Funding the Amnesty Programme, By Dele Agekameh
The Amnesty Programme needs more funding at this point in time, more than ever before as more emphasis and premium is being placed on creating a well-educated and trained cadre of ex-militants who are proficient in their various disciplines.
On Thursday, last week, leaders of the Niger Delta met at Kiagbodo, hometown of Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin K. Clark in Delta State to reflect on recent developments. Rising from the meeting, the leaders warned the presidency to show more concern towards the growing impatience, occasioned in Nigeria’s crude oil belt, by the delay in the proposed dialogue between government and regional stakeholders, aimed at bringing lasting peace to the troubled region. The delay by the Federal Government in firming up a peace deal with the stakeholders, the leaders said, could reverse the gains of the current ceasefire, which could jeopardise the oil sector and dim the hope of the nation’s recovery from its current recession since the economy is oil-dependent.
However, while the meeting was holding in Kiagbodo, the government made good its promise to pay the stipends promised to the Niger Delta militants under the amnesty programme. Though only the first batch of beneficiaries were paid their August and September stipends, plans are said to be underway to complete the payment for the second and third batches of militants under the programme. This is a commendable development. It must be understood by all stakeholders that human capital development is the enduring fulcrum on which meaningful progress revolves. This empowerment tool is at the heart of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), which has, since 2009, been enabling erstwhile militants to acquire specialised education in many institutions across the world.
The Amnesty Programme was conceptualised to embody a social agenda that will underpin the health, education, employment, sense of fulfilment and the general well-being of all the people of the Niger Delta region, either directly or indirectly. Through the programme, the pervading atmosphere and culture of gross neglect and general malaise is expected to give way to that of fulfilment, contentment, peace and people-centered development and commensurate progress.
On the whole, the government was expected to recognise the inviolability of an existing social contract between it and the people’s rights, responsibilities and with promises to deliver the basic necessities as a pre-requisite for decent human existence. These needs include; food, clothing, shelter, basic education, primary healthcare, security, productive asset, etc, which are mainly provided in the breach despite a rich endowment of natural and human resources in the Niger Delta region.
In spite of the huge revenue from the exploration and exploitation of crude oil and gas which are found in abundance in the bowels of the Niger Delta region, it is quite appalling that the travails of existence in that region have assumed a gargantuan proportion. This is the paradox. This paradox has been underlined by the Oil/Primordial Curse Syndrome which many pundits believe is really the bane of the abject living conditions in the Niger Delta and the virtually unending violence or near-chaos in the areas of oil and gas production.
The dynamics and the increasing incidence of poverty and want in Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta, have stratified and polarised the society into opposing camps of haves and have-nots; educated and uneducated; north and south etc. The resulting tensions and other social conflicts is eroding the fabric that has held the society together over the decades. Therefore, it is very important to state that the challenge is not only to institute reformative measures to jumpstart and boost the nation’s economic growth alone, but also, there is the need to empower the people of the Niger Delta as a means of revitalising their living standard and rekindling their faith in government and governance.
It is in fulfilment of the government’s social contract with the people of the Niger Delta region that a programme like the Amnesty Programme becomes one of the veritable means of redressing the retrogressive legacies of the past. It must be noted that the programme is not an end in itself or solely designed to financially empower the core leaders of the various militant groups dotting the creeks of the Niger Delta or their sorely aggrieved foot-soldiers. Rather, the prime intention of the programme is to completely rehabilitate the more than thirty-thousand-rich corps of repentant militants who have taken advantage of the new vista created by the Amnesty Programme.
In empowering the ex-militants through sponsored training and education in selected schools and technical centres at home and abroad, the Amnesty Programme has contributed, in no small measure, to strengthening the Niger Delta, nay Nigeria’s technological and scientific base through the training of the ex-militants in technical, vocational, liberal and entrepreneurial education to meet the region’s manpower needs.
It will be seriously out of point for hundreds of the PAP scholarship beneficiaries to be abandoned mid-stream in their current institutions of studies here and abroad, without a clear-cut and painless exit strategy in place.
A veritable testimonial in reference to the contribution of the PAP to the human capital development of the Niger Delta region is the recent graduation of 51 ex-militants from Novena University, Ogume, in Delta State, with seven (7) beneficiaries graduating in the second-class upper division. Two out of the seven were in Intelligence and Security Studies; two in Political Science and one student each in Energy and Petroleum Studies; Accounting and Computer Science. Thirty-one (31) of this set had second class lower division, 10 with third class while one had a pass degree. Many more are still in schools across the globe.
As in all human endeavours, it has not been smooth-sailing in some crucial aspects of the programme. There are reported cases where many ex-militants were not paid their stipends for months on end. It is gratifying to note that under the new leadership of the programme, safer and more accountable measures are being put in place. It is also commendable that adequate monitoring and control precautions are now in place to plot the trajectory of the funds released while making sure that they are properly and adequately expended in the true spirit of the programme.
As Nigeria enters the eighth year of the PAP, there are indications that it may be wound up this year, 2017. But there are also signs and palpable presidential body-language that it may either be reviewed with more ex-militants being inducted into the scheme as a precautionary measure against the simmering unease degenerating into a full-scale war or confrontation. It will be seriously out of point for hundreds of the PAP scholarship beneficiaries to be abandoned mid-stream in their current institutions of studies here and abroad, without a clear-cut and painless exit strategy in place.
It is also imperative that additional funding should be injected into the programme as a prime factor that will drive the key area of human capital development, which is multi-dimensional in scope. This core aspect of the PAP involves educational advancement across all the strata of the society, capacity building of the active workforce through training and retraining, individual-based micro-business support programmes, self-employment, job creation and empowerment scheme.
The Amnesty Programme needs more funding at this point in time, more than ever before, as more emphasis and premium is being placed on creating a well-educated and trained cadre of ex-militants who are proficient in their various disciplines. It is through the infusion of adequate funds that those training centres which are presently short of acceptable standards in equipment and other facilities, as well as personnel, would be adequately revamped.
As a matter of policy, the limited employment opportunities open to the beneficiaries of the diverse human capital development schemes of the programme should be bridged through the provision of attractive starter-packs inclusive of soft loans (or given gratis) and technical advice on self-employment etc, which will, in turn, create employment windows within the region.
It is therefore, a good thing that the current Senate has bought into this thought pattern and is ready to liaise with the Presidency to actualise it. Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, has been rather explicit and frank about the need to shore up the financial base of the Amnesty Programme to guarantee peace and harmony in the Niger Delta and enhance the exploitation of crude oil deposits and gas reserves in the region for the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians.
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