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MILITANTS MAY RETURN TO THE CREEKS

By NBF News
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Warri, the commercial city of Delta State, was last week again in the news following a bomb explosion around the perimeter fence of the Government House Annex. The state governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, and his counterparts from Edo and Imo were among other dignitaries that narrowly escaped being hit by shrapnel from the explosion that disrupted a post-amnesty dialogue organised by the Vanguard Media Limited.

Dr Uduaghan, in this interview with a few journalists, speaks on the challenges of the federal government's post-amnesty programme for former militants in the Niger Delta, warning that its poor implementation could spark off another round of crisis in the oil-producing region.

The medical doctor-turned politician also reveals why the Governors' Forum intervened in the logjam in the Presidency, saying at the moment, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, is in charge until there is a contrary resolution by the National Assembly. Excerpts…

It is no news that you came into government when militancy was at its high point. What is your assessment of the post-amnesty programme of the federal government?

The first thing is to thank President (Umaru) Yar'Adua for the courage in offering the amnesty. I say courage and I want it underlined because he did that against a lot of opposition from so many quarters. I also thank our youths who saw the advantage of embracing the amnesty by dropping their weapons and have now accepted life.

Now, we have challenges in this post-amnesty period; challenges as regards the inadequacy of the camps to receive the ex-militants.

As at today, we have two camps in Delta, one in Rivers and I understand Ondo is having one now. The capacity of those camps in taking the number of youths is a big problem because from the federal government's assessment, they are expecting about 11,500 youths. But as someone who is on ground, I know it is far above that. The number won't be less than 20,000 if properly computed. Even at that estimate by the federal government, the three or four camps put together can only accommodate about 1,500 youths. So that is one big challenge.

Now, the question is, do we create more camps in the region or outside the region? Do we even create camps outside the country for some of them to be taken to for proper rehabilitation and training? These are some of the issues. For me, I subscribe to the idea of taking most them outside the country while also creating more camps within. So the basic problem now is that of adequate sites for these youths for the various stages of rehabilitation that need to be done. But for the first stage, there is the need for a proper psychological and mental re-orientation because for a long time now, these guys have been in the creeks and believed that the gun is power. Having come out from the creeks, they have to be re-orientated to realise the fact that power is not about gun but it is all about law and order.

They have to undergo that kind of thing to come to terms with normal societal life. Then we will move ahead as we separate them from the camps to ensure that those who intend to undergo skills acquisition are provided the opportunity; those who want to go the university must be given support. But then, we also have to look at the issue of jobs for them at the end of the day, where and how do they get jobs after their university education? Even those of them who would go into vocational training, how will they be encouraged through funding? These are very serious issues posing as immediate challenges to the post-amnesty programme that we have to look at critically.

But, that does not mean there are no other challenges. For instance, this Niger Delta crisis did not just start from nowhere. There are reasons why it erupted, and biggest of all is marginalization – no development, no empowerment, no industrial drive for the region, no participation in the oil business, and all these have to be dealt with.

At the beginning of the amnesty programme, there were allegations that it was politicised…

(Cuts in) I will not agree that it was politicised, but then politicians naturally will use every opportunity to play some politics. But it is not that prominent, at least in Delta; there were no signs. You know that the programme was handled mostly by the military with assistance from various arms of government. Politics did not take prominence over the entire programme itself.

Why has it taken so long for proper take-off of the post-amnesty initiatives in the region?

Everything is about planning. I believe that the initial plan may not have been comprehensive enough. Why do I say this? It was planned that these youths be taken into camps. In the process of execution, these camps are not available. That is a gap.

Secondly, the issue of release of funds has also contributed greatly to the delay. You will understand that a supplementary budget has to be made even after the amnesty. It was signed by the President on his sick bed and, of course, you know the process of releasing funds, especially at the federal level. But this is the kind of fund that should have come in while the amnesty programme was still going on. Even now, I am not sure if the funds have been released for the post-amnesty programme. So it is a major hiccup without being immodest.

If this is a major challenge, won't it aggravate tension and unrest to the detriment of the relative peace that has been achieved in the region?

Definitely. If the funds are not being released, it creates some doubts on the programme because one of the key issues when we were talking to the youths to drop their guns was that of trust and confidence in those of us who are the political players. They kept saying they do not trust any one of us, including the federal government. They told us we do not keep our promises.

