Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo, has a tall dream: To refocus the Amnesty Programme to its original mandate for sustainable peace, stability and economic development in the Niger Delta region. In this interview with editors, including Bolaji Adebiyi, in Lagos, he speaks on how he would achieve his objective
You are coming as an academic to a new role. What are challenges do you envisage?
This is a new office, a new challenge and a new environment. In the past, I have written about the Niger Delta and my position has always been that the Niger Delta people have been marginalized; that was my view. But with the coming of the Buhari administration, which I witnessed, there is a lot of commitment by this administration to Niger Delta in terms of funding, and in terms of looking for peace and security in that environment. You mentioned information about the increase of oil production in the Niger Delta, I think that also testifies to the fact that without peace there will be no development and without development there will be no peace.
I will let you know about that office to which I have just been appointed, but the fact is that I donâ€™t want to question or criticize my predecessor. Though I made inquiries of the situation of the office, my work was to immediately resolve issues; make it possible that the right people were employed at the right places and also put in all the efforts I can to do my best to make sure that the office works perfectly. For anyone assuming a new office, you know that there are a lot of problems; those who want things to be done the way it is being done before and those who like changes. These are the contesting ideas or contesting environment within which I found myself. But be that as it may, I put in a review committee to look at issues concerning the amnesty office and then, I saw a lot of things that I didnâ€™t even know in the amnesty programme.Â I tried to make sure that the best people are employed in the programme and also look at the two pivotal issues of the Amnesty Programme: security, development and enhancement of the Niger Delta people. How far has it been? What is the way forward?
The programme started very well but with time, it was driven by other demands that made it not to be very impactful. What I am doing now is to refocus the amnesty programme so that it could positively impact those who are meant to be catered for by this programme and you know that on my own, I canâ€™t do it. That was why I initially made an attempt to meet the critical stakeholders; that is the big five. I think it was the first time in the programme that the big five had come to sit down with me and agree that they are going to drive my programme. For me, that was the best thing I have ever done; that I could bring these big five, talk to them, listen to them, and put forward the programme that I have developed for the period that Iâ€™m appointed. They all bought into that idea and are willing to push it forward.
But it will not be complete without taking along members of the fourth estate of the realm. I believe that as I try to explain what I want to do with the programme, you will understand me and know where I am coming from and how you will respond to my demands; so itâ€™s a two-way thing. There are certain things you will demand from me; Charles, what are you doing with this programme? I am ready as always; Iâ€™m willing to give you the way forward and then the way I have designed the programme so that it will meaningfully impact the people of Niger delta.
What do you mean by the big five?
Big five are those who helped to maintain peace and security in their areas in the Niger Delta.
Who are they, can you mention their names?
I donâ€™t call them by their names; I see them as Niger Delta people that are interested in maintaining peace and security. They are stakeholders. Theyâ€™ve been involved since the beginning of the programme and whenever thereâ€™s crisis in a particular part of the Niger Delta, we will always refer to them; they know the way to deal with it.
And they are on your side?
They are now on my side, yes.
But I wonder if those people that are supposed to enjoy the benefits of the Amnesty Programme, how happy are they? Are they happy with whatâ€™s going on?
The fact is that most of them have undergone vocational training and most of them have been empowered to set up their own business. Some people have been sent abroad for schooling and all that, although Iâ€™m trying to put a stop to offshore training because of the amount of money that is expended on the training of one person. If we can have those people in Nigeria, I think it will be better for us to train them in Nigeria, because I see no reason why you send somebody to do political science in England, while most of the universities in Nigeria offer political science. We should have qualitative education, that is the most important thing because for me, sending someone abroad to go and do B.A or B.SC in political science when most Nigerian universities run political science programmes; so, why canâ€™t they do it here? The amount of money youâ€™re going to spend on one person going to United Kingdom or USA for a political science degree, we can use that money to train four, five people in Nigeria. And as far as I am concerned, my first assessment of that offshore education is to keep it as a discount. Those who are there will finish; but to get new people there, that I will not like to do.
