Amnesty Programme: Perspectives on Sustainability

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In Nigeria, the hitherto popular trend whereby certificate was seen as a meal ticket is no longer in vogue. This is largely due to massive unemployment. There are three categories of unemployed people: those who have no marketable skills and talents even at the rudimentary level. The second category comprises people who are educated but have no skills that can fit with the dynamics of the economy. This has resulted in a mismatch between the educational system and the economy. While the economy is not funding the educational system adequately, the products of the system cannot function effectively in any sector of the economy. The third category consists of people who have skills that are needed by the economy but most of the real sectors of the economy are moribund hence such skilled workers are often unemployed or at best under-employed. With the passage ot time, unemployment poses a grave and growing danger to the stability of Nigeria.

For the past couple of years, the unemployment scenario has been worsened by the global economic recession. Under these turbulent times, a successful economic development strategy must focus on improving the skills of the workforce, especially the task of raising a formidable army of intermediate manpower, reduce the cost of doing business through the massive provision of infrastructure, entrenching a favourable tax regime and utilizing the distinctive advantage at the disposal of the State to compete and thrive within the context of the global economy. Again, the system should have built-in checks to ensure that it is running in the right direction. As Winston Churchill rightly said” However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results” It does appear that getting the strategy right is the most crucial component in any policy implementation process.

There is a critical perspective of the Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta scholars and analysts have inadvertently omitted namely the Sustainability component of the programme. SD is a pattern of resources use, which seeks to meet human needs of the present, but also for generations to come. As popularized by the Brundtland Commission, SD is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

In fact, 'sustainability" was employed to describe an economy "in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems." Translated into human capacity building, sustainability is taken to mean endowing people with skills, abilities and competences capable of manipulating economic processes and at the same time providing a mechanism for employing such skilled manpower to increase productivity.

In Nigeria, one of the programmes that need built-in sustainability criteria is the Amnesty Programme of the Federal Government. I am now convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that the Kingsley Kuku administered Amnesty Programme, AP, has created tremendous impact in terms of training Niger Delta youths and enhancing their capacities for a re-engineered economy in the Region and by extension Nigeria. I have clear evidence that more than any programme, the AP has been the most aggressive in terms of human capacity building in all its ramifications.

Niger Delta youths have inundated the training institutes in Ghana, South Africa, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, India and so many countries around the world. Soon, the Niger Delta will produce lots of pipeline and Under-water Welders, Pilots, Boat Builders, Seafarers, Marine Engineers and ICT gurus among others. The most critical question then would be: Where are we going to get these skilled youths either gainfully employed or enable them employ themselves to deliver value for and enhance productivity? This question has become all the more necessary because most of the hitherto existing industries in the Niger Delta such as the Aluminum Smelting Company at Ikot Abasi, scores of Industries such as Michelin, WaterGlass Boat building Company, West African Glass Industries, Pabod Breweries, the Cement Company at Okpella, National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria, NAFCON, to mention just a few, have either gone underground or driven out of the country by the excessively high operational costs due largely to the absence of needed infrastructure. Perhaps, the only industries that would provide a short-term buffer are the Liquefied Natural Gas Companies, the Refineries – which at present are operating at less than desirable capacity, aggravated by policy flip-flops, failed privatization attempts, worsened by the empire building tendencies of the privileged few.

From the aforementioned scenario, what should occupy the mind of the Federal Government is to revamp some of the moribund industries, revitalize ailing ones and build new industries that are capable of creating jobs for the skilled youths. Indeed, the Niger Delta people has to pursue entrepreneurial capitalism and urgently too.

In economic sustainability, the key building blocks are information, integration, and participation and inter-dependence. It is a process which advocates the development of all aspects of human life affecting sustenance, which involves the acquisition of skills, employment generation and sustaining the productive capacities of industries. I share the views of a Briton I met recently in Port Harcourt, who has worked in Nigeria for 54 years now. He holds that the talents of all African countries put together cannot match the huge talents in Nigeria, but according to him, the missing link is entrepreneurial leadership. Absence of entrepreneurial capitalism is one of the broken bridges we need to reconstruct, for that is the gap between Nigeria's enormous natural endowments and development.

Planning requires that the Federal Government should provide an enabling environment for private investors to use cutting edge technology to invest massively in agriculture with specific emphasis on our comparative advantage such as rice cultivation, shrimp cultivation, deep sea fishing with trawlers, and other agro-allied industries, but this can only happen when there is uninterrupted power supply, good transportation system, which presupposes the existence of good road infrastructure. With the basic infrastructure and investment security, the President does not need to embark on a trade delegation to scout for investors; Foreign Direct Investment would be a natural corollary. The implication is that for the AP to achieve its overarching objective, the Federal Government in synergy with private investors and other international development partners must consciously invest in the Amnesty Programme, especially the post- skills acquisition period. The States should not be left out in this endeavour.

In the wake of 2009, militancy in the Niger Delta had virtually crippled Nigeria's economy. Investment inflow to the upstream sub-sector of the oil industry had diminished; foreign investors who persevered to stay on became so exasperated that they had to leave for Ghana, Angola, as crude oil production reached its nadir. In fact, Nigeria's capacity to grow meat its quota of oil production faced acute threat such it had become obvious that peace, security and sustainable development was in the region.

As pointed out by the Amnesty Chief Hon. Kingsley Kuku, in 2008 alone, it was estimated that Nigeria lost over N3 trillion as a result of militancy in the Niger Delta. I think the successful management of the programme by the Presidency through the Office of the S.A. on the AM is one of the strongest statements the Jonathan administration has made towards his commitment to developing the region. Little wonder, that the office of the S.A. has sent more than 5,000 youths to both formal schools and various vocational training centres both within and outside the country, with several others lined up for placement in various reintegration centres in Nigeria.

Through meaningful partnerships and synergy between the Amnesty Programme operators on one hand and the Local Governments Councils, States and international development partners on another. In the Niger Delta Region, the establishment of the fish industry and the agric-sector will create direct impact on the youths who are now acquiring various skills.

As pessimism gives way for robust optimism, the ingenuity of Hon. Kingsley Kuku in monitoring and tracking the progress of the programme in the various training institutes is commendable. Kuku's uncanny ability to supervise the youths is satisfactory and his ingenuity to navigate through conflictual turfs demonstrates his passion for the job. Every job and whatever success that is achieved is a portrait of the person who does the job. When I compare the early, turbulent of the programme and the strides now, I can only lavishly concede that some measure of success has been achieved. I am persuaded to hold the view that if performance is the sole criterion to autograph ones name in excellence, Hon. Kinsley Kuku is doing just that. Ultimately, adequate funding coupled with government's political will are critical success factors that will determine the sustainability of the AP.

Idumange John, is Fellow, Institute of Chartered Economists of Nigeria

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Articles by Idumange John