Probe Amnesty Office, Ex-Militants Urge Buhari, Threaten Protest over Non-payment of Stipends

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Francis Ndubuisi in Abuja

Former Niger Delta militants currently enrolled in the Presidential Amnesty Programme have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the Amnesty Office, which they alleged has become a cesspool of corruption since Brig-Gen. Paul Boroh (rtd) took over as its coordinator in 2015.

The former militants under the aegis of Truly Transformed Former Niger Delta Agitators (TTNDA), in a statement yesterday in Abuja by its president, Preye Amasoma, also complained about irregular payment of their stipends, threatening to hit the streets to ventilate their grievances unless the president intervened and called Boroh to order.

Tracing their predicament to alleged corrupt practices in the Amnesty Office, the repentant militants accused the coordinator of planning to compromise its regulatory agencies, including the Senate Committee on Niger Delta that had been conducting an investigative hearing into the activities of the intervention agency.

“For a man who has not paid us our monthly stipend for four months and has not paid delegates in training centres across the country for several months, to be using contractors to pile up money for himself and some so-called senators, is a shame and the EFCC and President Buhari himself will hear this matter,” it said.

The Amnesty Office, however, failed to respond to this allegation wednesday as its Media Consultant, Mr. Owei Lakemfa, neither answered calls nor replied a text message to his cell phone.

There had been mounting complaints by beneficiaries of the programme instituted by the President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2010 to calm restive nerves in the oil-rich region, necessitating an investigative hearing into the activities of the Amnesty Office by the Senate Committee on Niger Delta, headed by Senator Peter Nwaboshi.

Although the Amnesty Office had always insisted that it had met its obligations to the repentant militants within the limits of budget constraints, explaining that the huge cut in its 2016 allocation had hamstrung its ability to fully discharge its responsibilities, the former militants said yesterday that this was a tenuous excuse, insisting that corruption was at the root of what they called the incompetence of the agency.

Specifically, they accused Boroh of planning to compromise members of the Senate Committee, alleging that he had worked out a scheme to use illicit money from contractors handling Amnesty Office contracts to bribe the senators.

“We have been tolerating his incompetence but we will not accept this extremely corrupt scheme that he is hatching, using the name of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta,” they said even as they indicated their intention to forward a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on the coordinator’s alleged corrupt practices.

Saying they were forced to speak out because of President Buhari’s reluctance to investigate Boroh, the former militants warned that unless the president acted quickly they might be forced to take to the streets.

“If the President does not put a stop to the malfeasance currently going on at the Amnesty Office under his aide, Paul Boroh, we will consider taking to the streets of Abuja in protest,” they said.

The Senate committee had held a public hearing two weeks ago where several persons who claimed they were ex-agitators from the Niger Delta said they had been unjustly excluded from the programme.

The complainants included youths from Ndokwa in Delta State. The committee chairman, Nwaboshi, had frowned on the purported exclusions and directed Boroh, to write to the President to secure requisite approvals to include the complaining youths in the Amnesty Programme.

Nwaboshi later announced that the committee had decided to schedule a later date to meet with contractors handling training or capital projects for the Presidential Amnesty Programme.

The ex-militants, however, picked holes in the committee’s decision, saying its failure to attend to their grievances immediately in preference for investigation of contractors was suspect.
Saying that each time they protested late payment of their stipends, the Amnesty Office always said it was due to the need to service the Senate Committee members; the ex-militants challenged its chairman to openly deny the intervention agency’s claim.

The former militants exhibited a letter purportedly written to the Amnesty Office by Nwaboshi, introducing a firm, Candour Capital Limited, as the committee’s consultant to “conduct the inspection and investigation of the books and accounts of the Presidential Amnesty Programme from inception to date.”

They criticized the company’s appointment, querying its level security clearance to make it fit to audit the accounts of such a sensitive government agency like the Amnesty Office.
“The whole thing is a scam. What level of security clearance has this private company received to qualify it to have full and unfettered access to a national security programme like the Presidential Amnesty Programme? I pity this country,” the leader of the transformed Niger Delta ex-agitators said.