EKIYOR: Suspending Programme Will Backfire
Dr. Chris Ekiyor is former President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), and a principal actor in the formative days of amnesty programme; he spoke with
The Federal Government has not been forthcoming about the amnesty programme started by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua administration, what is your opinion about this?
BASICALLY, I think President Muhammadu Buhari should remove politics in dealing with Niger Delta issue. It is a national issue, not about Jonathan. It is about the people of Nigeria, a section that is very sensitive and has the right to demand for certain special attention. So, beyond amnesty, it also has to do with the funding of NDDC and other ministries, which must be taken seriously.
For the amnesty programme, there are hearsays, here and there, on allegations of corruption. I believe government should investigate that and clean up the system, but in doing that, government must not make a mess of an existing programme, where people are out in their best to work. A lot of Nigerians, Niger Deltans in quote, are in foreign universities, and are being embarrassed, because the programme, which is supposed to pay systematically for their fees, based on the structure, as a security programme, and not just outright scholarship, has failed to do so. These are people government should ordinarily give scholarship to, even without the amnesty; they are qualified and are entitled to it. There is oil in their land, and they need to be educated to give the best they can. So, to play the ostrich with that kind of programme is uncalled for, particularly, for those who are in training, it is not a good one.
He is the president of Nigeria and not the president of a particular section of the country. I agree with his comment that you don’t expect all the people to get what they need, because of the way they voted, which cannot be changed. But having said it; he would have to do justice to all Nigerians, as even under Goodluck Jonathan, the north benefitted more than the south, in terms of infrastructure and others.
The amnesty programme is supposed to be addressed strategically, because you already have enough challenges in our country in Boko Haram, so, to set the tone for conflict to re-occur in the Niger Delta is uncalled for, it is going to backfire, and it is like burning the candle from both end, the war on terrorism in the north is more than an assignment for Nigeria and then to start another battle from the Niger Delta is unthinkable.
Our region is even more difficult, and it will be a more complex war, particularly, when the people, who are going to the creeks, will be ready to die. The presidency must look at it from that angle. As regards paying money to ex-militants, from the very beginning, I have said that there was something wrong with that arrangement, and that it needed to be reviewed in such a way that it wouldn’t look like gratifying some people, because a lot of people have confronted me, that how do you pay people, who carried arms against the government, but I said there should be a winding up period.
You have identified the people who took up arms, you have stopped them from that arrangement through an amnesty bargain and you started training them, in the period of their training, they should claim responsibility, while qualifying them to do that. If, for instance, somebody is going for training for five years, the period he should be able to get his stipend directly, not through anybody, directly to him, not through anybody, not through one ‘General’ or through one ‘Commander’, pay directly to him and that will make him know, why he is being trained, that at the end of his training, he is given an opportunity to start up, and from that point, he has to fend for himself, like every other Nigerian, unfortunately, I don’t think that is what is obtainable now. I think what is happening now is, individuals just stay and money is being paid to them.
The Federal Government has the right to investigate the programme, if there are allegations of corruption. As at the time I pushed for the amnesty, the level of damage that militancy had done to Nigeria’s economy was not quantifiable, you can imagine now.
What was the situation like before the amnesty?
It was a bad scenario, and that was what some of us fought to stop. Having been part of a high powered committee headed by the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ahmed Yahyale, we decided that it made more economic sense to grant amnesty than to continue to prosecute the war in the Niger Delta, because the war was gulping a lot of money.
You can imagine the amount of money that is being expended, for instance, to fight terrorists and terrorism; yet, terrorists are closing in on our country shows that war alone cannot solve a problem. So, the government had to talk to them and those, who are ready to take amnesty, you take them in and rehabilitate and reintegrate them. The oil money that the amnesty programme has consumed in the last five years is not more than two months production, compared to the amount lost before the amnesty.
As it is now, what do you think should be done?
I have said that the programme needs to be sustained, as a national programme, and my own suggestion has been that, the programme can be translated to a national integration programme, where a larger part of Nigerians, who have been caught like the IDPs and other persons in other platforms, can be integrated back into the society. I have heard that people want to go back to the creeks. It is very complicated to allow people go back to the creek, a lot of them have been opportune to get international training and are smarter now than they were before the amnesty. If they were not educated, and they went that far with their guerrilla warfare, and they are now fully educated, and you want them to wage guerrilla war, then you are sure that you are in for a bigger kettle of fish, than it was before. I have suggested that there is no good war, no bad peace, so, whatever government needs to do to pacify these people and keep the peace and get government working is important to Nigerians and I suggest that the presidency shouldn’t be thinking of scrapping the programme.
The government has the right to dig into the programme and bring out the corruption there. But those who have pointed out corruption should bring the evidence. If some people have corruptly enriched themselves from the programme, they should be made to refund money. The law is the law; the law should be seen to be operating. If there is evidence, the law should take its course. If anybody is corrupt, he or she should be treated on its merit, because, if is lopsided, it becomes victimisation, and the body language is that these people are targets, as they were very vocal in their support for the former president. Do you know the level of corruption in the power industry, so, because of that, they should not continue with the power projects? Do you know the amount of corruption in the military in prosecuting the Boko Haram war so because of that they should continue to prosecute the war? That there is corruption does not mean that you should kill a programme; deal with the corruption while the programme is going on. You can’t just wash away the Niger Delta programme and say ‘get away’, it is not a dash.
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