Latching on to his presidential mandate, Francis Ndubuisi writes that the new helmsman at the Amnesty Office, Prof. Charles Dokubo, has hit the ground running
The recent appointment of Professor Charles Quaker Dokubo, by President Muhammadu Buhari, as the new Special Adviser/ Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme is giving a sense of hope to the Amnesty Office and its beneficiaries as well as stakeholders.
The president had removed the former Coordinator, Brig-Gen Paul Boroh (Rtd), following several petitions from beneficiaries and other stakeholders of the programme. Announcing the appointment of Dokubo, the president, had in a statement by his spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, directed the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-Gen Babagana Monguno (Rtd), to fully investigate the activities of the Amnesty Office from 2015 to date, with special focus on allegations of financial impropriety alleged to have been committed by the former managers of the programme.
Stakeholders in the Niger Delta have applauded the choice of Dokubo for the job, saying he is eminently qualified to refocus the programme to become more impactful.
Born in Abonnema, Akuku Toru Local Government of Rivers State where he had his primary and secondary school education, Dokubo is well aware of the pains, challenges and expectations of the people of the Niger Delta. He also brings to the job a solid academic grounding. He was appointed into the Amnesty office from his position as the Director of Research and Studies at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). He received a Masters Degree in Peace Studies and a doctoral degree in Nuclear Weapon Proliferation and its control from the University of Bradford. He started out as a lecturer in the Department of Research and Studies of the Institute and rose to become the director before his new appointment. Dokubo has published extensively and carried out research in the area of nuclear proliferation, conflict resolution and other areas related to strategic analysis.
Stakeholders believe that with his academic background and exposure, he is adequately equipped to drive the very critical reintegration of the thousands of former militant agitators in the Niger Delta who have already been disarmed and demobilized under a structured Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Programme.
Expectedly, since assuming office, Dokubo has been busy cleaning the Augean Stable at the Amnesty Office, which was known to have been ran down by his predecessor. â€œThe president and indeed all Nigerians expect a much more robust and impactful Amnesty Programmeâ€¦ That is why we must continue to do all that is within our powers and collective competences to improve this programme based on lessons we have so far learnt,â€ he said during the recent inauguration of an operational review committee for the Amnesty programme. â€œI wish to use the opportunity of the inauguration of this committee to underscore the compelling need to recalibrate and reboot the Presidential Amnesty Programme to meet current realities in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria at large,â€ he added.
The inauguration of the committee itself was a major take off point for the rebooting of the programme. Dokubo summed up the importance of setting up of the committee to his mandate by describing it as, â€œa major step in the on-going efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari to deepen peace, safety and security in the Niger Delta, using the instrumentalities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme for former agitators in the region.â€
While further explaining the necessity for the committee, he noted that he received the hand – over notes of his predecessors as well as written briefs by the heads of the various departments of the Amnesty Office when he took over some weeks ago and had carefully gone through the documents: â€œI dare say, however, that these documents left lots of questions unanswered,â€ the new helmsman said.
The review committee is comprised of four senior officials from the Amnesty Office and four experts carefully selected from outside of the office. The inclusion of key departmental heads in the Amnesty Office in the committee, it must be observed, is a confirmation that the new Amnesty boss is not set out for a witch-hunt of his predecessor and those he worked with.
The committee is saddled with the task of reviewing all contracts awarded by the Amnesty Office since 2015 with a view to determine the levels of work done, monies paid, beneficiaries and extent of work done so far and thereby recommend a payment schedule for those qualified to be paid; determine financial assets and liabilities of the Amnesty Office; carry out a thorough assessment of all departments in the office and offer useful suggestions on how to improve on the performance of these departments moving forward; undertake a thorough personnel audit with a view to ascertaining the number of persons currently working in the Amnesty Office and the suitability of all personnel for the offices they currently occupy; and determine the current status of all the Vocational Training Centers built or are still under construction across the states in the Niger Delta.
In addition, the committee is also saddled with the task of ascertaining the current status of the database of the Amnesty Office with a view to determining its certainty and sanctity; determine the current status of all on-going vocational, educational and post-training empowerment programmes of the office within the country and offshore; and also to undertake an assessment of the current relationship between the Amnesty Office and the Presidential Amnesty Programmeâ€™s critical stakeholders with a view to suggesting ways of making the relationships even more robust. The committee is to recommend programme or policy reviews, where necessary at the end of its assignment.
However, the unwieldy documents with maze of dizzying figures and claims were not the only burden handed over to Dokubo on assumption of office. The former lecturer also had the misfortune of inheriting an Amnesty Office that looks more or less like a market place with many employees having no clear definitions of their job schedules. It was gathered that the workforce became grossly over bloated because the past administration gave in to pressure from politicians for employment of all manner of persons.
Dokubo at a recent meeting confessed that he was shocked at the large number of persons working in the office and decried a situation where many of the staff members have no schedules of duty or sitting spaces. Many of these personnel hired by his predecessor were also found to be grossly unfit for the positions they were employed for. Some of the employees spend their days in the office watching movies or simply loafing around because they have no desks to report to. Indeed, it was estimated that under the immediate past administration, more than 20 per cent of the employees did not have desks.
Dokubo made it very clear that he was not going to work with the unwieldly arrangement on assumption of office. In anyway, the continuous reduction in allocations to the Amnesty Office has also brought in the imperative of cost cutting. He began the process of recalibrating the office with a memo informing all contract staff, who are also known as Reintegration Consultants, of their disengagements from their positions or duties on 16, April. He also announced the engagement of a new Lead Reintegration Consultant for the programme following in the footsteps of his predecessors after approval of the federal government. The new Lead Reintegration Consultant was saddled with the responsibilities of hiring, deploying as well as remunerating personnel on behalf of the office. But even at that, Dokubo did not throw away the baby with the bath water because in the memo, he also encouraged the disengaged consultants to re-apply for their jobs through the Human Resources (HR) firm that was engaged to handle personnel appraisal.
Interestingly, many of those who reapplied got their jobs back after going through rigorous tests that were overseen by the HR firm. Those who scaled the hurdle have since returned to work.
The review committee has also rounded off its work and submitted a voluminous report to Dokubo. While expressing his appreciation to members of the committee, the new Coordinator noted that their findings and recommendations would go a long way in shaping the policy direction of the office under his administration.
â€œWhile waiting for this committee to complete its assignment, I took out time to acquaint myself with critical components of the Amnesty Programme and I have indeed learnt a whole lot in the past few weeks. Given my own personal findings and the report this committee has just submitted to me, I can safely say that I am now fully equipped to hit the ground running,â€ he said.
The Professor also announced that in line with ongoing retooling of the programme, he would embark on series of consultative meetings with critical stakeholders. â€œThe idea is to hear directly from the beneficiaries of the programme on how to make it more effective and much more impactful,â€ Dokubo averred.
Even then, indications are that stakeholders in the Niger Delta are in agreement that with his appointment, it is already looking like a new dawn for the ex-agitators and beneficiaries of the amnesty programme.
This is a verdict borne out of the fact that despite inheriting a liability said to be in the region of over N7 billion the new coordinator has been able to fast track payments of the monthly stipends and backlogs of in-training allowances to beneficiaries of the programme in educational and vocational institutions in Nigeria and outside the country. He has also emphasized that all hands must be on deck if the objectives of the programme as a critical component for the sustenance of peace and development of Niger Delta is to be achieved.