Major Hassan Kesiena Mowarin (rtd) served in the Nigerian Army for 16 years and retired voluntarily in 2011. He was Chief of Staff and Head of Education Unit at the Presidential Amnesty Programme. In this interview with Sylvester Idowu, in Warri, Delta State, Mowarin talks about his role in efforts to check corruption in the amnesty programme during his tenure. Excerpts:
What qualified you to serve in the Presidential Amnesty Programme?
I am from Delta State, paternally of the Urhobo ethnic stock of Agbarho Kingdom and maternally of the Ijaw ethnic stock from Oporoza community in Gbaramatu Kingdom. I am a proud Muslim and retired voluntarily from the Nigerian Army in 2011 after 16 years of unblemished service to Nigeria. I joined the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) in July 2016 and served under the Brig Gen PT Boroh (rtd.) administration initially as head of protocol, logistics and deployment until I was later appointed to head the onshore education unit of the PAP. I like to think of myself as a man of my word, strict disciplinarian and very proud. I have also been told severally that I am a very stubborn man (laughs). Having already meritoriously served the Nigerian nation as a whole for 16 years it was my sincere desire to one day be able to serve my people in the Niger-Delta in similar fashion. I saw my employment in the PAP as a veritable means to that end. The name I bear is my father’s name; I wanted also to make my own name.
What are your views about the current PAP Coordinator, Professor Charles Dokubo, and why did you leave the Amnesty office?
I worked very briefly with Professor Dokubo as Chief of Staff. Dokubo is an elderly gentleman and I believe that he came on board with good intentions for the programme and the Niger Delta. Coming from an academic background, I hope he will prioritise PAP students’ welfare, unlike the previous administration. However, like most men who start with good intentions, he should be extremely wary of jackals and hyenas that he has around him. They usually undo such good men and lead them astray. Few of them are still in that office and new ones have come to join the ravenous pack. The professor should be extremely cautious.
I left the PAP of my own free will because of my differences of opinion about the administrative style of the new coordinator. This is quite normal in every work environment. I felt it was appropriate to give the new coordinator the free space he needed to work with the new staff he had decided to bring on board. Professor Dokubo is a father and will always have my respect as such.
Stakeholders have suggested that the federal government should set up an independent committee to embark on state by state verification of personal data of the 30,000 ex- militants being paid monthly by the Amnesty Office. Do you subscribe to this?
The PAP so called database, as it presently exists, is an entire fraud. Do you mean that since inception in 2009 not one ex-militant has died? Are we also saying that not a single ex-militant has been trained, empowered and subsequently exited from the programme? Even with the entire three years of General PT Boroh’s often touted “Exit Strategy”. Now, you have hundreds, if not thousands, of genuine ex-militants in various schools. These genuine ex-militants in school are from the PAP Database and are budgeted to receive their monthly stipend. Additionally, while in school they are supposed to receive in-training allowance, also budgeted for. However, when these beneficiaries are placed in schools, PAP stops paying their monthly stipends. The question is, where does their money go to? Because at the end of each month, the PAP claims they are still paying 30,000 ex-militants!! So who is getting the stipends of ex-militants in schools? It is obvious to all except those who benefit from the fraudulent perversion of the original lofty ideals of the PAP that something is seriously wrong with the management of the programme. There have been numerous allegations that thousands of ex-militants who were originally disarmed and demobilised were subsequently omitted or removed from the database. There are also complaints that many others have had their names replaced either with non-existent persons or with names of non- ex militants. It has been alleged also that genuine ex-militants have seen their names published in newspapers as having been trained and empowered whereas they have never even been called for any form of training. Unique United Nations (UN) codes allocated to genuine ex-militants during the disarmament phase are being sold to unsuspecting non-beneficiaries of the programme. In fact, during my verification exercise of students in schools in 2017, students as young as 16-18 years of age were having UN codes. How is this possible? How old were these children in 2009? And how did they get these UN codes? Also during that exercise and even during my pre-deployment screening exercise in Port Harcourt and Asaba, several candidates were in possession of fake amnesty ID cards and were receiving text messages informing them of their UN codes right at the venue being sent to them by criminals in the PAP data unit! Additionally, others are having their monthly legitimate stipends short-changed. These genuine ex-militants who have been cheated have been crying out repeatedly over the years. Most have given up hope and moved on with their lives while others I believe have taken their frustrations back to the creeks and the lives they knew pre-amnesty.
