We Shall Restore Amnesty’s Original Focus for Niger Delta, Says Dokubo

Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinato­r, Presidenti­al Amnesty Programme, Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo, has a tall dream: To refocus the Amnesty Programme to its original mandate for sustainabl­e peace, stability and economic developm

- seeconclud­ingpartonw­

You are coming as an academic to a new role. What are challenges do you envisage?

This is a new office, a new challenge and a new environmen­t. In the past, I have written about the Niger Delta and my position has always been that the Niger Delta people have been marginaliz­ed; that was my view. But with the coming of the Buhari administra­tion, which I witnessed, there is a lot of commitment by this administra­tion to Niger Delta in terms of funding, and in terms of looking for peace and security in that environmen­t. You mentioned informatio­n about the increase of oil production in the Niger Delta, I think that also testifies to the fact that without peace there will be no developmen­t and without developmen­t there will be no peace.

I will let you know about that office to which I have just been appointed, but the fact is that I don’t want to question or criticize my predecesso­r. Though I made inquiries of the situation of the office, my work was to immediatel­y resolve issues; make it possible that the right people were employed at the right places and also put in all the efforts I can to do my best to make sure that the office works perfectly. For anyone assuming a new office, you know that there are a lot of problems; those who want things to be done the way it is being done before and those who like changes. These are the contesting ideas or contesting environmen­t within which I found myself. But be that as it may, I put in a review committee to look at issues concerning the amnesty office and then, I saw a lot of things that I didn’t even know in the amnesty programme. I tried to make sure that the best people are employed in the programme and also look at the two pivotal issues of the Amnesty Programme: security, developmen­t and enhancemen­t of the Niger Delta people. How far has it been? What is the way forward?

The programme started very well but with time, it was driven by other demands that made it not to be very impactful. What I am doing now is to refocus the amnesty programme so that it could positively impact those who are meant to be catered for by this programme and you know that on my own, I can’t do it. That was why I initially made an attempt to meet the critical stakeholde­rs; that is the big five. I think it was the first time in the programme that the big five had come to sit down with me and agree that they are going to drive my programme. For me, that was the best thing I have ever done; that I could bring these big five, talk to them, listen to them, and put forward the programme that I have developed for the period that I’m appointed. They all bought into that idea and are willing to push it forward.

But it will not be complete without taking along members of the fourth estate of the realm. I believe that as I try to explain what I want to do with the programme, you will understand me and know where I am coming from and how you will respond to my demands; so it’s a two-way thing. There are certain things you will demand from me; Charles, what are you doing with this programme? I am ready as always; I’m willing to give you the way forward and then the way I have designed the programme so that it will meaningful­ly impact the people of Niger delta.

What do you mean by the big five?

Big five are those who helped to maintain peace and security in their areas in the Niger Delta.

Who are they, can you mention their names?

I don’t call them by their names; I see them as Niger Delta people that are interested in maintainin­g peace and security. They are stakeholde­rs. They’ve been involved since the beginning of the programme and whenever there’s crisis in a particular part of the Niger Delta, we will always refer to them; they know the way to deal with it.

And they are on your side?

They are now on my side, yes.

But I wonder if those people that are supposed to enjoy the benefits of the Amnesty Programme, how happy are they? Are they happy with what’ s going on?

The fact is that most of them have undergone vocational training and most of them have been empowered to set up their own business. Some people have been sent abroad for schooling and all that, although I’m trying to put a stop to offshore training because of the amount of money that is expended on the training of one person. If we can have those people in Nigeria, I think it will be better for us to train them in Nigeria, because I see no reason why you send somebody to do political science in England, while most of the universiti­es in Nigeria offer political science. We should have qualitativ­e education, that is the most important thing because for me, sending someone abroad to go and do B.A or B.SC in political science when most Nigerian universiti­es run political science programmes; so, why can’t they do it here? The amount of money you’re going to spend on one person going to United Kingdom or USA for a political science degree, we can use that money to train four, five people in Nigeria. And as far as I am concerned, my first assessment of that offshore education is to keep it as a discount. Those who are there will finish; but to get new people there, that I will not like to do.

