By Barr. Mary Agbajoh
Recent disclosure by Vice Chairman Senate Committee on Niger Delta, Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai, who led members of the committee on a visit to the office of the Special Adviser to the President and Coordinator, Amnesty Programme, Prof Charles Dokubo in Abuja about the poor funding of the Agency revealed the critical financial condition in which the programme has been administered.
Garbai, who emphasised that the Amnesty Programme was pivotal for stability in the Niger Delta region and assured that members of the committee would ensure prompt release of funds allocated to the Amnesty Programme, did not only express dismay over delay in the release of funds to the Amnesty Office for payment of stipends and other allowances to beneficiaries of the programme, he also described the release of N5bn twice out of the N65bn allocated to it in the 2018 budget as grossly inadequate.
“The N5bn translates to approximately 7.7 per cent. That amount is a far cry to what is needed in creating peace and stability in the region,” he stated.
Agency like the Amnesty Programme which is the pivot for Peace, stability and national revenue generation needs to be properly funded for the effective achievement of its objectives. Fund budgeted for its annual administration needs to be released fully on time for immediate and effective execution of the objectives of the programme.
What government should understand is that failure to maintain adequate funding for the amnesty programme could jeopardize the relative peace and stability in the Niger Delta region which may result in oil production being choked off, as it was in the past by militant attacks that cut crude output by as much as a third.
It will be of great importance for the government to investigate the circumstances leading to funding constraint which is affecting the amnesty program, with a view to avoid reoccurrence of instability in the region. It should equally be noted that except the programme was adequately funded, those occupying the office would find it difficult to deliver effectively on their mandates.
All said and done, this is where kudos must be given to the newly appointed Amnesty Boss, Professor Charles Dokubo for having achieved much in a short distance with little resources. With meagre fund at his disposal, Dokubo on resumption of office set in motion credible and positive change with the manner things are handled in the amnesty office in line with the mandate of his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari.
Dokubo’s determination to reposition the Agency against all odds was further showcased recently in an historic Exhibition of Entrepreneurial Fair where trained delegates of the Amnesty Programme were made to exhibit their talents and wares. The event was held at Port-Harcourt, Rivers State. It was described as the first of its kind since the inception of the Programme. The highlights of the fair were presentation of testimonies of beneficiaries of the Amnesty Programme who gave good account of their endeavors under the Program. They thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for sustaining the Amnesty Program.
Speaking at the historic event, Dokubo who was highly elated expressed joy to see the lives of delegates being transformed beyond 65,000 monthly stipends to employers of labour and impacting on the lives of the society positively.
He explained that the Amnesty programme has indeed done a lot for Niger Delta region stressing that it had sustained peace, security and enhanced human development in the region. He enjoined the youths to take advantage of the Programme to better their lives.
Despite the lean resources, Prof. Charles Dokubo reiterated his commitment to adhere to President Muhammadu Buhari’s determination to turn around the narrative of the Niger Delta region. Dokubo who gave the assurance while responding to the address of Garbai promised to work harder to make sure that the Amnesty Programme attains the mission and objective for which it has been created.
“I’m happy that you are here to rub minds with us today and I believe that as you go back to your office, you will see the challenges that we face and in whichever way you can help us, I’ll plead with you not to hesitate to help us because we don’t have releases,” he disclosed.
The effective management of amnesty programme by Dokubo no doubt led to a reduction in the incidence of oil facility vandalism and attacks on oil workers. This was as a result of the empowerment of the ex-militants through vocational and academic training in higher institutions both in Nigeria and overseas countries. Thus, the relative peace in the area provided a platform for developmental activities to be executed unhindered. This has resulted in Nigeria being able to meet OPEC quota of 2.2mllion barrel of fuel per day in 2018.
It should equally be observed that under lean resources, Dokubo effectively managed the reintegration phase by providing the ex-agitators with either vocational training or formal education. Of course, there is also the re-insertion part of reintegration, which entails adding processes of returning already trained ex-agitators to civil society. Thus, no fewer than 18,721 persons have been reintegrated out of the 30,000 enlisted in the programme. Be that as it may, Dokubo would have performed better if fund budgeted annually for the programme were released as at when due. The Federal government needs to provide the needed fund as presented in the budget to enable the Amnesty boss perform effectively to the benefit of all.
It is interesting to note that it was only 7.7 per cent of the total budget of 2018 of the Amnesty Programme that was released. Garbai should please stand by his promise of appealing to those in charge to facilitate immediate release of adequate funds allocated to the programme for effective execution of its projects.
Barr Mary Agbajoh, a social commentator and political strategist writes from Abuja