To uncover the depth of rot in the amnesty programme you must first unlock and unravel the PAP database. After which it is simply a case of following the money trail and seeing who is being paid what.
Consequently, I fully support calls for a forensic audit of the PAP database. I do believe however that the appropriate investigating agencies are already on top of this.
You were Head of Education at the Presidential Amnesty Office, responsible for deployment of students. Can you explain the alleged inclusion of ghost students in the programme?
At the time I was appointed to head the onshore education unit of PAP, I found a situation where; students were deployed to schools randomly and arbitrarily using text and whatsapp messages; secondly, disjointed and severe lack of documentation (records), sometimes conflicting records of figures of students in schools; thirdly, hundreds of failed, expelled, non-existent and duplicated student names still on PAP payroll and finally, exorbitant fees being paid by PAP in some schools etc. These observations led me to conduct a forensic verification exercise to determine and resolve the above mentioned issues. My findings and subsequent actions approved by the coordinators at that time led to the recovery of almost N500 million as overpayment by PAP from several schools; the removal of almost 400 ghost names, duplicated names and failed students’ names which led to savings in excess of N1billion by PAP and the establishment of an education unit database (first in history). I won’t be surprised if most of those failed students names have been re-inserted into the payroll in my absence, because you see they are source of income for the criminal syndicate. You see, prior to my appointment, the education unit was run by a highly deviant and corrupt organised criminal syndicate. Some of whom are still serving in the current PAP administration. Amnesty scholarships were being sold. How they operate was by using their agents in the field to sell amnesty scholarship slots and genuine amnesty beneficiary ID codes to innocent and poor Niger Delta children desperate to go to school; these agents go further to make fake amnesty ID cards for these children to convince them that the deal is genuine; additionally, the agent’s criminal partners in the PAP data unit take original UN codes from their so called PAP database and re-allocate them to these young children. The children are now told that as part of the deal, when they are placed in schools they are obliged to be remitting between 35k and 40k every month out of their monthly in-training allowances to the agents of this criminal syndicate which they share with their co-conspirators. It is the names of these persons who have bought UN codes that are then uploaded on the PAP database as ‘genuine beneficiaries’. Consequently, when it’s time for PAP deployment to schools, the data unit mostly forwards names of those of its ‘customers’ whom they’ve sold slots, to the education unit for deployment to schools. I have already provided the investigating agencies statements and evidence with regards to these facts. When I discovered this fraudulent blood money enterprise, I subsequently decided not to consider the fake names provided by the data unit, instead contacting the ex-militants, stakeholders etc. directly for lists of their candidates. It is because I refused to be an accessory to their criminal industry that is what drew their battle line with me since then up to present day. And this is why they are desperately trying to smear my image as evidenced by the almost daily publications telling fairy tales about me and wild allegations painting me as the corrupt one.
Now back to your question about ghost students. Obviously you are privy to the smear campaign being waged against me on the pages of newspapers and online media. When you step on the toes of a blooming criminal industry naturally, they fight back with fire and fury. I have however maintained a dignified silence and will not join issues with criminals peddling falsehood and fairy tales. I do find it strange, however, that the almost 1,000 children deployed illegally to selected schools at the tail end of General Boroh’s administration that completely bypassed the education unit and all legitimate procedures and due process by this criminal gang is not being questioned. Because those students are wholly their ‘customers’ from whom they are collecting monthly remittances. In fact, PAP does not even know the names of these children and we had to later ask the schools to provide us the names! Why are they not talking about that? But children that went through a legitimate, transparent selection and screening process are now being called ghosts? Is it because these children are not part of their scam business and won’t be making monthly remittances to them? This brazen impunity, daylight robbery and injustice must stop. This same fairy-tale allegation has been forwarded to investigating authorities against me is being reproduced on an almost daily basis on the pages of newspapers and social media sites. You see how corruption fights back? That the criminal gang in the PAP has sufficient funds to wage a smear campaign against me and enough funds to be awarding multi-billion naira contracts, but the same office doesn’t have money to pay its students their allowances- saying that students can’t be paid until investigations on me are concluded! To the best of my knowledge the entire PAP is still under investigation and this hasn’t stopped PAP from awarding fat and juicy contracts so they should stop being mischievous. Enough is enough; I refuse to submit to this criminal syndicate. They should provide credible evidence if they have to the investigating authorities or they should shut up period.
