In Pursuit of New Vision for Niger Delta

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Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Professor Charles Dokubo, is pursuing the federal government’s ‘New Vision for Niger Delta’ initiative with ambition and determination. Ndubuisi Francis writes

Besides the task of rebooting the amnesty programme, the recent appointment of Professor Charles Dokubo as Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) was part of the overall effort by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to reassure the people of the oil-rich region of his commitment to the development of the area as encapsulated in the “New Vision for Niger Delta” initiative.

One hundred days after taking over the mantle of leadership, having been appointed on March 13, 2018, Dokubo has pursued with uncommon vigour the assignment entrusted to him by the president – to give a new lease of life to and totally recalibrate the programme for ex-agitators.

Unlike some newly-appointed chief executives assuming such key offices, Dokubo did not enjoy the usual backslapping and congratulatory messages that ought to come with his announcement as the PAP coordinator and special adviser to the president.

Past Grievances

It is an unassailable truism that the amnesty initiative designed for former armed agitators in the Niger Delta, who had been demanding more control over the oil and gas resources of the region, but decided to turn their backs on armed struggle, has since 2010 helped in the sustenance of peace and conducive environment for oil production, the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. But the grumbles by the beneficiaries and other stakeholders about how the programme was managed in the three years preceding Dokubo’s appointment were causing apprehension. There were fears of a possible relapse into restiveness that might upset the relative the peace and security in the region.

Some of the grievances range from lateness to outright failure to pay stipends to the enrolled ex-agitators, mismanagement of mobilisation of beneficiaries for training, mismanagement of funds, and inefficiency in the running of the operations of the Amnesty Office itself. The laxity and sometimes tardiness in the management of the programme also gave vent to speculations that the federal government might be planning to stop the programme.

Reassurance

Beyond the task of rebooting the Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration and (DDR) programme, the appointment of Dokubo was also part of steps by the Buhari government to reassure the people of the oil-producing region of its commitment to the programme in particular, and the development of the region in general as encapsulated in the administration’s “New Vision for Niger Delta.” With the huge burden of expectations from stakeholders and the government at the back of his mind, the consummate researcher and university teacher had to roll up his sleeves and go to work from the word go. Although it is still early days, there is no doubt that Dokubo has succeeded in reigniting confidence in the programme among all stakeholders in his first 100 days in office. He has also succeeded in laying and streamlining structures and processes to address all the previous complaints and agitations about the management of the programme, especially from beneficiaries.

Working with the recommendations of a committee he set up on assumption of office to help sieve through the haystack of problems militating against the programme, Dokubo has since activated sweeping reviews of all contracts awarded by his predecessor to enable him have a grasp of the financial assets and liabilities.

Similarly, a thorough audit of all departments and personnel in the office carried out by the committee led to Dokubo’s engagement of a new lead reintegration consultant who subsequently superintended a reappraisal of the personnel and their deployment to relevant departments at the Amnesty Office.

Rejig

Based on the recommendations of the Programme Review Committee, he carried out the rejigging of all on-going vocational, educational and post-training empowerment programmes of the Amnesty Office in the country and offshore in the past 100 days. A verification exercise of delegates for educational programmes ordered by Dokubo has helped uncover hundreds of students enrolled in universities across the country on the ticket of the Amnesty Programme, but who are not known to the office, as they were not captured in the data base of beneficiaries of the initiative. It was also discovered that some universities, apparently colluding with some corrupt personnel in the Education Unit, were engaged in rampant, unpatriotic act of inflation of fees to be paid for students by the Amnesty Office.

While investigation into how the fraud was perpetrated under the previous managers of the programme is on-going, Dokubo had promised that rather than wholesale disowning of the students, he would work out ways to tackle the problems with the management of the institutions involved.

Interface with Beneficiaries

About two weeks ago, Dokubo was in London to meet with the amnesty programme’s education delegates studying at universities across the United Kingdom. The presidential adviser used the opportunity of the meeting, which was attended by 47 delegates from 25 institutions across the United Kingdom, to assure the students that they had not been abandoned. It was also an opportunity for the students to meet a coordinator of the programme for the first time in over three years.

At the interface, he encouraged and reassured the students of his commitment to their welfare and well-being. The students also took advantage of the forum to pour out their complaints, most of which centred around payment of their school fees, living expenses, opportunities for post graduate studies, employment after graduation and the possibility of getting back on the programme for those expelled for one reason or the other.

While Dokubo gave detailed answers to the questions, the most significant outcome of the meeting was no doubt, the unveiling of a new set of guidelines for the offshore education programme. The special adviser had set up a committee to draft new policies to guide and address some of the regular concerns of delegates for offshore education some weeks before the London event.

