Let the Amnesty Programme be

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By John Ola Mafo

Since we began our chequered experience as a nation, one of our greatest and most recurrent national malaise is the attempt to sometimes replace a Theory with an Hypothesis, preferring to experiment and gamble even when we are face to face with established realities!

For almost 53 years, we have rolled from one Rolling Plan to another, delved into one Development Plan or the other and veered from one vision to another; just as we have had Operations this and that as well as varied programmes, all geared toward finding lasting solutions to our problems and thereby establishing functional national institutions.

Nigeria is abundantly blessed in human and natural resources hence our abilities in the conception and development of Plans, Operations, Visions, Programmes, etc. However, we often end up failing in our efforts, attempts and endeavours as a nation because of factors arising from self, sectional or regional interests, nepotism and outright corruption.

The first and the most common of these factors is our penchant for placing square pegs in round holes in our choice of leaders and key personnel to drive the Plans, Operations, Visions or Programmes. By applying the wrong leadership and key personnel, we end up enthroning an unworkable system for an otherwise excellent concept, thus our recurring failure and the unending circle of trial and error.

The other factor is generally referred to as the Pull-Him-Down (PHD) Syndrome. Occasionally, by omission or commission, deliberately or inadvertently, we get it right with the programme and personnel such that round pegs are put in round holes and square pegs in square holes. As if it is a crime in Nigeria to rise above self, religious, sectional or regional interests to do things the right way, whenever such happens, that is, where we have good programmes with the right calibre of leadership, the PHD Syndrome is then applied to truncate the system by people with selfish agenda.

This second factor has resulted in the demise of many laudable national programmes in the past and the sacrifice of many great leaders that qualify as national heroes.

The ‘victims’ include Heads of State, Governors, Ministers, Legislators, Military Leaders, Heads of Parastatals, Captains of Industry and other categories of leaders.

The price paid range from death to impeachment, expulsion, removal, dismissal, frustration, etc. The foregoing analysis, as a background to the headline of this piece, is a necessary reminder of the opportunities we had lost in the past as a nation and the need to guard against such tendencies, now and in the future.

Prior to the Amnesty Proclamation by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2009, the Niger Delta region was a land of anarchy, witnessing unmitigated violence, chaos, arson, blood-letting and all manner of disorder. As the region knew no peace, the nation also could not sleep, because in the midst of such disorder, chaos, confusion and unending war, Nigeria could no longer meet its assigned daily oil production quota, which translated to drastic reduction in the gross earnings of the nation. This constituted a great challenge to the economic survival of the nation and its ability to finance budgets at all levels.

At the peak of the crisis, the national daily production had dropped from over two million barrels to between 600,000 and 700,000 BPD. Today, thanks to the Amnesty Programme, armed struggle and gangsterism are virtually non-existent in the region, leading to a corresponding reduction in violence, chaos, confusion, kidnapping and general disorder. Under this new order of relative peace and harmony, the daily oil production has risen to an all-time high level of 2.6 million BPD.

The success story of the amnesty programme is not limited to the regime of peace and harmony in the region or the unprecedented rise in the steady production of oil.

In an article titled: “The success story of the amnesty programme”, published on page 9 of Saturday Sun of January 12, 2013, Michael Jegede, an Abuja-based media practitioner, quoted the Executive Director of the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN), Barr. Allen Onyema, who in a recent interview said: “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 being changed and touched by the programme…

People who were condemned as useless are now trained as pilots, technicians, lawyers, nurses, etc.” There is nothing more to add for the purpose of illustrating the success story of the amnesty programme except the fact that it is now attracting the attention of foreign governments and international development agencies as a template worthy of emulation.

With such glaring and verifiable evidence of significant success and monumental impact of the programme, it is apt to describe same as one of the best initiatives of government in post-independence Nigeria. The reason for this may not be far-fetched since the programme is a product of genuine concern and honesty of purpose and unalloyed resolve to tackle head-on and find a lasting solution to the volatile Niger Delta situation. Apart from being a good concept, the amnesty programme also owes its success to good leadership.

The Presidency, from the onset, went for the right calibre of leadership. From Chief Timi Alaibe, the pioneer Special Adviser on Niger Delta and Chairman of the Amnesty Programme, who provided the appropriate and necessary foundation, to the incumbent, Hon. Kingsley Kuku, who has expanded the frontiers of amnesty, perhaps, beyond the envisaged scope of the founding fathers, the programme has indeed been blessed with competent and able managers. Aside the view of detractors, who are nothing but apostles of the aforementioned PHD Syndrome, it is already an established fact that the programme is a huge success, going by visible evidence and testimonies from local and foreign assessors.

However, the point being made here is that the programme did not record the success ascribed to it simply because it was well conceived and properly packaged. Even the founding fathers of the programme knew that there was an element of risk in granting wholesale amnesty to several thousands of die-hard militants, many of whom agitated for reasons other than the interest of the embattled region. Nevertheless, they forged ahead convinced that there was a dire need for urgent unconventional intervention. Besides, it was assumed that while the success of the programme would guarantee lasting peace in the region, the reverse could not produce any result worse than the situation on ground at the time of its conception.

Faced with such precarious set-up, former President Yar’Adua and his then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a son of the soil, decided to ensure that a round peg was put in a round whole. The pioneer helmsman, Chief Alaibe is a product of the struggle of the Southern minority groups, albeit more at the executive level. As an Executive Director and later Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for many years, Alaibe at the Amnesty Office was in a family terrain. With such background, he went into the amnesty assignment well prepared hence the good foundation upon which his close associate and able successor came to build.

If Alaibe could be described as a product of the minority struggle, Kuku, an Ijaw from the Western axis of the Niger Delta, with strong contacts and presence in the Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers axis, could be described as the struggle itself. Kuku, during a visit by the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, last year, described himself as a militant of a sort. It was a statement of fact, as he had participated at all levels of the agitation, as a mediator, legislator and manager, before stepping in as an executive adviser cum administrative manager. For people like this writer, who have known and witnessed the evolution of Kuku, his pragmatic and altruistic approach to his present job did not come as a surprise. Here is a man who had dedicated his life right from his school days to the struggle and had never looked back. In the process he acquired all the attributes of a brilliant advocate, a consummate administrator and an efficient manager, all of which today are clearly manifest in his management of the affairs of the Amnesty Office.

Despite the celebrated huge success of this programme and the well-acknowledged competence and commitment of the leadership, we still once a while hear or read about people having one axe or the other to grind over the running of the programme.

This should not surprise any Nigerian, because there are people who never find anything good in a system except things are done their way, which may not necessarily be in the interest of the people. Indeed, the PHD Syndrome is so entrenched in Nigeria such that even if Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed come back today to administer any of our programmes, there will be people who will make it their business to abuse and criticize their activities. It should be noted that for our nation to grow we need working institutions with competent managers, and not utopian set-ups with angels as managers.

Since there are no perfect institutions or persons on the planet Earth, we as a nation should learn to recognize genuine leaders whenever and wherever they emerge and make the best use of their qualities to our best advantage, rather than looking for faults and ways of bringing them down even when there are no better alternatives. Today, the amnesty programme has proved its worth just as the managers have stood the test of time hence Nigeria should

LET THE AMNESTY PROGRAMME BE.

Mafo is an Abuja-based legal practitioner

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