PRINCEWILL: Programme Not Designed To Address Deeper Niger Delta Issues
A member of the Technical Committee on Niger Delta that recommended the amnesty programme, Prince Tonye Princewill, told KELVIN EBIRI, that the amnesty programme was not designed by the Federal Government to address the historical neglect of the Niger Delta.
As a member of the defunct technical committee on Niger Delta, what is your assessment of the programme, so far?
BEFORE anyone can assess any programme, the key objective of that programme should be clearly outlined. To be very plain and honest, the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme initiated by the late President Yar Adua was put in place just to get the militants out of the creeks, and bring oil production back up to normal levels. That was the objective. Judging by this, I can say they did a fairly good job. But the programme we in the Niger Delta Technical Committee proposed was deeper and a lot more sustainable. It would surprise me, therefore, if anyone from my committee were satisfied with the programme. Our objectives were a lot more advanced.
Are you implying that the implementation of the amnesty programme did not conform to the recommendations of the committee?
In some ways, yes; but in many ways, no. The Niger Delta Technical Committee was set up to look into all the issues facing the Niger Delta at that time, and proffer solutions. Though, the White Paper we came up with is yet to be implemented, some bits and pieces of our recommendations can be seen happening here and there.
When looking at the youths in the Niger Delta, we didn’t just consider the ones in the creeks with guns; we also thought of the uneducated, underemployed and unemployed youths that didn’t carry guns. Sadly, the programme was structured to cater for only the militants, leaving out the rest. And even in that area, our definition of catering for ex-militants was clearly different from theirs.
The programme is supposed to end this year. Should it be continued beyond 2015?
The programme has its advantages, but if not managed well, it will turn out to be a waste of taxpayers’ money and a nest egg for a select few. Are all the militants disarmed? No. Are all of them rehabilitated? No. Are Niger Delta youths reasonably employed? The answer is a big, no. Until my three questions have yes as answers to them, I would say the programme should be continued and restructured to reflect the original ideals. Like subsidy, it has its flaws. But you do not throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to tread with caution.
By your estimation, have the fundamental issues that led to unrest in the Niger Delta been addressed?
No, they haven’t. Attempts have been made, yes, but they have been weak and non-committal. Militancy is a symptom of a wider problem. Therefore, amnesty is not designed to address the issues. Having said that, the Niger Delta produced a President, so, talk of resource control will inevitably reduce in volume. We had our chance. We cannot blame anyone.
While the country may have enjoyed growth in revenue, as a result of increased oil production, has there been commensurate development in the Niger Delta?
No. Not at all. But don’t forget that there was a drastic drop in production, before this gradual climb. And even then, the oil price has dived. What governors were getting in 2011 is still way higher than what they’re getting now. As for development in the Niger Delta, I must say there has been some improvement, but it’s not enough.
Do you envisage a resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta, if the amnesty programme is abandoned?
I don’t pray for it. One thing we should understand is, even if these boys were violent and going about it the wrong way, they saw it as their only means of survival. It worked. They survived, very well. Besides, there were no consequences for their actions. Point the youths in the direction of a livelihood, give them options and remind them it’s no longer business as usual and watch and see how militancy will vanish. That is the carrot and stick approach.
If the amnesty programme is to be reviewed, what will be your recommendations?
Three things: Never train someone without knowing where he is going to apply the training, as a half educated person is even more dangerous than an illiterate; remember the ones who didn’t carry guns are watching you and read the Niger Delta Technical Committee report. Amnesty has a context. Like the Ministry of Niger Delta still situated in Abuja, people are implementing what they did not author. Go and ask Atiku. It was his idea. We need to get serious. It’s okay to admit you do not know. This is not the military era.
Amid allegation of fraud in the amnesty programme; what do you make of calls to probe the amnesty office?
If there are allegations of fraud, then they should be investigated. But that is not the job of the President, just like it is not the job of a governor to probe. An effective EFCC or ICPC will get the job done. The executive should not be distracted.
Do you think ex-militants are fully reintegrated to their communities?
That is for them to answer. From what I see, some of them are currently working in different fields; I even heard that some of them are pilots. But the question is, how many of them got that lucky? My number one issue has always been jobs. And I see it not being addressed daily. For me, this was another missed opportunity. Integration presumes one is being useful. An asset. Not a liability. A job to me seems central to that.
What will happen in the post amnesty era if the Niger Delta remains underdeveloped and neglected?
Your guess is as good as mine. But the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta is not a new phenomenon. No. So we have a track record to guide us. One who does not learn from the mistakes of the past is doomed to repeat it they say.
I’m an optimist with an umbrella. I refuse to assume failure and then proceed to legislate for it in advance. That is a hypothetical question. We’ll cross the bridge when we see it, if we do. President Buhari has a big opportunity. Shooting from the hip during the campaign on issues like subsidy and crude oil theft appears to have given way to calm, pragmatic wisdom and careful reasoning. There is a saying by Zig Ziglar that goes like this: “Some of us learn from other people’s mistakes while the rest of us have to be the other people.” Time will tell who belongs where.
Has amnesty programme been beneficial to Nigeria?
Increased safety of our pipelines, improved safety of our facilities, reduced activities of militants, leading to a reduced havoc in the Niger Delta. The benefits are many. But the question is “for how long and at what price?” Before we answer that question, we are advised to reflect on what the price would have been for not having an amnesty programme.
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