This was with the understanding that such set policies and procedures will help to streamline responses to such concerns and prevent abuses which have resulted in so much confusion and allegations of favouritism in the past.

The new policy guiding the offshore education programme which has already been adopted clearly stipulates conditions for the continuation or discontinuation of sponsorship of beneficiaries, conditions for sponsorship of students for second degree and guidelines for new offshore deployment of students, among others.

In his response to the various concerns of the students at the London Forum, the presidential adviser relied on and quoted copiously from the new policy, thus ensuring that the delegates went away from the interaction with clear answers to many of the issues that have been of concern to them.

For stakeholders, the interface with the students as well as the new draft policy was a fresh start for the offshore education component of the Amnesty Programme. But such redefinition and engendering of a more robust relationship between the amnesty office and the programme’s critical stakeholders can also be said to be one of the key achievements of the coordinator in the past 100 days.

Parley

On assumption of office, Dokubo had stated that engagement with stakeholders would be key to his efforts in rebooting and regaining the confidence of critical stakeholders in the amnesty programme. In actualisation of this promise, the coordinator, even as he battled with finding solutions to the many challenges he inherited on assumption of office, had held fruitful engagements with all the critical stakeholders across the programme’s spectrum in the past three months.

The first of such meeting was in Lagos where he met with the key leaders of ex-agitators enlisted in the first phase of the PAP. The very crucial meeting was for the “Big Five,” leaders of the ex-agitators who led thousands of Niger Delta ex-agitators to disarm and accept the offer of amnesty from the federal government in 2009.

The leaders included Chief Government Ekpomupolo (popularly known as Tompolo), King Michael Ateke Tom, Dr. Ebikabowei Victor-Ben (also known as Boyloaf), Hon. Farah Dagogo, and Chief Bibopre Ajube (Shoot-at-Sight). Tompolo and Tom were represented at the meeting. The Lagos meeting with the ‘Big Five’ was the first of its kind in about five years and was therefore seen as an indication of their confidence in the new leadership at the amnesty office.

Dokubo followed up with meetings with leaders of phase two and three of the ex-agitators in Abuja as well as an enlarged meeting of larger stakeholders in the Niger Delta in Lagos attended by key political actors, traditional rulers, civil society groups, and academicians, among others from the oil producing region.

The meetings were essentially interactive forums where the leaders of the ex- agitators tabled their various complaints against the way the amnesty programme was managed under the previous administration, especially on issues relating to payment of stipends, training and empowerment opportunities for ex-agitators and their leaders. While Dokubo did his best to answer the questions and allay their various concerns concerning the amnesty programme, he was also explicit in his explanations to the former agitators on the new direction he will pursuing in the spheres of education, vocational, post training engagement and job placement as the coordinator.

The presidential aide also repeatedly assured the ex-agitators that he would do everything necessary to ensure that all aspects of the programme deliver the expected benefits for them and the Niger Delta in general.

The ex-agitators departed from the sessions confident that their concerns would be taken care of given that the amnesty programme is now being driven by a steady hand. The leaders of the ex-agitators who attended the stakeholders’ meeting in Abuja and Lagos as well as other stakeholders of the programme had in similar vein, been expressing their support for Dokubo’s efforts to turn around the amnesty programme.

The coordinator has also in the past 100 days, initiated concrete steps to actualise the promises of change he has been dishing out to the ex-agitators. To tackle the problem of delay in payment of students’ allowances, for instance, the presidential adviser had on assumption of office asked the onshore education unit to develop a sustainable payment plan for the next two years.

He has also worked hard to ensure that stipends and other allowances are paid to ex-agitators, though such efforts have sometimes been hampered by the delay in the release of funds to the amnesty office by the Budget Office of the Federation and the Federal Ministry of Finance, which is clearly beyond Dokubo’s power.

The PAP coordinator has also been pursuing aggressively, the completion of the Amnesty Office’s vocational training centres spread across five states in the Niger Delta. This is critical with the realisation that out of 30,000 agitators who dropped their guns and ammunition to embrace the amnesty programme, 11,297 are still waiting to either undergo vocational training that will enable them to be self-employed or be deployed for formal education.

Already, 200 ex-agitators have been sent for training as automobile technicians at a facility owned by foremost indigenous vehicle manufacturing company, Innoson in Anambra State, while over 500 others have been deployed for training in other vocations during Dokubo’s first 100 days in office.

To facilitate the re-integration of ex-agitators who have successfully gone through the proper demobilisation, Dokubo had on assumption of office created a Job Placement and International Development Partners Engagement Unit (JPIDPEU) in the Amnesty Office.

The unit has already profiled delegates for various vocational, civil service, catering services, hotel and fast food jobs among others. Truly, for Dukubo, it has been 100 days of hard work.