You said you have a focus on two main things in the Niger Delta and Iâ€™m really concerned about them. You mentioned security, development and enhancement. Can you give us a few things you want to do in terms of security and development? Can you mention some exact projects that you are working on?
The fact is that to maintain the existing peace in the region is quite important for our function. If thereâ€™s a crisis in the region, then, basically all we are putting in place will not work. So thatâ€™s why the security aspect of it is very important for me and in doing that, you have to pay like stipends to the boys who are working there, enhance their training and empowerment in the areas that we set up vocational centres. That is the most important thing because if you do that, then you know you have oil revenue increasing, and then you have the federal government having some money to pay more into the Amnesty Programme to also empower our people by training them and giving them the requisite skill to perform well in an economy that is open. If that is done, for me, I would have achieved all that I want in the programme.
Do you have anything focused on the ex-agitators in the region? You know they cause a lot of destruction to development. Do you have any strategy focused on them?
Yes, by interacting with them; by trying to let them know that the region belongs to them. Blowing up pipelines does not affect those who are in Lagos or Kaduna. It affects the people there, the ones that you claim to protect, so please stop that. What else do you want? So that we can do all that it takes to satisfy your aspirations and ambitions of the Niger Delta people.
An aide to the Minister of State (Petroleum) said the Amnesty Programme is not sustainable and here you are, addressing journalists. I would have felt that you cleared the air on that sir. If the amnesty programme is not sustainable, are you working towards an alternative?
If somebody said that the programme is not sustainable, the person is not talking from my office and the person couldnâ€™t have known the way the programme has been designed to move. But I know that this programme is sustainable. I know the environment; I know the security environment of the Niger Delta and how it has been sustained to this level where we have massive production of oil and all that.
Weâ€™ve also seen periods where we cannot even get a million barrels; now, we have more than that. So, I know what the programme is going for and I know that after we have carried out enhancement, empowerment and also setting up clusters of farms and other training centres, we can sit back with satisfaction that we have done something.
Hitherto, there was a feeling of marginalization; that the Nigerian people had taken sides with the multinational oil companies so that the Niger Delta people could not be trained and will not be part of that oil that come from their place. But now, programmes are being done; we work with the oil companies, we also send our people to be trained. There might be some trouble but surely, I know that with time, these people would be trained to a level that they could see themselves as co-equals to anybody in any part of Nigeria and could be employed to do the work. The alternative will be too ghastly to contemplate.
I see a complete disconnect in the agencies handling the Niger Delta, the Amnesty Office, the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in terms of coalescing. The second is that I do not think that there is enough engagement with the people. I think you need to do more of such engagements with the communities to be sure that even what you are putting there, represents the needs assessments of the people?
You said there is disconnect between the various agencies in the Niger Delta. I think it was so in the past but not recently. There have always been meetings between these three agencies for the Niger Delta. We meet every week so that we donâ€™t duplicate resources, we donâ€™t work at cross purposes; we are engaging so that we can work together, and you also must bear in mind that in most of these peace building situations, it is always very difficult to get the right infrastructure in the institutions and all that. These are things we have to take in small doses and that bearing in mind the sensitivity of the people. Those of us who work in the system would know how security environment of the Niger delta is important and we are trying to work. You talked about reintegration. Reintegration is the final stage and that is what I said I want to do. Those who have been trained, how do you give them sustainable jobs? How do you link trainings to jobs? We have situations where we sent our delegates for training with a promise of employment, and thatâ€™s what weâ€™re doing now.Â
There are companies that are laying pipelines; we send our delegates, they learn how to do welding, and they also partake in the laying of the pipes by these companies that are doing it. For me, thatâ€™s a step forward.
How will your office manage the perception of the people of Niger Delta about the overwhelming presence of the military and that youâ€™re not just here to collect oil?
Changing of perception is not something that you do overnight. The fact is that if thereâ€™s stability, these soldiers could be withdrawn. This place is owned by the people who live here, it is not owned by any security organization. But like I said, if we want to maintain peace and security, we try to question the security apparatus of the government, then weâ€™re about to drag a wedge between the people and the government.Â
As far as Iâ€™m concerned, everybodyâ€™s security is very important to the survival of this country.
