By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Ever since his assumption of office in September 2022, Interim Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, Major-General Victor Ndiomu, retd, has embarked on reforms aimed at actualizing the objectives for establishing PAP by the late President Umar Yar’Adua. In this interview, he speaks on ongoing re-engineering at PAP.
You initiated reforms upon assumption of office…
It has been more than three months since I took over the helm of affairs at the Presidential Amnesty Programme. When I assumed office, I inherited a myriad of problems based on the briefings I received from the various departmental heads. I had a clear mandate from the Office of the National Security Adviser on what was expected of me to do.
There was a clear directive for me to put an end to all contract awards and of course, that also meant that we had to discontinue the award of scholarships on other programmes other than the ongoing programmes that are inherited.
The idea behind that directive was to enable the new leadership to take stock of the activities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and see how we could bring the programme back to actualising its mandate.
At the time the Amnesty Programme was conceptualised, the plan was to terminate in 2015.
However, a couple of things happened. I wasn’t here but some things happened between the time it was established and the year 2015. The number of ex-agitators kept increasing until eventually the concept of impacted communities was introduced and that further expanded the number of ex-agitators that were initially captured.
I believe it was from that point the programme deviated from its original vision that was conceptualised by those who originated it.
The figures kept increasing from about 19,000 plus until it got up to 30,000 ex-agitators. Of course, other reasons were given for that explosion in numbers.
Some averred that it was because quite a number of the ex-agitators did not come out from the creeks. After all, they did not trust the true intentions of the government at the time and so when they were now reassured of their safety, quite a few of them emerged from the creeks. As I said, in addition to the idea of impacted communities, this expanded the programme.
It got to a point where the programme was no longer addressing the original agitators captured, the focus was now more on the impacted communities. So scholarship schemes and beneficiaries were not even from the ex-agitators. It became more or less like a social welfare programme that cut across the entire Niger Delta.
Also, one of the directives that were given was to carry out an education audit to ascertain the number of ex-agitators that have been trained across the country and overseas. Of course, the audit programme is still on. We have just received the report of the education audit. We are studying it at the moment.
But I think snippets of it that I can give for now, very clearly, three-quarters of the beneficiaries are not the ex-agitators that the programme was intended to cater for.
Therefore, we have a large number of ex-agitators that have not been trained. They have not been beneficiaries of this scholarship scheme nor have they been trained in any vocational training centres.
Although it could still be argued that in certain cases, some of the ex-agitators surrendered their rights to be educated. And they surrendered that right to their siblings, children and members of their communities in quite a several cases.
It was not necessarily the fault of anyone. I have received complaints from the same ex-agitators that they were left out of the training programme that has been carried out by PAP.
What informed your decision to seek employment of ex-agitators?
When we looked at the data we had for the ex-agitators and members of impacted communities that have benefited from either the scholarship scheme or the vocational training programmes we realised that less than one percent are gainfully employed. That was totally at cross-purposes with whatever was intended of the amnesty programme.
I visited the Head of Service because we had 350 beneficiaries of the Presidential Amnesty Scholarship Scheme. The 350 individuals are not necessarily ex-agitators. I want to bring up this distinction so you will have an understanding.
But the important thing is that they may be classified as those who benefited based on the impacted community concept.
Interestingly, these individuals are brilliant Niger Deltans, who have first-class and second class upper. They were specially selected and the federal government at the time decided that they should be employed at the various federal ministries and agencies.
This happened in 2017 and up until now not one of them has been employed despite the presidential directive to that effect. When I resumed and my attention was drawn to the issue, I quickly wrote and had an audience with the Head of Service. As I speak, I am also trying to make contact with the Vice President because his office was also very involved in trying to ensure that these 350 Niger Deltans were gainfully employed.
They have actually been distributed to various federal ministries. The numbers were stated in the correspondence. I realised that I needed to give it that additional push which I can assure you is in progress. The Head of Service was very kind and magnanimous. She is looking into it and I believe by the time the Vice President gets involved. I am positive that we would have these 350 individuals gainfully employed in the various ministries.
