Sustaining Niger Delta Peace: The Dikio's Formula
The Commander, Joint Task Force (JTF) Operation Delta Safe, Rear Admiral Aminu Hassan, recently admired the strategies deployed by the Interim Administrator, Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) Col. Milland Dixon Dikio (rtd) in the discharge of his duties. Without mincing words, he observed that Dikio's administrative style has to a large extent promoted and sustained the peace in the Niger Delta.
Hassan's boss and Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor, made a similar observation when he received Dikio and his entourage in his Abuja office. General Irabor specifically said the amnesty's boss has lightened the burdens of security operatives in the region with his unique style and uncommon approach.
Just like General Irabor, the President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Benjamin Okaba, poured encomiums on Dikio for adopting a bottom-top approach in the management of one of the most critical programmes in the region. Okaba said it was the first time, an occupant of the exalted office integrated all the stakeholders in the Niger Delta into the management of the amnesty office.
Breaking Dikio's style down, the JTF's helmsman, who spoke when he received the amnesty boss in his office, identified prompt payment of ex-agitators' monthly stipends and constant engagements with them and other stakeholders as Dikio's major vehicles sustaining the peace in the region.
Addressing Dikio, he said: "Your area of assignment is of interest to us because whatever is happening there has a ripple effect on us. If there is peace in the work you are doing, we can feel the peace and we can also touch it and know there is peace. But if there is no peace we are the first line of defence for that.
"But we can see there is peace. We appreciate your good work. Some of us have been following all you have been doing in that area. Since you took over there have been two key strategies you adopted that I believe are the way to go.
"One is that you are always around the exagitators and that is a very good strategy. You are always with them. You hear from them and you talk with them. We are all human beings and all us need that sense of belonging and when we have it, it reduces tension and pressure.
"Second is the regular payment of stipends. It is another key area and I am encouraging you to always continue along that line. These two areas of continuous engagement and regular payment of stipends are very important and they are really solving a lot of problems".
Like Hassan rightly observed, immediately he resumed office, Dikio launched a programme codenamed, Back to the Region Tour. Through the programme, the amnesty boss regularly visits the Niger Delta region, holds meetings and deliberations with all the stakeholders to gauge their pulses, determine their expectations and back them up with realistic actions to assuage their yearnings. The back to the region tour has successfully fulfilled its objectives of bringing the amnesty programme back to the owners in the Niger Delta.
The amnesty boss has spent much of his time in the Niger Delta leaving the comfort of his office in Abuja to personally visit different stakeholders despite their locations in the region.
He has made it a deliberate policy to pay ex-agitators their stipends on the 25th of every month. In fact, in some months the beneficiaries' bank account numbers are credited with their stipends before 25th. For example, the ex-agitators were surprised when they got their stipends on June 21st.
Security operatives are happy that such development has reduced the tension in the region. They recalled how ex-agitators formed the habit of blocking major roads to protest arrears of unpaid stipends by some past occupants of the amnesty office. But there has been a paradigm shift from such peace-threatening scenarios since Dikio took over the management of the office.
In his recent tour, Dikio was in Bayelsa State. He led delegates of PAP to tour the facilities in the Bayelsa State Medical University (BSMU) in Yenagoa. He rubbed minds with the management of the school on possible areas of training for the ex-agitators. He also had interactions with amnesty scholarship beneficiaries studying in the school.
Dikio said: “We are here today as part of our partnership and strategic linkages with institutions of learning across the country and beyond, to meet with the vice-chancellor and his team at the Bayelsa Medical University to assess the institution’s capacity and capabilities to train some of our beneficiaries as medical professionals.
"Indeed, we are determined to train some of our beneficiaries in this sector who are capable of being employed in careers in the diverse field of medical science to bridge the manpower gap in the region.”
Prior to the Bayelsa working visit, the amnesty boss was in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to meet with the members of PAP's Strategic Communication Committee (SCC), his brainchild that has brought him accolades from various quarters. Even Hassan, the JTF commander, described the SCC as PAP's first line of defence saying the committee should be encouraged to actualize its terms of reference.
SCC, whose members are all ex-agitaors, was formed by Dikio with the mandate to be a middleman between the amnesty office and members of the public including ex-agitators in information dissemination.
The committee is expected to correct misinformation about the programme and change people's negative perception about the Niger Delta through positive narratives. Since he set up the committee, the amnesty boss has kept in touch with its activities with constant engagements.
Therefore, when he assembled them recently in Port Harcourt, Dikio charged members of PAP's Strategic Communications Committee to change negative public perception about the amnesty programme.
Dikio urged the committee consisting of exagitators to ensure effective dissemination of information about the scheme to attract expected development to the region, saying that the absence of a proper channel of commumication in the past led to misinformation.
He said: "It’s important for members of this committee to clearly understand that in PAP we take the dissemination of information very seriously. We are very deliberate about information that we put out in the public space and this is why we have a structured system in place on how information coming out of PAP get to the public.
"You must know that all information going out to the public from PAP are authorized by me through my SA on Media. However, your roles are clearly spelt out in the documents given to you".
The Chairman of the SCC, Mr. Nature Dumale, and the Spokesman, Mr. Ellington Tam, expressed their excitement over the appointment describing it as a call to duty.
They said one of the major tasks was to make sure that peace was maintained in the Niger Delta region and the communities were effectively carried along in their activities.
Highpoint of the meeting was the presentation of official letters to members of the committee, signaling their appointments and documents clearly spelling out roles and their terms of reference.
In Yenagoa, Dikio had a busy week. His first meeting with members of the first phase amnesty programme lasted for hours as he paid attention to all their challenges allowing persons willing to speak to make their contributions.
