By Michael Jegede
Contrary to the thinking in some quarters that the amnesty programme for ex-Niger Delta militants is a total failure, I make bold to say that the amnesty under the direct supervision of Kingsley Kuku, Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, remains the most successful programme ever run by the federal government.
I stand by my position in my previous piece on this matter that the amnesty declaration remains the most genuine, valiant and profound effort made by any federal government since the country’s Independence to tackle the agitation for fairness, equity and development in the oil-rich Niger Delta. It has, in my view, been the most effective tool employed by any government in addressing a critical national issue.
Of recent, I have read several write-ups, where different kinds of unsubstantiated allegations of fund mismanagement were made against the leadership of the Niger Delta Amnesty Office. Some have even suggested that the programme should be brought to an end on the ground that Kuku and his team are only enriching themselves from the fund meant for the amnesty, arguing that there is nothing to show for the allocations they have received since inception.
Well, I do know that many discerning and perceptive Nigerians would agree with me that such argument is obviously illogical and therefore cannot hold water because the gains of the amnesty programme are there for everyone to see. Anybody who says that the funds meant for the amnesty programme have not been judiciously applied, may have deliberately blindfolded himself such that he cannot see the progress being made by the introduction of the programme.
Like I pointed out in my last publication, even though there were doubts at the incipient stage as to whether it was going to yield any fruitful upshoot, today, the amnesty programme ably and adeptly coordinated by Hon. Kingsley Kuku, has made significant impact in the restoration of peace in the Niger Delta, a region that was hitherto known to be the seal of violence and massive destruction with the activities of the ex-agitators.
I had equally pointed out that it is for the reason of the huge success recorded by the programme that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, despite his death, has continued to receive accolades from most Nigerians for considering the option of amnesty in the long search for peace in the area. Goodluck Jonathan, the then Vice President and now President, has likewise received commendation and applause for deeming it fit to ensure the sustenance of the programme.Upon completion of their oversight/inspection visit in September 2012 to the Afrika Union Aviation Academy in Mafikeng and the Flight Training Services in Midrand, South Africa, where 53 Niger Delta youths were being trained as pilots, members of the Senate and House Committees on Niger Delta commended the Presidential Amnesty office for what they termed the judicious utilisation of funds meant for the programme.
Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta, Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, who led the delegation, expressed satisfaction that the programme is being properly implemented. Speaking on behalf of the team, he said: “We came here to assess how deep the amnesty programme is. We all know what brought about this programme because Nigeria decided to address a fundamental injustice to a section of the country. From what we have seen and experienced during our interaction with the trainees, I can tell Nigerians that the amnesty programme gives us hope and we are very proud of these youths.
The funds allocated to the programme are being judiciously used and we will continue to support and expand its scope.” He described the young pilots as the future of Nigeria’s aviation industry. Adding to the voice of Abatemi-Usman, Chairman of House Committee on Niger Delta, Hon. Warman Ogoriba, applauded Kuku for succeeding in dismissing the pessimism that Nigerians had towards the programme when it was introduced in 2009. Ogoriba said: “When amnesty was granted, most Nigerians thought nothing good will come out of it. But now the story is different. Our youths are being trained all over the world in critical sectors. We are very impressed and my advice to these young. Nigerians is to continue to be good ambassadors of our country.”
The National Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN), Allen Onyema, is also one of many insightful Nigerians who clearly agree that the Amnesty Programme for ex-militants in the Niger Delta has been a monumental feat. Onyema, while speaking to newsmen, noted that the programme is celebrated the world over, as the international community seems to be bemused as to how Nigeria was able to get it right from the stage of disarmament, through demobilization to re-integration.
According to the FEHN boss, the level of crude oil production prior to the programme was about 700,000 barrels a day, but since the commencement of the programme, the level of production has risen to over 2.6 million barrels per day. He went further to say that the success of the programme should not be measured by the increase in the level of production alone but also be viewed at the level of lives that are being changed and touched by the programme. In his words, “People who were condemned as useless are now trained as pilots, technicians, lawyers, nurses etc.” Just like I had advocated in my earlier article that more funds be allocated to the amnesty office due to the large number of people involved, Onyema called on the federal government to increase the funding for the programme.
Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had in an interview noted that it was completely out of place for some Nigerians to be calling for the closure of the amnesty programme for now. On the argument that too much money is being spent on the programme, the three-term Senator said: “Let us look at the other side of it.
What was the country losing when we had militancy? It is easy to do a cost benefit analysis. If what we were losing is far in excess of what it cost us to get peace, then, I think the amnesty programme is justifiable.” We must continue to encourage the amnesty office under the dynamic leadership of Kuku to build on the successes recorded so far in the running of the amnesty programme, which involves 30,000 Niger Delta youths.
The young man has, no doubt, demonstrated great sterling leadership qualities, as seen in his proper coordination of the affairs of the amnesty office, which can be said to be largely responsible for the meaningful inroads made in the amnesty drive. For a programme that has been saving about N34 billion per day for the country, it is only appropriate that we all support it to further stabilize our economy. Michael writes from Abuja