Do we have a deadline for the Amnesty Programme? Are you still collecting arms? What is your response to the protest by the people of Niger Delta whose complaint was that they were not being accommodated?
As far as Iâ€™m concerned, I have not been given any deadline. Just to add to what you said, there are people in Ondo State where the government just did amnesty programme, a disarmament programme and they said that they should be added to the Presidential Amnesty Programme. Thatâ€™s beyond the limit of my office. I donâ€™t declare amnesty for any person; itâ€™s only the president that declares it, and when the president declares it, then they will be part of the Amnesty Programme. It is not within my purview to include any person into the amnesty programme. For me, we have to look at it as if it is work in progress, and then, the more we curtail the situation, the better for the programme itself.
Â Kindly address the issue of perception of the people of Niger Delta in relation to the presence of the military?
What I am saying is that the Niger Delta people will only be secured if they know that they are being taken care of by this government, and that the purpose of police or military in that area for me, does not make us to be people that are under siege. We believe that we need it, because there are places in the Niger Delta where they have come to me that they donâ€™t even have a police station and that boys roam the riverine areas and all that. I have made presentation to the governor of Bayelsa state and Iâ€™m going to see him on it. The people want those areas to be secured; they do not want to be living in a place where one day somebody will round them up and take all that they have. It is not that you are putting them under siege; you want to make them feel secured, that if anything happens, the police or military will be there to save them.
You talked about engaging the big five. How do you engage the New Avengers, the new militant groups springing up?
The fact is that thereâ€™s also a plan to bring what we call the field commanders together; that will take place in Abuja in the next two weeks. Wherever you have conflict in the past, it is not easy to maintain peace and security because of naturalization, people will see themselves as the real protesters; that they are not going to be part of the programme. But itâ€™s for you to use your knowledge and effort to bring them back to discussion. How do we engage all of them so that we can deal with the issue effectively? Thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m trying to do. If thereâ€™s anyone that emerges somewhere that is New Avengers, Iâ€™ll try to meet him and say look, letâ€™s not behave like this. This place belongs to all of us, please what do you want that you have turned a New Avenger? For me, if you donâ€™t negotiate and talk to them and link up with them, sometimes, some of these people are not that violent. I have seen a situation where they will call me in the morning around 5.am, and said, oga, where our pay now? They donâ€™t know whether you are sleeping or not. But if you listen and answer them; that you have spoken to them takes care of their problem. They want to be spoken to.
What is your job, to take out some people and then pay them salary for life, or to get them employed?
When you talk about my plan, it is Governmentâ€™s plan not my plan. What the federal government is trying to do is that in some places where you have disarmament, they trade arms for money, but then you find out that the Presidential Amnesty Programme is a very noble one; itâ€™s quite different from the US programmes and all that. It is a home grown programme.Â So as we go, we try as much as possible to adopt and adapt to new environment and circumstances, there is no benchmark; that this is the way it should be done. We learn, we adapt, and we also appeal to their sensitivity. It is our place; letâ€™s make it safe so we can all live together.
I do know that they (ex-agitators) are on salary; when will it end? How many people do they pay salary, both those who have been trained? Have they been employed? Do they worry you? What are the success stories that you have? Thatâ€™s what you should be portraying to the media going forward. The media should have the success stories of those who have received amnesty and have come out successfully?
Of course, there are people who have been trained by this programme and they have been employed. There are aircraft pilots who have been trained, they are now flying with some of our local airlines; there are others who have been trained by Shell and of course, they have been employed by shell. There are others who have been employed by pipe-making companies and they are working there. Sometimes when these success stories come, it will be difficult for us to play it, because if you play it, you will over play it, and others will say abi na only them go school? So I try to down play it. Letâ€™s work. There are people who have got the skill, what do we do? Letâ€™s put them into clusters, give them some equipment to start on their own. Government cannot employ all of them, that is impracticable; but government can only create an enabling environment for other factors in the economic system to employ people. What I want to get out of this programme is meeting companies, telling them that we have qualified people needed to be engaged. With that, we can slowly but surely draw the programme.