For the Amnesty Programme to work for the people

By Meshack Bob


In August 27, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the appointment of Col. Milland Dixon Dikio (Rtd) as the new helmsman of the Niger Delta Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) following the formal disengagement of the erstwhile head of the programme, Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo.

Dikio’s appointment came at a time the speculation was rife about plans by the federal government to terminate the PAP following years of massive corruption and other forms of malfeasance that has stalled its original mandate. The fears were borne out of the unknown and were beginning to raise tension in the region. Most stakeholders kicked against it, warning of the dire consequences the action may cause.

So, the appointment of the retired Colonel came as a sigh of relief for people of the region, particularly beneficiaries of the programme who are yet to be fully reintegrated into the society. For some stakeholders it was another pointer to the president’s avowed commitment to sustain the existing peace in area.

Former Bayelsa State Governor Henry Seriake Dickson said “President Buhari’s decision to retain the position in Ijaw land in spite of the pressures was thoughtful and encouraging “.

A renowned Niger Delta activist and traditional chief from the Ancient Gbaramatu Kingdom of Delta State, Comrade Chief Mulade Sheriff, while congratulating Dikio, thanked Buhari for his appointment and urged him to build on the existing peace initiated by the president in order to sustain and stabilise the economy of the region.

Also, founder and leader, Kengema Unity Forum, KUF and Network for the Defence of Democratic and Good Governance, High Chief Ambassador Sobomabo Jackrich, aka Egberipapa, said the appointment of Dikio was a new dawn and urged him to use his wealth of experience to deliver the core objectives of the PAP.

No doubt, the retired army top brass is well equipped for the assignment. His service with the Nigerian Army was meritorious until his voluntary retirement in 2004. While in active service, he led different formations and successfully took part in various peace keeping missions across the African continent. His course mates said he was a shining light in the military with an unblemished record.

Dikio has the requisite experience, pedigree and wherewithal to reposition the PAP which he has already committed to do. But there are concerns on how he will successfully navigate his way through the murky waters of the PAP that has been rocked by controversies owing to sleaze, institutional deficit and gross maladministration. In recent years, the programme has been dogged by misfortune as the pervasive corruption there has reduced its usefulness and made it to be another failed interventionist programme for the region.

This perhaps was the viewpoint of the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno at a recent media parley inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The NSA had gone to see President Buhari to formally introduce the new amnesty boss to the president when journalists besieged him. He was frank in expressing himself that over N712 billion has been spent on the programme without any corresponding result.

Monguno’s remarks drew the ire of the umbrella body of Ijaw youths, the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC and some stakeholders who faulted his claims and described his comments as provocative. Their sentimental position as defensive as it was cannot change the stark reality that is facing the PAP which buttresses the NSA’s frankness.

The last two administrations have been the worst hit. Their term in office was short-lived due to the many allegations levelled against them. While a large chunk of the blame should be on them, some mischief makers in the region were responsible for their failure. They took part in the rape of the PAP and later turned around to write all manner of petitions to discredit the coordinators.

It is often said that the Niger Delta people are their own enemies. This has over the years been proven to be correct going by the volume of petitions from the region to the presidency and anti-graft agencies to investigate the PAP. The sad part is that these enemies of the region are not alone in their destructive voyage.

Shamefully, they have started again. Few weeks into his resumption, the first petition came out: “Ex-militant leaders petition new amnesty boss to Buhari, alleges misconduct”. In the frivolous petition, they claimed that Dikio had a secret meeting with one of his predecessors. The said predecessor has been out of the country since 2015, and so one wonders where they met.

All of these should stop and the time to stop is now! Dikio must be allowed to do the job and be supported in all ramifications to succeed. If his own people cannot support him who will? Those who wanted the job should put their personal interest aside and work with him to achieve his desire for the PAP in line with the mandate.

From his recent statements in the media, there is every reason to believe that he is ready to reposition the programme for optimal performance. His focus no doubt is on reintegration and he has marshalled out a well-articulated plan that will in an unprecedented manner make the PAP work for all.

He has declared that he will restore the programme to its original intent, train the ex-agitators to become entrepreneurs who will act as agents of change to reverse the narrative of a people dependent on hand outs, but to be self-sufficient and employers of labour as well as net contributors to the economic prosperity of the Niger Delta.

In addition to that, Dikio intends to cooperate with relevant agencies set up by the federal government to complement the efforts of the PAP to ensure the development and security of the Niger Delta. His ultimate aim is to work with the various governments in the region to make the Niger Delta the most secure place to live and do business in the country.

These assurances from Dikio clearly mark him out as a man who knows what he wants. So it is incumbent on people of the region to support and pray for him rather than the usual antics of running down occupants of the office. The task before him is enormous but interestingly he has started well.

Only recently, the new amnesty chief disclosed to a group of student leaders that a two-stage approach was adopted in paying foreign students after a thorough verification exercise. While the process of paying 1,358 local students is almost complete. The move was a breather for the students who had planned to stage a peaceful protest over the delayed payment of their fees.

While the appeal for people of the Niger Delta region to work closely with Dikio is important and must be stressed, the Presidency should equally accord him all that is needed to avoid any misstep. For instance, it is a known fact that the PAP has been hijacked by some dubious civil servants who have used their privileged positions to undo the system.

These ‘powerful’ civil servants hold the ace and with the advantage of their institutional knowledge, they have consistently punished recent heads of the programme who do not kowtow to their insatiable appetite for wealth. They have over the years enriched themselves after declaring the amnesty programme as their main farm yard.

Some of them boast of their high connections in the presidency, insisting that they are untouchable. They have derailed the operations of the programme acting like feudal lords. Unfortunately, most of these barracudas are not from the region. With their ill-gotten wealth they sponsor protests and wage media wars against previous coordinators to further service their greed.

For Dikio to succeed, such characters must give way. Some of them have been there for too long which has given them the leverage to undermine the system. More so, the PAP is an interventionist programme and not a ministry, agency or parastatal of government. It is the current existing structure that has made the programme to move with the speed of a snail.

Thankfully, the presidency seems to be thinking in this direction with the new nomenclature of administrator. So the repositioning of the offices should trickle down. Very competent people from the region should be engaged to do the job. What it simply means is that the federal government through the office of the National Security Adviser must make sweeping changes in the entire arrangement of the programme.

When that is done, the ship of the PAP will move faster and achieve its desired result of economic prosperity, sustainable peace and development for people of the Niger Delta region and Nigeria at large.

  • Bob writes from Port Harcourt.


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