It is shocking that from the time late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua established the Presidential Amnesty programme, there have been constant petitions and allegations of fraud, mismanagement and embezzlement of funds by the handlers. First, it was against Kingsley Kuku, General Paul Boroh, and now Professor Charles Dokubo. What can be done to put an end to corruption in the amnesty office?
I don’t know much about Kingsley Kuku. However, I am aware that he did place numerous creditable projects and processes on ground. For example, he built several training centres to reduce cost, improve proficiency and maximise value. However, these centres have never been utilised for a single beneficiary for a single day. Perhaps, because it is more beneficial to outsource lucrative contracts than to equip and utilise already constructed facilities. Corruption is not something that can be eliminated in its entirety. Most Nigerians misunderstand President Buhari and the war on corruption. I believe President Buhari knows he cannot end corruption, nobody can. His intention is to ignite a spark in our generation which would light the raging fire that would ultimately fight corruption to its end. His plan depends on each and every one of us to play our own part. I strongly believe that change begins with each and every one of us. If not me and you, then who? We should be ashamed of ourselves that it is taking an elderly gentleman to fight for our own interests and for our own future.
The federal government has released several billions of naira to the amnesty office since its inception, but it appears the amnesty programme has not made significant progress. What could be responsible for that?
This is part of the very sad narrative of the Amnesty Programme. To the best of my knowledge the Amnesty Programme has always received 100 per cent of its budgetary allocations, unlike the NDDC, which has allegedly persistently suffered funding shortfalls. It is best left for those who have been at the helm of PAP affairs to justify their expenditures. However, I believe I have already cited some examples.
Recently, some aggrieved leaders of ex-militant groups in the Niger Delta demanded the immediate termination of all human capacity training contracts in the Amnesty Office based on allegations that a few individuals were being enriched to the detriment of the ex-militants. What can you say about that?
The ex-militants have every right to express their legitimate grievances about the PAP in a peaceful manner; after all, the agency was established because of them. If the owners of the programme are not feeling any impact, then obviously something is seriously wrong. In my opinion, the PAP should have its operational headquarters in the Niger Delta region. Abuja is too far for most of the genuinely aggrieved beneficiaries to make repeated journeys to. The coordinator needs to spend more time among the ex-agitators and also to personally assess the true performance status of the numerous awarded contracts. Additionally, frequent visits to local institutions where amnesty students are located and studying, to provide much needed moral guidance, encouragement and listen to their challenges.
As a leader and stakeholder from the Niger Delta, do you have any suggestion on how to redesign the amnesty programme to better the lives of not only the ex-militants but also other youths in the Niger Delta?
I believe the Amnesty Programme was very well designed by its original founders. However its original concept and goals have been largely discarded and it has been turned into a well-oiled ATM that is serving the huge benefit of a few. Sadly though, this is not unique to the amnesty programme. Good planning but poor implementation and re-purposing of a laudable project to serve a corrupt few.
What is your last word on the amnesty programme?
I would like to have hope in Professor Dokubo. I am certain that his selection and appointment was adequately scrutinised and vetted especially given the circumstances surrounding the previous administration. However, he should be mindful of the antics of a criminal syndicate that have been in the corridors of the PAP for ages and will rubbish any good intentions he may have for the PAP.