While all attention on politics in Nigeria may be focused on the often dizzying cascade of developments at the national front, some other challenging regional circumstances with competing prospects for crisis may also be crying for attention. And in this respect remains the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), which on a daily basis is deepening its status as a conundrum that deserves more attention than is availed it at present, by the country’s power circles and the stakeholders in the Niger Delta region. If nothing else the recent spike in militant activities in the zone, especially with respect to the growing incidence of their frequent confrontation with military authorities, against the backdrop of the imminence of the forthcoming general elections, provide significant cause for concern. Given the long held view that politicians train and arm militants for deployment during election seasons, It is not difficult to appreciate a strong link between the upsurge in militancy and crime with the forthcoming polls.
The past fortnight alone witnessed some deadly incidents of shootings and killings in Buguma and Abonnema – both prominent towns in Rivers State and other parts of the Niger Delta, much of which passed unreported in the media, but which nevertheless did not fail to claim victims. In the wake of these developments the military has scaled up its operations to contain any contingencies, especially in the light of the recent admonishment by President Muhammadu Buhari to the armed forces to be more drastic with trouble-makers in the country. The wider implications of the presidential charge to the military expand the threshold of more confrontation between the military as well as other security forces on one hand, and the largely jobless as well as unaccounted-for youthful militants – numbering in tens of thousands in the zone. Unwittingly the country may be dealing with a clear recipe for more deaths and associated negatives, for the region and the country.
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The unmistakable connection between this state of affairs and the PAP is the paradox of why the situation in the zone, which offers the country little relief in terms of dire consequences of its escalation, remains still out of control, After nine clear years of its launch by the Umaru Yar’ adua administration in 2009, as well as sustenance by successive administrations, the present state of affairs constitutes a far cry from legitimate expectations. This is not to mention the great expense to the country at which the programme has been executed. Meanwhile the main feature of the media content that comes out of the bowels of the PAP are tales of its disbursement of stipends to beneficiaries, accompanied by the praise sing songs on its uncommon achievements by favoured beneficiaries. Seen in context therefore, the expected turn-around of the programme with the advent of its current leadership of the PAP in the person of Professor Charles Quaker-Dokubo remains largely hollow. For while some beneficiaries and other stakeholders may be singing his praises to high heavens, the evidence of dividends from his intervention in the programme remain suspect.
It needs not be forgotten that the PAP was set up purely as an interim intervention agency exclusively intended to provide immediate relief to the then shooting war between the agitating Niger Delta militants and the Nigerian state, pursuant to their pacification and disarmament. It was never intended to last for long as such a dispensation remains unsustainable in the long run. Several factors that defined its conception and contemporary challenges include the following. Firstly, the present complement of about thirty thousand beneficiaries of the programme were those that accepted the amnesty terms at first instance and complied by laying down their arms. The efforts of the government in rehabilitating them have spurred their latter-repenting colleagues to seek inclusion in the programme which for logistic reasons may not be easy for the PAP to resolve easily.
Added to the foregoing, is the incidence of a new breed of thousands of militants who have adopted the mindset that all one has to do and earn government stipends is becoming a militant. And who would blame them if before their eyes they see their older kith and kin collect N65,000.00 monthly for doing no work except being militants in the past? The logic here is that while the government may have – in the interest of peace in the region launched the PAP, the programme’s course and context may have become compromised therefore demanding a paradigm shift in its administration and repositioning for the future. Perhaps this is where the Charles-Dokubo dispensation is yet to find appropriate bearing.
It is easily recalled that at his advent as PAP Chairman, Professor Charles Quakers-Dokubo and his team had dutifully launched an elaborate take-over exercise that included an incisive study of the programme before his time. Given the not very tidy exit circumstances of Dokubo’s immediate past two predecessors namely Mr Kingsley Kuku, and Brigadier General Paul Boroh (rtd) respectively, public expectation of his intervention mounted. Even as the details of the report of that exercise are still concealed from public attention, snippets of it indicate an indictment of past administrations of the programme for slackness in respect of responding to the skills-deficit among the Niger Delta youth and failure to develop easily accessible, local, community based skills acquisition centres across the region. Infact, all that members of the Nigerian public would easily swear to is that the PAP was set up as a mere paymaster of the Federal Government to ex-agitators to avoid problems in the oil-rich region.
Yet the mandate of the PAP goes much beyond that. Its approved budget of N69 billion for the fiscal year of 2018 was not intended just for sharing among 30,000 odd complement of ex-agitators and a few randomly selected stakeholders as the programme managers seem to be fixated on presently. The incontinence in the operational circumstances of the programme is further accentuated by the self-appointed additional mission by the PAP Coordinator Charles-Dokubo to serve as a campaign manager for the re-election bid by President Muhammadu Buhari. Going by the President’s mindset of a focused leader, Quaker-Dokubo will enjoy more credit from the President if the Niger Delta youth under his brief are pacified and hence keep the boat from rocking.
The incongruity of leaving undone what should be done and doing what should not be done, especially with respect to the PAP, is a core issue in the Niger Delta conundrum. Leaving it unresolved, remains a tact abdication of responsibility with respect to changing the Niger Delta conversation.