So if the funds are not being released to commence the massive implementation of post-amnesty initiatives, their fears would have been justified. But as a government we have to do what is timely to allay these fears because the delay in the release of funds might affect the peace in the region because it might push these guys to return to the creeks. Even if they are not going back to the creeks, it might throw up some new leadership among their followers. So it is very critical that whatever funds approved for the programme should be released so that the region can continue to enjoy the relative peace until such a time normalcy will be the order of the day in the region once more.

As governor of one of the core states in the region, what role have you alongside your colleagues played to ensure that this scenario you are painting is averted?

At our close-door meetings, we express all these desires by telling those in charge to be fast about it. But at our level, our own contribution is directly with us and we are doing our best to ensure that the youths do not return to the creeks.

But there are allegations that some of you, particularly governors, are happy with this lull or are frustrating the full implementation of the post-amnesty programme so that the youths could be used for the 2011 elections?

We are not the people withholding the money; the money is not with us. So why and how are we frustrating the release of fund? The budgeting was done by the federal government. The costing of everything was done by the federal government but at the level of the South South states, we are the ones on ground. I can beat my chest and say that in Delta State, for instance, we are contributing more.

Let me say this with all sense of modesty. People place a lot of emphasis on these boys being used for elections in the region, but that is not correct. For instance, in Delta, there is no political agenda at all, and funny enough, those of them in the state are too sophisticated to be used for the prosecution of a political agenda by anyone. So it is absolutely untrue that governors of the South South states are going to use these youths for their elections.

As a governor elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, are you not disturbed that the party appears to be enmeshed in crisis as a result of the leadership debacle in the Presidency?

PDP is not in any crisis. If you are talking about the Presidency, it is a different thing.

But the Presidency is a product of the party…
I disagree with you. The presidency is a product of Nigerians. PDP only brought candidates and the people voted for them. There is no doubt that every Nigerian is disturbed about what has been happening in the Presidency. But as governors, we are making effort to ensure that whatever the case is, it is not capable of derailing democracy in the country. That is the concern of all of us, including you. I believe that there is some stability now with the Acting President in place. But let us watch how it is going to play itself out.

At the meetings of the Governors' Forum, you reportedly played a key role in the events preceding the proclamation of Jonathan as Acting President. Why did it take the governors so long before coming out?

I will ask, why did it take Nigerians that long? First of all, the governors run their states. We only try to interfere at the federal level when we think what is happening at that level will affect the national polity. So it was not the business of the governors to start dealing with issues at that level. The issue at hand was exclusive to the Presidency whether or not as at when the President was leaving for treatment, it was right for him to transmit a letter or not. It was first and foremost an issue that should have been dealt with at the federal level, I mean between the National Assembly and the Presidency. So it was not for us to interfere in the matter. We only came in when we saw that if it was allowed to go on like that, it was capable of drawing us back as a nation because Nigerians were becoming concerned. We came together and said we cannot fold our hands. So, it did not take us too long at all.

The return of ailing President Yar'Adua created a disturbing twist in the Presidency, particularly with regards to who is in charge…

The question of who is in charge does not arise at all under the present circumstance. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is in charge as the commander-in-chief because President Yar'Adua is still ill. There is an Acting President and commander-in-chief following the resolution of the National Assembly. That position remains and until it is reviewed otherwise Jonathan is effectively in charge. There is no dispute at all. But then, when things happen, people just speculate and in the course of that they create confusion.

That is what is happening. There is no dispute about the leadership of Jonathan as placed on him by Nigerians through the National Assembly.

There is said to be pressure from some quarters on you to run again in 2011. Have you conceded to the pressure?

Let me first of all finish this tenure (laughter). The time has not come for things like that to be discussed. When we get there will cross it. But let me say this, once you are elected, even before you are sworn in, people will start talking about your second tenure, because the position really does not just belong to you alone. As a governor, I have a driver or drivers that are enjoying that position as they are governor's drivers. I have orderlies, policemen on my convoy and others like that enjoying the privilege of being close to the governor. That office is not just for the occupant alone. Others who are around him naturally will want to continue to enjoy such prestige and privileges.

The whole thing about re-run starts from such people. To be candid with you, from them it is carry go until he gets the maximum he is constitutionally entitled to, so that they can be part of the action. Let me complete this tenure and see what happens first because everything is in God's hand and His time is the best. You will recall that I just won at the Appeal Court in Benin and that alone has to be savoured first before any other thing.