Every so often, the man who’s right, tends to walk alone. He’s the subject of a mob attack just for doing the right thing. That sums up the story of Major-General Barry Tariye Ndiomu (Retd), the Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP).
Ndiomu was appointed in September 2022 by President Muhammadu Buhari as Interim Administrator of the PAP, another interventionist initiative targeted at development of the people of the oil-bearing Niger Delta communities. A 2009 brainchild of the late President Umar Yar’Adua, it brought succour to the region and helped to calm agitations and youth restiveness that once scoured the region. But PAP was all too soon turned into a pappy show of the most ridiculous and bizarre hue; a circus of corruption, a house of heist. At a time, what was meant to serve the lowly and the deprived among the Niger Delta people became a cash-dispensing machine in the hands of just a few privileged persons, some of whom were not from the region but were being serviced by the blood and tears of the Niger Delta masses.
President Buhari who had never hidden his passion to ensure peace in the oil-bearing region was familiar with the rot that assailed the PAP and its allied agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). To right the many wrongs visited on the Niger Delta people, especially the youths, President Buhari was said to have demanded for a Niger Delta son of impeccable, unimpeachable character. He found one in Ndiomu, a no-nonsense retired Major-General steeped in the high moral ideals of military discipline; a man described by his peers as endowed with pristine values and iron-cast resolve to make positive impact anywhere he sets his feet, no matter the odds. Ndiomu is the archetypal change agent. And now, it shows.
Barely five months on the job, Ndiomu has brought his trademark change-maker leadership to bear on the Programme. Just as many Niger Deltans suspected, things have not been well with the PAP. An audit report has exposed the sleazy under-belly of the programme that was intended to wipe away the tears of Niger Delta people, especially the once listless youths. Instead, some persons with light fingers and voluble appetite to eat both the chicken and the egg have turned the Programme to their personal piggybank. They dispense money at their own whim and to whomsoever they wish. Money meant for most became money for a few.
A few teasers. The audit exposed a rather bizarre twist. One individual was receiving stipends (N65,000 monthly) of 33 persons through fraudulent means. With the introduction of Bank Verification Number (BVN), you just wonder how one person’s BVN could be linked to over 30 accounts without the collusion of bank officials.
The audit also revealed a deeply flawed payment system that turned the simple monthly payment of stipends to a bazaar of bunco. A crowd of 513 persons were found to be linked to multiple accounts. This means that thousands of accounts where the monthly stipends were paid into were ghost accounts used to siphon money by a syndicate made up of both insiders and outsiders.
Aside personnel fraud, contracts with vendors were overtly inflated or fraudulently manipulated to cream huge cash out of the system. Through Ndiomu’s diligence and 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.
Obviously, Ndiomu arrived at his new station with a mindset to get things done the right way and make the PAP achieve its vision of transforming “ex-agitators into entrepreneurs and/or employable citizens who will become net contributors to the economy of the region and the country through effective collaboration with relevant public and private institutions and state governments in the region.”
A critical analysis of the PAP vision shows that it was meant to be organic in the sense that individuals come into the Programme after disarmament, get skilled-up for entrepreneurship or trained to become employable citizens with requisite skill sets. In plain language, there ought to be an entry point into the scheme and an exit point. No individual should become an eternal, ‘no leave, no transfer’ member of the Programme. You join, get paid and get trained; then you exit the programme and use your acquired skill to add to the development of the nation. Very simple.
But this has never been the case. Because it has been turned into a criminal enterprise by some vested interests, it now serves the permanent interest of individuals. This was not the intendment of the founders of the Programme. And such crooked system does not serve the interest of the larger Niger Delta people. It serves the belly of a few greedy persons, some of whom, as it has now been revealed, are not even from the Niger Delta region. Such a huge mess!
This is exactly what Ndiomu wants to clean up. He wants to clear the cobweb of corruption and make the PAP run clean and transparent. He wants to entrench a culture of probity and accountability. He wants to stanch the rot, the same rot that has eaten up the fabrics of efficiency and sustainability in most public agencies including the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
In Nigeria, fighting corruption is dangerous (apologies to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Finance Minister). It’s often said that when you fight corruption, corruption fights back. It’s akin to busting a cartel of drug lords who have amassed so much wealth. They fight back with menacing fury. Ndiomu is fighting corruption. He’s insisting on probity and accountability. By this noble act, he has spewed candies and cookies from the mouth of the vested interests who have over the years turned the PAP to their feast of fraud. And he’s being fought back. They fight back through baseless allegations of fraud, sponsored protests, spurious and fib-marinated claptraps churned out as press statements. It’s a familiar script: if we can’t bend him, let’s tar him in the vilest of hues.
But Ndiomu must stay on course. He must tarry and be ready to fight on the side of the people. He has shown courage and gumption, two critical elements in leadership. The retired General must lean on his residual military training and strength to continue with the purging of the programme for the good of the people.
Above all, President Buhari should mobilise support for a man who is out to bequeath to the Niger Delta people and to President Buhari a legacy of deploying common patrimony for the common good. Buhari should protect Ndiomu. He’s trying to burst the bubble of a few powerful persons for the good of a majority of Niger Deltans. A man like Ndiomu should be shielded from the pelts of the thieving panthers. The Amnesty Programme is at the core of Nigeria producing enough crude for sale which bears a direct link to the nation’s economy. A programme of such importance should not only be sustained, but it must be made to work. This is what Ndiomu stands for. He deserves not just presidential protection, but a medal of honour for standing with the people.