By default or design, two great minds and passionate crusaders for the betterment of the lives of Niger Deltans met recently in Abuja. Dr. Kingsley Kuku, a former boss at the Presidential Amnesty Programme, was guest of Major-General Barry Tariye Ndiomu (retd), the incumbent Interim Administrator of the Programme. For Kuku, who was Special Adviser to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua on the Niger Delta and Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Implementation Committee, it was home-coming to the office that he presided over and used to calm the nerves of agitators in the oil-rich region.
Ex-President Yar’Adua had in 2009 created the programme through an implementation committee.
Kuku was one of earliest Niger Deltans to rock the peace-building baby in its cradle. This makes him a midwife of the programme specifically designed to deradicalise the restive youths in the Niger Delta, train them through various capacity-building initiatives and have them mainstreamed into the larger society.
The obvious success of the Programme in re-orientating the once restive youths and ensuring peace within the region made President Goodluck Jonathan to appoint Kuku as his Special Adviser on the Niger Delta and Chairman, Niger Delta Presidential Amnesty Programme in January 2011. Jonathan later reappointed him into the same position in July 2011 after he was sworn in as duly elected president in the 2011 general elections. That marked a tipping point for the Programme as Kuku and his team at PAP achieved the disarmament and demobilisation of 30,000 ex-agitators. The instant and visible impact of the Programme was noticed in the increase in crude oil production which translated to more revenue for the nation.
It was, therefore, expected that President Muhammadu Buhari would retain the Programme against spirited campaigns from some persons for its scrapping. Buhari did not only retain the Programme, he stridently sought for a Niger Deltan of integrity to man the Programme after series of corruption allegations that trailed the administration of the Programme. He found one in Ndiomu.
From inception, PAP has been administered by six chief executives. Such high leadership turnover is symptomatic of a dysfunctional agency. The roll call: Lucky Ochuko Ararile, (a retired Air Vice Marshal); Timi Alaibe, (a former managing director of the NDDC) and Kingsley Kuku, (a former member of the Ondo State House of Assembly). They were Special Advisers to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinators of PAP, at various times. Then came Paul Boroh, (a retired Brigadier-General); Charles Quaker Dokubo, (a professor of International Affairs) and Milland Dikio, (a retired Colonel). Sadly, none of these men served out a full tenure of four years as recommended by law. In some cases, reports of abuse of office and unwholesome financial dealings which negated the founding objectives of PAP trailed the tenures of these CEOs precipitating in their resignations or outright dismissals. But Kuku was an exception among the past leaders as he was adjudged the best by stakeholders in the region.
The appointment of Ndiomu by Buhari, in context, was hailed as a masterstroke. He was seen as the fit man for the job of interfacing and re-orientating the ex-agitators in the creeks. He was appointed on very strong recommendation. The then President Buhari had sought for a rounded Niger Delta person who commands respect in the area. The brief was straight forward; get someone the people of the region can easily relate with, trust and have confidence in, to guide them out of the paths of violence. A father figure who will ensure that what was meant for the people, especially the ex-agitators, gets to them.
Those things earmarked for the people were clearly defined: capacity building through skills acquisition, monthly stipend and turning the ex-agitators into employable, skilled up personnel or making them entrepreneurs and creators of wealth and jobs.
Ndiomu understands this brief and he has set out to actualise them. Little wonder visiting Kuku was full of laudation for Ndiomu for expanding the frontiers of the brief beyond training and upskilling of ex-agitators but also setting up a unique cooperative scheme solely for the empowerment of the participants.
The cooperative scheme initiated by Ndiomu has enabled most of the youths to grow their businesses and become entrepreneurs. Though funding is still a challenge, but with the fiscal prudence exhibited by Ndiomu so far, it is expected that the Bola Ahmed Tinubu government will deploy more funds to the agency to enable it effectively achieve its mandate. More funds will translate to more empowerment and more people being captured into the Programme.
Both Ndiomu and Kuku agreed that PAP has helped to reflate the national economy. They reason that full resuscitation of the vocational centres within the region coupled with other trainings and scholarships will not only migrate Niger Deltans from pain street to productive clusters, it will advance the Renewed Hope vision of President Tinubu by increasing the threshold of local content in aviation, oil and gas and other sectors where the ex-agitators are daily being trained.
The overall goal of PAP is to achieve enduring peace in the region. Ndiomu’s innovative management style has helped the agency to achieve and sustain this through active communication engagements with the various communities of the Niger Delta by upgrading the strategic communications team.
The ex-agitators want jobs after graduation. Ndiomu is doing just that. Between October 2022 and now, some skilled-up ex-agitators have been absorbed into some agencies. The NSCDC, NITDA, Office of the Head of Service, Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Navy, Ministry of Finance, among others have boosted hope for job placements for already trained ex-agitators. Thousands of such trained ex-agitators are projected to be employed in a new push by PAP to get them to participate in securing oil facilities and installations.
The setting up of Micro-business Clusters and Cooperatives, a brainchild of Ndiomu, to empower eligible delegates remains one of the most profound legacies of the Programme. Over one billion naira has been earmarked to support delegates’ micro-business startups.
There is also the launch of the Formal Education Trust Fund, an ambitious one billion naira initiative with funds to be sourced from IoCs (Integrated oil Companies), state governments of the Niger Delta as well as international development partners. Management of the FETFund is by a board of trustees comprising eminent personalities of Niger Delta, ex-agitator leaders and technical experts. This kickstarted the process for the strategic transition of the PAP into a more sustainable entity with a wider mandate targeted at the youth population of the Niger Delta region.
Kuku spared no words to commend Ndiomu for continuing with projects he inherited rather than abandoning them. This also were the testimonies from relevant stakeholders in the region including the Ijaw National Congress, Ijaw Youth Congress, ex-agitators, traditional rulers among others. In Ndiomu, they see a man who is on top of his game. His exemplary success at PAP made President Buhari to assign an extra responsibility to him as the Chairman of the Federal Government’s Special Investigative Panel on Crude Oil Theft/Losses.
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In barely one year, Ndiomu has raised the bar of efficiency at the Programme, re-engineered a new order of probity and openness and widened the net of Reintegration to include entrepreneurship. Kuku said he was “happy to stand by, stand with and move with Ndiomu” on account of his excellent performance on the job of making the Niger Delta and Niger Deltans feel a sense of belonging in the national matrix.
· Olali, an environmental activist, writes from Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.