By Lady Nkechi Odoma,
The Presidency turned out to be prophetic when it said it might have
stepped on the toes of some very powerful persons in the country in
its quest to ensure peace in the Niger Delta region through the
Presidential Amnesty Programme. The owners of the toes have certainly
reacted with the unveiling of the campaign of calumny against the
programme’s current leadership. It is however heartwarming that the
Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme and Special Adviser to the
President on Niger Delta Affairs, Brigadier General Paul Boroh (rtd)
has vowed never to be distracted.
One can only appreciate the foregoing with hindsight of what had
happened with the programme in the past. The Amnesty Programme, meant
to rehabilitate ex-militants in the Niger Delta region, had been
reduced to one of the ATMs that provided slush funds under the former
administration. Its operation was opaque to the point that no one took
the trouble to understand or justify how funds assigned to the place
Also, the programme had reached a stage where it was almost a foregone
conclusion that the Federal Government will continue to pay a lifetime
of benefits to those on the programme. But in five months of presiding
over the place, General Boroh had announced an exit plan for as many
as 3,232 beneficiaries in a move that will see the Federal Government
saving N2.52 billion in stipend payments. Of course those to be weaned
off stipend payment are those who have been trained as entrepreneurs
and have been given business and setup or starter packs.
He equally started a verification exercise of those attending foreign
institutions under the programme. With the penchant one had seen for
ghost workers in the past, the exercise might just as well throw up a
long list of ‘ghost ex-militants’. The verification is not however
aimed at cutting short study scholarships under the programme as some
people had speculated.
Under the current leadership, the army of consultants to the programme
has been trimmed down on the recommendation of committees that were
set up to review its operations.
The confidence that General Boroh brought on board is such that more
than 1,500 additional Niger Delta militants have indicated their
willingness to lay down their arms and embrace peace. From all
indications, this is a development that will help reduce attacks on
oil installations and also bring down the incidence of pipeline
vandalism. Now that it is known that the payment of stipends to
ex-militants is not a lifetime affairs, this round of repentant
militants are definitely not under the illusion that the Amnesty
Programme is cash office where they will pick up regular paychecks but
must have realized that they will do better to be empowered and set up
in businesses like those who embraced peace before them.
It is noteworthy that weaning the over 3000 ex-militants off stipends
has been confirmed as the first in series of steps to wind down the
programme over the next two years. This is something that no one has
broached until retired General Boroh stepped in with the courage
needed to set things right in the way the Presidential Amnesty
Programme had run in the past. It had seemed no one would dare
contemplate winding down the scheme even when it was glaring that it
was not possible to operate it in perpetuity.
Had the programme been allowed to run endlessly the guarantee of peace
in the region would have become a pipe dream at some point. The
collapse of crude oil prices is a confirmation that the Federal
Government will not always be in a position to keep paying huge
amounts as stipends. Winding down the programme, which General Boroh
has taken on with determination is the key to ensuring lasting peace.
Unfortunately, the kind of dedication and boldness exhibited by
General Boroh has its enemies. Hi approach to issues directly
threatens the meal ticket of those who had hitherto fed fat on the
Presidential Amnesty Programme. Considering the volatility that once
characterized the region, their expectation was that he would join
them in using the threat of ex-militants returning to the creeks as
a cover to continue doling out money that could be channeled to build
infrastructure into paying stipends.
It was thus not surprising when allegations started flying around that
the programme, under the current leadership, has spent N48billion in
about four months. It is a good thing that there are individuals and
organizations that do not take some rumours at face value. They dug up
the facts and it turned out that the supposed report was meant to
embarrass the Coordinator of the programme.
General Boroh himself went to town to set the records straight. From
the way he reeled out figures that were far lesser than what he was
accused of spending, one must say his detractors handed him the
opportunity to shine on a platter of gold. What was meant to be an
embarrassment for him easily became an opportunity to recount his
achievements within the short period he has been in the saddle.
One can only commend the General for the uprightness that ensured he
did not fall into the trap of those that wanted to create confusion
for personal gains. General Boroh should carry on his duties with the
kind of confidence he brought to the job. Some of us want to see a
conclusive end to this Amnesty Programme and he totally has our
support in the assignment that will restore lasting peace to the Niger
Delta and to Nigeria.
Odoma is President, Africa Arise for Change Network based in Abuja.