, while full blown militancy had returned to the region.
“Indeed, in order to realise these laudable objectives, the then federal government and subsequent governments devoted massive financial and material resources to pursue the agenda of the Amnesty Programme. No doubt, the programme recorded some Ievel of successes as the nation and the Niger Delta region in particular had enjoyed a relative peace and say, moderate stable economic activities and public order until recently.
“Yes, until recently, because of media reports, it does appear that the objectives of the amnesty programme have been compromised and failing to actualise those lofty goals. As we speak, restiveness has returned to the region, our youths are back to the creeks, some have returned to the country without completing their trainings; the trained ones cannot find employment, companies are leaving the region, pipeline and other strategic national infrastructure are being destroyed and the national crude oil output drastically reduced. If we take into account the crashed price of crude oil in the international market, we would then appreciate the impact of these on the Nigerian economy.
“It is in light of the above scenario that this public hearing is imperative. Therefore, this stock taking today is to tell ourselves the obvious truth; and the two key burning questions we should be asking about the amnesty programme, which has operated as an interventionist entity for over seven years are: what are the things we did right? And what did we do wrong?” he queried.
The guest speaker at the occasion, Chief Jasper Jombo, lamented perceived misplacement of priority in the execution of the amnesty programme. According to him, the amnesty programme ought to consist of various value adding programmes such as agriculture, industrialisation and property development.
He bemoaned the exclusion of various youngsters who were victims of militancy in Niger Delta, arguing that it was wrong of the programme to target only repentant militants without taking into cognizance the interests of children who lost their fathers or mothers or displaced by militancy.
However, Jombo who alleged that handlers of the programme had not done well, shocked the gathering when he claimed that his community was suffering from underdevelopment without any access road and yet disclosed that he executed a N2 billion contract for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). He threatened to cause trouble if his money was not paid within one week.