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AMNESTY PROGRAMME: A TOOLKIT FOR CAPACITY BUILDING IN AFRICA.

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The discovery of oil wealth has been central to the history of modern industrial capitalism. But in Nigeria, as elsewhere, the discovery of oil is widely believed to be a curse rather than a blessing. Glaringly, the system has entrenched a repugnant culture of excessive venality and profiteering among the political class. Oil has increased the nation's Corruption Perception Index, CPI. Now, even law makers from the far flung desert dictate what happens to it while the producers are inching closer to ecological annihilation. Fine, they have gotten a hefty shove of the national case.

Nigeria is a crude oil mono-culture and a rentier state par excellence because it relies exclusively on foreign exchange on crude oil. The implication is that there is exceptionally high value for oil and a correspondingly high level of external interventions in shaping the affairs of the country. Essentially, Nigeria has less subject to the internal countervailing pressures. This explains why the conflict in the NDR snowballed into a mini-form of insurgency until the Amnesty.

When the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, was initiated by the Late President Yar'Adua and current President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan most people (Including this writer) expressed acute pessimism because I had conjectured that the programme would ultimately become part of the Nigerian experience. If I may recall, I am one of the first critics to write an article on 'Why the Amnesty Programme, AP, can fail'. My reasons then were basically three.

I saw the AP as a distraction considering the hurried and ill-conceived manner it was introduced on one hand and on another Government rushed its implementation of the programme. My real fear was that the Federal Government wanted to keep the oil taps flowing in the Region without giving anything back in return. For a problem has spanned five decades, I expected that the FGN would engage in broad-based stakeholders before arriving at a well-thought out can arrive at well-thought out solutions and strategies of implementing the programme. I also considered that some of the State Governors had spent so much money on security votes, part of which they diverted to their private pockets. Such State Governors opposed the idea of the AP due largely because of the shoddy manner it was initially run. Now things are a lot different and all that is history.

So I had my misgivings because of the tokenistic approach of the entire process. At that time, the process was conceived not to have built-in transparency and accountability components hence there was a nugget of criticisms about the modus operandi of the PAP. I also felt it was not proper for the Federal Government to negotiate directly with militants because of the public perception that it would put a stamp of legitimacy on militancy. Again by dolling out cash, I felt the goal of rehabilitating them to acquire skills and integrate them as indispensable members of our civil community would be negatived. It was the cash-and carry approach and the high-handedness of the former Amnesty regime that culminated in series of crises. Most people also reasoned that money would lead to divide and rule among the heads of the various group and this could lead to the endgame of coordinated militancy in the Niger Delta Region.

However, the Kingsley Kuku strategy appears to have yielded robust results and my earlier fears have been allayed. Since Hon. Kingsley Kuku mounted the saddle, there has never been any reported case of youth violence at the Training camps. He quickly went to Ghana to resolve the misunderstanding between the ex-militants and some tenants where they were domiciled. So in terms of timely decision making, the Amnesty Chief is not only alert but consults widely before taking actions. For me strategy is what matters and Kuku has got the strategy right. One of the fundamental tenets of management is that once the leader gets the strategy right, the followers can manage themselves. This is just what Kingsley Kuku has done. He is got the mien, the courage, the right approach and strategy.

Hon. Kingsley Kuku has adopted a three-pronged approach. Firstly, he has mounted a vigorous campaign to rise of a class of intermediate manpower in under-water (Algon welding), piloting, seafaring and marine engineering. Most of the skills and vocations include: auto mechanics, Boat building, Safety programmes and ICT. Secondly, the Amnesty is bent on sponsoring Niger Delta Youths who are interested in acquiring higher education. Accordingly, the Programme has fully paid the fees of ND Students studying in the UK. Ukraine; Russia, South Africa and the United States. This kind gesture is to complement the various scholarship programmes embarked upon by the various States. Thirdly, the overriding objective is to train an armyof middle and high caliber manpower to provide services in the various oil, gas and agro-allied industries. When these people are fortified with skills, the Region will not depend on crude oil alone as a source of foreign exchange. Today, certified pilots have emerged from the capacity initiatives of the PAP.

The fact that the Amnesty programme is designed to diversify the economy is a unique development that appears to be reversing the Resource Curse in the ND Region. It is against this background that the Kingsley Kuku led Amnesty Programme has changed the economic contours of the Niger Delta Region. Indeed, the Amnesty Programme should be emulated by other development agencies such as the Niger Delta Development Commission, the Basin Development Authorities and other international development partners such as UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF,etc. The principal goal is to create jobs for the youths, which has stifled development in the Region

Owing to my keen interest in the rehabilitation of Niger Delta Youths, I have taken more than a passing interest in the entire gamut of the process ranging from selection of trainees, career selection and guidance, and identification of the appropriate training suitable for the recipients. The process of networking with credible training Institutes across the world requires enormous dexterity and experience, and Kingsley Kuku has demonstrated that to the satisfaction of all objective-minded watchers of the programme.

In discussing the fruits of the PAP, most people point at the primacy of economic benefits of increased oil production and relative peace in NDR. However, there are other intangible benefits that far outweigh the economic boom heralded by the PAP. The transformational activities offered by the PAP haveextinguished the belief of the ex-agitators that resort to violence is more powerful than nonviolence. Ex-combatants have been relieved of the burden of violence and now, youths have been given the opportunity of career guidance to realize their aspirations in terms of education, vocational and entrepreneurial skills.

