By Ken Olali
The interim administrator (in acting capacity) of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Barry Tariye Ndiomu, a retired Major-General, has been silently busy these past six months. But while he chose to be self-effacing, the results of his actions are boldly etched on the dashboard, tellingly pointing to the emergence of a new order of peace and progress in the management of the programme.
This March marks the sixth month of Ndiomu on the job. For a man who was appointed at a time the critical Amnesty Programme was almost at tipping point in its slide into the nadir of inefficiency and administrative tardiness, riddled with fraud and staff despondency, Ndiomu has proven that an oasis of hope could emerge out of the desert of despair.
The PAP was established in June 2009 by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and it has remained one of his best legacies. It was a Presidential booster shot against rising agitations in the Niger Delta which reduced the nation’s oil production. At that time, major towns and cities of the nine states that comprise the Niger Delta were always caught in upheavals fueled by obvious neglect of the communities despite their hefty contributions to the national basket of resources. Adopting a non-kinetic approach to conflict resolution, the Federal Government opted for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR). It was a short-term approach for an intended long-term solution. And so far, it has paid off, except that at a time, the Programme was mired in an assortment of fraud to the disadvantage of the real intended beneficiaries. Ndiomu is changing the narrative to the acclamation of sundry groups and stakeholders including traditional rulers in the region.
One major milestone that has defined his six-month tenure is the palpable aura of peace that courses through the administration of the PAP. It is for this peace that Nigeria has in recent months effectively achieved over 1.67 million barrels of crude oil production per day, 130 million barrels shy of the OPEC allotted 1.8 million barrels. But for President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Ndiomu at the time he did (September 15, 2022), perhaps all the gains recorded in the stability of the once-upon-a-time volatile Niger Delta creeks would have been wiped away. Ndiomu calmed frayed nerves among the ex-agitators some of whom had openly voiced their frustrations and bile against the status quo. They had threatened to resume hostilities in the creeks. The implication of such threat and its actual execution would be a relapse to the old ambience of tension in the oil-bearing communities. Should this happen, the oil companies would declare force majeure. This ultimately would trigger a huge cut in the nation’s crude oil production which translates to loss of revenue at the international market.
But Ndiomu has achieved beyond the bounds of peace. Upon discovering the existence of a messy ledger, he streamlined financial records and accounting procedures which produced instant results: timely payment of monthly allocation, completion of 5 vocational training centres; data sanitisation to verify genuine ex agitators among other new policy initiatives.
The Interim Administrator has proven that he has a passion for the job by deploying the right human and material resources to ensure that the case load of 30,000 documented ex-agitators are rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.
Tech is the rotor that drives the engine of efficiency in the modern workplace. Ndiomu understands this and he has infused technology into the operations of the Programme. The result is a clean database of genuine ex-agitators, an effective financial system that has exposed and remedied the embedded fraud in the old order. In modern management, it’s called ‘running lean and mean.’ PAP is running lean and mean and it shows with robust statistics that should make President Buhari proud of his choice of Ndiomu.
Before the Ndiomu dispensation, the figures for single account was 23,000. However, after stringent verification and cleaning up of the data for which he became a subject of media attacks, the figure was reduced to 19,510 as at March, thus saving PAP N226,850,000/monthly.
In the old deliberately muddled stipend ledger, some names appeared in duplicates/triplicates; while some names were listed on both single/bulk payment list. For instance, delegates on in-training receiving N70,000 monthly were also on the list other than theirs. Using an audit verification through BVN check, it was discovered that 513 delegates fraudulently had 1,371 accounts linked to their BVNs. Obviously, these were ghost accounts and it points to a possible collusion with external forces, the banks.
Other details showed that so many accounts did not have BVN linked to them. One individual was receiving stipends (N65,000 monthly) of 33 persons through fraudulent means. The audit also revealed a duplicitous payment system that turned the simple monthly payment of stipends to a heist.
Aside from personnel fraud, contracts with vendors were found to be fraudulently inflated, in some cases manipulated to cream huge cash out of the system. Through Ndiomu’s insistence on the adoption of global best practices in contracting, such contracts were renegotiated and re-evaluated. The process saved a hefty N1.5 billion for the programme.
Servicing of inherited debt became an issue. With more than N5.5 billion and N4.5 billion owed both formal education institutions and vocational training contractors respectively as at September 2022, the PAP was sinking deeper into the abyss.
Today, the situation has been salvaged through prudent and strategic prioritization of payments. Matters that have direct impact on the delegates were put on the first line charge for timely consideration.
There was also the resuscitation of the Vocational Training Centres (VTCs). Ndiomu has initiated measures to revive, revamp and fully optimize the over N5 billion abandoned projects in a remarkable shift from the past by insisting that only quality jobs are approved and paid for to the joy of the programme beneficiaries.
The overall goal of PAP is to achieve enduring peace in the region. This has been achieved and sustained through active communication engagements with the various communities of the Niger Delta by upgrading the strategic communications team.
The ex-agitators want jobs after graduation. Ndiomu is doing just that. Between October 2022 and January 2023, more than 1, 000 beneficiaries have been profiled for imminent placement in various jobs within select MDAs of government. Recent strategic engagements with organisations such as, NSCDC, NITDA, Office of the Head of Service, Nigerian Police Force (NPF), the Nigerian Navy, Ministry of Finance, as well as office of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, have boosted hope for job placements for already trained ex-agitators. No fewer than 5,000 ex-agitators are projected to be employed in a new push by PAP to participate in securing oil facilities and installations.
The setting up of Micro-business Clusters and Cooperatives is another initiative to empower eligible delegates. Over one billion naira is earmarked to support delegates’ micro-business startups.
In the coming months, PAP will launch the Formal Education Trust Fund (FETFund), an ambitious one billion naira initiative with funds to be sourced from IoCs (Integrated oil Companies), state governments of the Niger Delta as well as international development partners. The FETFund is to be managed by a board of trustees comprising eminent personalities of Niger Delta, ex-agitator leaders and technical experts. This will kickstart the process for the strategic transition of the PAP into a more sustainable entity with a wider mandate targeted at the youth population of the Niger Delta region.
In six months Ndiomu has justified the confidence reposed in him by President Buhari. Testimonies from relevant stakeholders in the region including the Ijaw National Congress, Ijaw Youth Congress, ex-agitators, traditional rulers among others, speak of a man who is on top of his game. Little wonder President Buhari has added to his shoulder yet another responsibility, this time, the Chairman of the Federal Government’s Special Investigative Panel on Crude Oil Theft/Losses. Ndiomu is truly on duty.
• Olali, an environmental activist, writes from Port Harcourt