Militarized PAP; Nengi and Suspended Students

By Jerome-Mario-Chijioke Utomi

If there is any action in recent weeks that glaringly confirm as true the words of Alabo (Dr) Nengi OON, 2nd National Vice President, Ijaw National Congress (INC), that the Presidential Amnesty Program is failing in its responsibilities because it was executed with militarization, rather than with civilization, it is the widely circulated statement signed by Mr. Freston Akpor, Special Assistant, and Media to the Interim Coordinator of PAP, Major-General Barry Ndiomu (Retd), announcing the suspension of two amnesty scholarship beneficiaries identified as Patrick Ipidei and Papems Peter Etolor.

The referenced statement reads in part; “The Presidential Amnesty Programme, (PAP) has suspended two students from its scholarship scheme over what it described as making spurious allegations against the leadership of the programme’’. We have received very disturbing reports of the horrendous activities of Messrs Patrick Ipidei and Papems Peter Etolor, two students under the ongoing PAP scholarship scheme.“Ipidei and Etolo had over time cultivated the habit of spreading falsehood and making spurious allegations against the management of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and its Interim Administrator, Maj-Gen. Barry Ndiomu (rtd)’’.

While the Amnesty letter announcing the suspension of the two scholarship beneficiaries was circulated on Saturday January, 2023, Nengi’s words on the marble was on its part, delivered on Tuesday November 29, 2022, at BON Hotel, Warri, Delta state, where he presented a paper, during a Niger Delta Economic Discourse Series put together by the management of GbaramatuVoice Newspaper, Warri with the theme; Presidential Amnesty Programme and Modular Refineries; Towards Sustainable Human Capital Development.

On that day, at that time and in that place, Nengi among other things stated; that the Amnesty Program is a Presidential policy that was executed with militarization rather than with civilianization. The program was poorly handled by military elements, which lacked capacity for mediation. Stakeholders were not given enough opportunities through the Post Amnesty Conference to discuss the best ways to implement the Amnesty Program. The Presidential Amnesty office lacks the personnel with the requisite skills set to manage the Amnesty Program.

Regrettably, the Presidential Amnesty proclamation he continued, did not factor-in mediation and conflict transformation. This is sequel to poor strategic conflict assessment of the Niger Delta struggle. Amnesty is no instrument for conflict resolution or conflict management. Amnesty is a general pardon of offence by the government. It is a deliberate overlooking of offenses against a government. It is a pardon to release criminally culpable persons from the just punishment of the Law. This explains why Asari Dokubo refused the Amnesty offer, and challenged its constitutionality in an Abuja High Court, on behalf of himself and members of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, and People’s Salvation Front respectively. Amnesty declaration without negotiation cannot deliver peace dynamics in a crisis situation. He concluded.

For me, when one juxtaposes Nengi’s words with the quoted portion of the suspension letter by PAP, it elicits the following questions; if not a militarized government, what stopped PAP leadership from telling the world spurious allegations against the leadership of the programme? If not a militarized environment, what else shall we call an agency that suspends students without fair hearing? If not an environment that is devoid of legitimate and democratic ethos, how shall we address an institution that frowns at citizens’ freedom of expression and makes no provision for questioning by stakeholders?

Even if an answer(s) is provided to the above questions, this piece believes and still believes that it will not in any appreciable way erase the feeling among stakeholders that PAP has become an agency where issues, controversies, half truths and inefficiencies have completely spread their wings.

There are particulars that support the above claims, and they are embedded in the remaining part of Mr. Nengi’s paper as presented at the event.

First, he remarked that the Presidential Amnesty Program had failed to address the fundamentals of the Niger Delta struggle. The rapid development of the region as promised has proven to be a mere political slogan. The three pillars of the Amnesty Program: Disarmament, rehabilitation and reintegration, are not faithfully, efficiently, and effectively implemented 13 years after the presidential proclamation. The beneficiaries of the Amnesty Program appear to be more victims of political deceit and manipulation.

Secondly, the disarmament phase of the Amnesty Program created a peaceful environment for the rapid development of the Niger Delta, and the rehabilitation, and reintegration of the Amnesty beneficiaries. But the Federal Government lacks the political will to implement the amnesty packages. There was no international guarantee and independent mediator between the Federal Government, and the people of the Niger Delta concerning the implementation of the Amnesty.

Thirdly, mediation according to him is a special form of negotiation, in which a neutral third party has a role. Mediation is a veritable conflict management tool for the settlement of dispute and conflict situations. The Amnesty proclamation had not culminated in conflict transformation. The poor implementation of the Amnesty Program is a “time bomb” that may explode, if the program is terminated chaotically. The aim of conflict transformation is to change the parties, their relationship, and the conditions that created the conflict. He concluded.

Niger Delta politicians, activists and others of Ijaw extractions; should be guided by the provisions of the Kaiama Declaration of December 1998; and focus on the fundamentals of the struggle, inherited from our revolutionary ancestry. The fundamentals of the struggle are resource control and ownership. The amnesty program offers us opportunities to re-strategize, and negotiate with the Federal Government from a position of strength.

As to the way out of this present lockjam, Nengi offered Presidential Amnesty Programm handlers some useful roadmaps.

Beginning with negotiation, he called for an urgent need to constitute a negotiation to negotiate with the Federal Government on how best to implement the marshall plan for the rapid development of the region. this according to him should be followed by a high powered delegation which must be sent to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: for the purpose of implementing the core recommendations of the Ledium Mitee Presidential Technical Committee on the Niger Delta

In addition to the above, he emphasized that the process for upward review of derivation formula enshrined in section 162 (2) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, be pursued through bipartisan approach from the Revenue mobilization, allocation and fiscal commission, to the presidency and all amnesty beneficiaries should be gainfully employed or adequately empowered, before the program be allowed to wind up

While noting that the amnesty program had become a cesspool of corruption, he called for the rehabilitation and reintegration phase of the amnesty program which should be approached with utmost seriousness and professionalism. The activists, pressure groups, political leaders etc, according to him, should convene post-amnesty conferences, and issue communiqués. This will intellectualize the struggle, and make it a national discourse for answer to the Niger Delta question.

He finally brought to the fore the fact that in some instances, monies for the boys are reduced to a very small amount of money; that is from Sixty Five Thousand Naira (N65,000.00) to sometimes Thirty Thousand Naira (N30,000.00) to Forty Thousand Naira (N40,000.00), an act carried out in collaboration between banks and leaders of various camps, and therefore recommended that, monies belonging to the boys should be paid directly to boys without short-changing the true owners who are bearing the said names.

This piece totally agrees with the following recommendations.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;[email protected]/08032725374

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