With peace restored in the Region, oil companies and associated companies reopened shut-in wells. The result is that Nigeria's oil production increased from 800,000 Barrels per day to 2.7 mbpd. With cessation of hostilities, government has assured the international community fill its OPEC quota and be trusted by major consumer nations to meet its contractual obligations. Oil bunkering reduced Signs that the process would succeed accelerated economic development across the nation. With renewed confidence in the international oil market, Nigeria has started to exercise enormous influence in OPEC. The increase in Nigeria's quota of oil production is a result of reduced incidence of kidnapping, which provides the right environment for the repairs of oil and gas infrastructures damaged during the period of militant agitation. It has also provided ample opportunity for contractors handling developmental projects a lee-way to fast-track sustainable development in the NDR

I attribute the success of Kingsley Kuku to a couple of factors. He has been involved in the Niger Delta struggle and that has given him first class knowledge of the needs of youths in the Region. Thus, in managing the process, he gets the youths emotionally involved to appreciate the essence of the programme and what they stand to gain when they painstakingly undergo the required training and acquire the requisite skills. Bringing his age-long passion to bear on the youths and inculcating high moral values in the recipients is a radical departure from the first phase of the Amnesty Programme.

Essentially, the selection of skills and programmes for the repentant militants is a critical component of managing the process. Vocational and specialized training in Boat Building; Under-water/pipeline welding, Information and Communication Technology; Sea faring, piloting, marine engineering, among others are suitable for the Niger Delta environment. He is also visionary because such skills are relevant to the emerging hydro-carbon industry. Well informed reports and my personal observations shows that the Amnesty Chief makes frequent visits to track the progress of trainees especially those engaged in postgraduate studies. This gesture does not just give a strong lubricant for recipients to take their studies seriously but also provides enormous psychological support for them.

In all modesty, Kuku has turned around the fortunes of the programme such that thoe who had earlier criticized the programme have seen the wisdom behind the programme. Whereas this article does not intend to chronicle the achievements of the Amnesty Programme, it is difficult to ignore the fact that on 20 April 2011,38 ex-militants were sent to the United States for skills acquisition training, as part of its post-amnesty programme. This batch of trainees was meant to specialize in Marine Mechanics at WyoTech, in Daytona, Florida.

The programme provides training in inboard gasoline-powered marine engines, outboard motor mechanics. I knew when the Amnesty Chief in July ferried 96 youths to the Philippines to acquire sklls in Seafaring. A huge chunk of Niger Delta Youths are in Ghana for underwater and pipeline welding. Some are in India studying ICT, which has become indispensable in a fast globalizing world. About 30 youths were sent to the Jim Business School in Malaysia, 212 to Ghana for vocational training, 20 youths to South Africa for training in piloting and others in Russia and the United States. So far, the Amnesty Programme under Kingsley Kuku has sent over 1800 youths for training abroad.

In appreciation of the strides made by the Amnesty programme, the Akwa Ibom State Government praised the Rehabilitation and Reintegration Programme of the Federal Government and expressed gratitude to the coordinators and made a passionate plea that the 155 ex-militant beneficiaries of the state government's Integrated Farmers Scheme. This has been accomplished within the framework of the programme. The lofty Federal Government Amnesty Program which was procured at great material, financial and human costs must be accorded commensurate attention and pursued vigorously to a logical conclusion in view of the devastating consequences on national stability posed by the collapse of the ongoing peace process.

Perhaps the most critical success indicator is the peace in the Niger Delta Region which has led to the increase in the production of crude oil. Today, Nigeria produces about 2.4 million barrels of crude oil per day. To consolidate on the peace already achieved, the Amnesty Programme partnered the School of Communication Studies, Pan African University and a seminar series was organized. The main aim of such seminars was to generate the ideas and modalities that could shape a new thinking in community relations by companies operating in the Niger Delta region and elsewhere in Nigeria. This is not to say the Programme does not have its gray areas and the Third Phase is being put in place to remedy the deficits.

Under the Special Adviser to the President and coordinator of the PAP Hon. Kingsley Kuku administration, the range of capacity building programmes has been extended to postgraduate studies in the natural and environmental sciences, training in piloting, shipping and other disciplines. While some of the youths who did not initially embrace the PAP allege that non-agitators are benefiting from the programmes, it should be appreciated that the programme was designed to rehabilitate youths from the Region.

My major concern is that when these youths with skills come back to Nigeria, they will be enthusiastic about practicing what they have learnt. Nigeria's inability to industrialize poses a great challenge. More importantly, some of the skilled people will be self-employed hence they need robust starter packs. This underscores calls for the adequate funding of the Programme. The Nigeria Local Content Office should streamline policies on how to accommodate the youths in the Marine, Tourism, ICT and petroleum industries. It is also critical to incorporate non-militants because the frustration and environmental injustice in the Region affect everyone.

My consolation is that President Goodluck Jonathan is in a familiar turf and would see reasons why more resources should be committed to sustain the peace in the Region. My verdict as a stakeholder and a social critic is that the Amnesty Chief is generously endowed with a team building spirit, the right organizational skills, the passion and above all the right strategy to push the programme beyond traditional frontiers

In a dynamic global economy, I think and strongly so, that the Amnesty Programme constitutes a comprehensive model for skills acquisition and capacity building in the West African sub-region, which economies are lagging. Ultimately, the Amnesty Programme operators will constitute the engine room for building skills and capacities. These are the programmes and methodologies that make the Amnesty programme UNIQUE. With the sustainability indicia ingrained in it, the Nigerian Amnesty Programme shall be a toolkit for skills development programme in continental Africa. WHAT KINGSLEY KUKU DESERVES IS AN AVALANCHE OF COMMENDATION FROM BENEFICIARIES AND STAKEHOLDERS ANS THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY IS NO EXCEPTION.

Idumange John
Is a policy analyst from the Niger Delta Region

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