If you recall I had mentioned when I started that the directive to me was to suspend all contracts which included scholarship programmes. That directive has not been lifted. We were asked to take stock of what was existing and what I inherited, which we are doing. Let me quickly mention here that one of the reasons it was necessary to suspend the scholarship programme, is because of the cost of the Presidential Amnesty Programme. For example, we now have over 3,000 individuals who have been awarded scholarships.
If you looked at the bill, tuition fees are over N7 billion for the section. We are talking about onshore 3,000 plus. There was the need to take a second look at it and that was why we had that problem with Baze University because it was just impossible to pay the tuition across these institutions.
These were not government-owned universities. We are talking about private universities. I don’t want to blame anyone but that was without any doubt, reckless. There was a need to take a second look at it which we are doing and we are not going to suspend the scholarships which have already been awarded because it was not the fault of these children to be awarded these scholarships. We have to work out a way of looking for the funds to pay the huge bills that we are confronted with.
That was why it was possible to discuss with Baze University to do a certain percentage payment, so that later on this year, we will be able to pay the balance of the tuition fees. We hope to do that with all other institutions before we can begin to talk about re-awarding scholarships in a more rational manner consistent with the budget of the amnesty programme.
How do you monitor the reforms you put in place to ensure their success?
We are doing that. That is why immediately I took over, one of the first departments that I carried out a reform was the reintegration department. It is under the reintegration department that you have the education department, vocational training, peacebuilding, and job placements.
I fired the officers who were there. They had already put out a very terrible situation which we are still trying to confront at the moment. I had to bring in people with the institutional capacity and sufficient knowledge in these areas.
We have various stock-taking measures and audits, which are ongoing so that we can work within the ambit of our budget.
You were recently made the chairman of the Oil Theft Committee…
I would not want to pre-empt the work of the committee. Whatever opinion I will be expressing will be my personal opinion and also based on my capacity as Interim Administrator of the Amnesty Programme.
I have always wondered why anyone will be talking about pipeline security and surveillance without involving the Presidential Amnesty office. I believe the problems confronting the Niger Delta, stem from the issues around pipeline vandalisation, which eventually led to agitations of different forms.
Talking about pipeline protection and surveillance without the Amnesty Programme, was a mistake. We are all aware of the dangers vandalisation of pipelines poses to the environment.
President Muhammadu Buhari has done well for the PAP?
The current administration has done exceedingly well. In funding the PAP, they have given us sufficient resources that financed the programme promptly. That is why we have been able to pay stipends to the ex-agitators.
Except for failures of the system, which is nobody’s fault and is based on technology, by the 20th of every month, stipends are paid. I will tell you that the government has not short-paid the Amnesty Programme by one Naira.
How to ensure gainful employment for ex-agitators is one of the reasons I have gone around, writing several government agencies and ministers. In terms of entrepreneurship, we have many initiatives by the grace of God. With the signing of the budget by the President, we are looking at setting up cooperatives. The idea behind the cooperatives will be for these same ex-agitators who will become the administrators and managers of their destinies.
We would attach experts to these cooperatives, we will finance the cooperatives so that they will have access to micro-credits, along with consultants who will advise them on whatever initiatives and businesses they choose.
We are also thinking of setting up fishing trolling companies which would entail procuring fishing trolleys. We will also send them outside the country to be trained and get many onboard. We will only take those interested because we are not going to compel any individual.
This programme is not intended to last forever. The idea is to provide them with what they require to be able to earn sustainable means of livelihood. Otherwise, we would create an impression that the Niger Delta remains a region that is in a constant state of conflict and I think that’s not going to be in our interest.
The post N’DELTA: Less than one per cent of trained ex-agitators gainfully employed — Gen Ndiomu appeared first on Vanguard News.
Leave a Reply