Leaders of the first phase in attendance were the Speaker of Bayelsa House State of Assembly, Abraham Ingobere; Paul Eris, popularly called Ogunboss; a member of Bayelsa House of Assembly, Felix Bonny-Ayah; Pastor Reuben and Joshua Macaiver among others.
After exhausting all the issues on the table, the leaders praised Dikio's style. They confessed that they lost hope on the programme until Dikio came on board as its Interim Administrator. The ex-agitators said they never had such robust engagement with PAP in the past.
Macaiver expressed faith in Dikio’s administration describing the Strategic Communication Committee set up by PAP to address the problems of misinformation as the step in the right direction.
He said: "Before the current amnesty boss came on board, certain things went so wrong that when they talked about the amnesty programme, some of us would say that the programme had failed.
"But now that the current amnesty boss sees us as part of the programme. We are very hopeful and have faith that something good will come out of this administration".
After the first phase, the amnesty boss dedicated another day for a robust engagement with the leaders of the first and second phases of the programme. The tireless Dikio spent hours listening to the ex-agitators and taking notes of their key areas of concern. They were all elated at the calm mien, gentility and patience of the amnesty boss. They recalled how difficult it was to have access to some previous occupants of the position.
But the amnesty boss was honest with them. He harped on the need for them to think beyond the N65,000 monthly stipend. Dikio regretted that the ex-agitators had allowed the stipends to become their stronghold restricting them from harnessing their entrepreneurial potential.
Describing the stipend as inadequate, he challenged the ex-agitators to wear their thinking caps and key into PAP's vision of making them successful entrepreneurs to enable them exit the stipend regime.
He said it was only reasonable to end the Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) aspect of the programme to begin a post DDR phase of the scheme.
Dikio said for the region to move forward the scheme must be changed from 'amnesty' to the Niger Delta Stabilisation Programme (NDSP) insisting that with the current status "there are things we can't do and there are countries we can't enter".
He said: "We must establish the Niger Delta Stabilisation Programme. We must change that name, terminate the DDR and open another thing. I have operated DDR in Cameroon and Angola. As far as this name 'amnesty' remains there things that we cant do and there are countries we can't enter. We can't make progress sitting in one place. My job is to make you think beyond the N65,000 mentality".
He said the PAP was offering a platform to the ex-agitators through the cooperative model to enable them develop and own functional businesses adding that all the beneficiaries of the scheme must organise themselves under cooperatives.
"You must think of how you can graduate from stipends after 11 years. I am offering you a platform. You have to form yourselves into cooperatives. You are better than this stronghold of N65,000".
Dikio also asked the ex-agitors and other youths in the Niger Delta to stop blocking major roads for protests and issuing ultimatum to oil companies to leave the region.
He said such public display of violent behaviour was part of the reasons while most persons outside the region claimed the Niger Delta was not safe.
"This kind of behaviour is making people to say here is not safe. I was to organise a workshop and I chose Port Harcourt, Owerri and Warri. But they turned it and I said I would not hold the conference in Abuja. If you are not choosing any of the venue then keep your conference. They later chose Port Harcourt.
"We must all begin to think of how to bring companies back to the Niger Delta. If they are not here, your PhD is in vain. We have told you that after yoir scholarship you must work first for Niger Delta for two years. It is up to you and I to make the Niger Delta a better place.
"We will graduate the programme to Niger Delta Stabilisation Programme. Do you want to stay in a house where the landlord wakes up every time and asks you to leave? Then why are you quick in giving oil companies a quit notice?
"Why will you go and block roads. What about the people passing through the road? If you want to prosper do you open your shop or close it? You must open it".
To demonstrate his seriousness, Dikio organized a workshop on entrepreneurship for the ex-agitators, who paid rapt attention to the facilitator as he taught them various ways of making money in line with the comparative advantage of the Niger Delta.
The amnesty boss visited the INC in its headquarters in Yenagoa shortly after attending stakeholders' mega sensitisation campaign on drug abuse prevention, which also had in attendance the Bayelsa Governor, Senator Douye Diri.
The meeting with the INC was instructive. The President of INC, Prof. Benjamin Okaba, made an important observation about Dikio. He said Dikio's style of constantly traveling to the region to engage the stakeholders instead of sitting tight in Abuja to be visited by people from the region like his predecessors was a great strategy.
He insisted that Dikio's approach of constantly engaging the ex-agitators, interacting with affected communities and providing solutions had made a success of the amnesty programme.
Okaba said: "Your style and disposition has shown a shift in paradigm. One thing I have noticed is that while others will make people travel over to Abuja to see the amnesty boss, you have decided to travel down to reach out to people.
"The beauty of that is that you don't depend on intermediaries. You get firsthand exposure and information. You reach out to the ex-agitators, the affected communities and you interface with them. It is one of the reasons why your programme is very successful with little skirmishes. Issues are resolved almost immediately".
Dikio also seized the opportunity to tell the Ijaw elders some home truth. He said it was time the region embraced the principles of strategic communication and shun restivesness, that took them away from the decision-making process.
Dikio said: "I don't belong to the party of no. Anybody can say no. After no so what? Put yourself in the room first. One of my friends say we have this attitude of saying we went to the meeting and we scattered the meeting. You works away when others are taking decisions.
"They will be happy to have you leave so that they can take the decision without your opposition. So, when others are in the boardroom, you are on the streets. When they are inside the room and they have the authority, they will use the instrument of the state and deal with you.
"So in our masters degree programme, we want to put a lot of weight in giving people the ability to be in the boardroom where the decisions are made. You have to be in the boardroom where the decisions are made.
"So, we are encouraging our boys to understand strategic communication. It entails a lot of soft skills, the power to negotiate, the power to lobby and the power to network and build bridges. We are in a federation and within this federation we must be able to identify the people we can do business with. No permanent friend but permanent interests".