You said you have a focus on two main things in the Niger Delta and I’ m really concerned about them. You mentioned security, developmen­t and enhancemen­t. Can you give us a few things you want to do in terms of security and developmen­t? Can you mention some exact projects that you are working on?

The fact is that to maintain the existing peace in the region is quite important for our function. If there’s a crisis in the region, then, basically all we are putting in place will not work. So that’s why the security aspect of it is very important for me and in doing that, you have to pay like stipends to the boys who are working there, enhance their training and empowermen­t in the areas that we set up vocational centres. That is the most important thing because if you do that, then you know you have oil revenue increasing, and then you have the federal government having some money to pay more into the Amnesty Programme to also empower our people by training them and giving them the requisite skill to perform well in an economy that is open. If that is done, for me, I would have achieved all that I want in the programme.

Do you have anything focused on the ex-agitators in the region? You know they cause a lot of destructio­n to developmen­t. Do you have any strategy focused on them?

Yes, by interactin­g with them; by trying to let them know that the region belongs to them. Blowing up pipelines does not affect those who are in Lagos or Kaduna. It affects the people there, the ones that you claim to protect, so please stop that. What else do you want? So that we can do all that it takes to satisfy your aspiration­s and ambitions of the Niger Delta people.

An aide to the Minister of State (Petroleum) said the Amnesty Programme is not sustainabl­e and here you are, addressing journalist­s. I would have felt that you cleared the air on that sir. If the amnesty programme is not sustainabl­e, are you working towards an alternativ­e?

If somebody said that the programme is not sustainabl­e, the person is not talking from my office and the person couldn’t have known the way the programme has been designed to move. But I know that this programme is sustainabl­e. I know the environmen­t; I know the security environmen­t of the Niger Delta and how it has been sustained to this level where we have massive production of oil and all that.

We’ve also seen periods where we cannot even get a million barrels; now, we have more than that. So, I know what the programme is going for and I know that after we have carried out enhancemen­t, empowermen­t and also setting up clusters of farms and other training centres, we can sit back with satisfacti­on that we have done something.

Hitherto, there was a feeling of marginaliz­ation; that the Nigerian people had taken sides with the multinatio­nal oil companies so that the Niger Delta people could not be trained and will not be part of that oil that come from their place. But now, programmes are being done; we work with the oil companies, we also send our people to be trained. There might be some trouble but surely, I know that with time, these people would be trained to a level that they could see themselves as co-equals to anybody in any part of Nigeria and could be employed to do the work. The alternativ­e will be too ghastly to contemplat­e.

I see a complete disconnect in the agencies handling the Niger Delta, the Amnesty Office, the ND DC and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in terms of coalescing. The second is that I do not think that there is enough engagement with the people. I think you need to do more of such engagement­s with the communitie­s to be sure that even what you are putting there, represents the needs assessment soft he people?

You said there is disconnect between the various agencies in the Niger Delta. I think it was so in the past but not recently. There have always been meetings between these three agencies for the Niger Delta. We meet every week so that we don’t duplicate resources, we don’t work at cross purposes; we are engaging so that we can work together, and you also must bear in mind that in most of these peace building situations, it is always very difficult to get the right infrastruc­ture in the institutio­ns and all that. These are things we have to take in small doses and that bearing in mind the sensitivit­y of the people. Those of us who work in the system would know how security environmen­t of the Niger delta is important and we are trying to work. You talked about reintegrat­ion. Reintegrat­ion is the final stage and that is what I said I want to do. Those who have been trained, how do you give them sustainabl­e jobs? How do you link trainings to jobs? We have situations where we sent our delegates for training with a promise of employment, and that’s what we’re doing now.

There are companies that are laying pipelines; we send our delegates, they learn how to do welding, and they also partake in the laying of the pipes by these companies that are doing it. For me, that’s a step forward.

How will your office manage the perception of the people of Niger Delta about the overwhelmi­ng presence of the military and that you’ re not just here to collect oil?

Changing of perception is not something that you do overnight. The fact is that if there’s stability, these soldiers could be withdrawn. This place is owned by the people who live here, it is not owned by any security organizati­on. But like I said, if we want to maintain peace and security, we try to question the security apparatus of the government, then we’re about to drag a wedge between the people and the government.

 ??  ?? Dokubo

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria