KUKU, EX-MILITANTS AND THE AMNESTY PROGRAMME
When the federal government under the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua made the proclamation of amnesty for Niger Delta militants on June 25, 2009, not many believed it was going to make any meaningful impact in the activities of the agitators in the region.
In fact, many had doubted whether the government was truly going to fulfil its side of the deal, which has to do with the pledge to institute programmes to assist the disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and provision of integration support, after the militants must have declared their willingness and readiness to surrender their arms, unreservedly forsake militancy and sign an undertaking to that effect.
In his proclamation speech, after accepting the recommendations of the Presidential Panel constituted to set out the terms, procedures and processes of granting of an amnesty to the Niger Delta militants, the late President pointed out in very clear terms that, 'the offer of amnesty is predicated on the willingness and readiness of the militants to give up all illegal arms in their possession, completely renounce militancy in all its ramifications unconditionally, and depose to an undertaking to this effect. It is my fervent hope that all militants in the Niger Delta will take advantage of this amnesty and come out to join in the quest for the transformation of our dear nation.'
Today, it may not be wrong to say that the amnesty programme ably and adeptly coordinated by Hon. Kingsley Kuku, has made significant impact in the restoration of peace in the Niger Delta, a region that was hitherto known to be the seal of violence and massive destruction with the doings of the militants.
This, irrefutably, may be the reason why Yar'Adua despite his death has continued to receive accolades from most Nigerians for considering the option of amnesty in the long search for peace in the area. Goodluck Jonathan the then Vice President and now President, has equally received commendation and applause for deeming it fit to ensure the sustenance of the programme.
It is the belief of many that the amnesty declaration remains the most genuine, valiant and profound effort made by any federal governmentsince the country's Independence to tackle the agitation for fairness, equity and development in the oil-rich Niger Delta. It is seen to have been the most effective tool employed by any government in addressing critical national issue.
When asked recently in an interview to give his impression about the amnesty programme, the Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman had this to say: 'My take on the amnesty programme is that the amnesty was the much needed intervention.
We don't need to look far to see why it was needed and why it was a necessary intervention. We were as a country in a basket case. As at the time it was thought out the country was in a basket case.
Thank God the then President, late Umaru Musa Yar'Adua had the wisdom, foresight and understanding to recognise the need to make the amnesty offer to the Niger Delta militants at that time. If he hadn't at that material time, only God knows what it would have been today. That programme has not just been successful; it has saved us a lot.'
Refuting the claim in some quarters that the programme has been a total failure, the Senator said: 'I don't know the indices used in scoring the amnesty programme low. By the indices we have, before the amnesty programme the production output of the country was abysmal and was in the region of just about one million barrels a day.
With the amnesty programme we raised it to 2.4 million barrels a day. Such indices will naturally tell you that amnesty is the reason why things are looking stable and back to normal in the Niger Delta.'
However, there had been one form of threat or the other by different groups of ex-militants to return the creek. Some of them have been complaining of the non-payment of certain allowances due to them after their rehabilitation. Some feel that the programme is moving at a very slow pace, wondering how long they will wait for them to be sent out for training. There are also complaints about the outright exclusion of some youths from the programme.
On August 7, 2012, for instance, hundreds of ex-militants invaded the Secretariat of the Nigerian Union Journalists (NUJ) in Warri, Delta State, threatening to burn down the building. The former Niger Delta agitators were said to have brandished different kind of weapons and went with gallons of petrol to burn down the NUJ office, because, according to them, journalists were not on hand to hear their grievance over their unpaid monthly stipends.
Few days after, another group of ex-militants reportedly converged on Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital to issue a one-week ultimatum to the presidency – threatening total disorder if their demands were not responded to.
The threat of the former Niger Delta agitators, said to be numbering 6,166 was contained in a communiquÃ© signed by twelve ex-militant Generals. They disclosed in the communiquÃ© that, 'the Transition Safety Allowances (AST) which has long been paid to some leaders have not been paid to these six thousand one hundred and sixty-six members which was agreed during the time of laying down our arms for the sake of peace and rapid development of the region.'
The federal government, having seen the way peace and stability have come to stay in the Niger Delta region should not hesitate to take drastic steps, in addressing whatever challenges facing the amnesty programme. I do not think that any amount will be too much to run a programme that has paved way for the advancement of the country's economy due to increased level of oil production resulting from the introduction of amnesty.
At a press conference in Abuja to mark the third year anniversary of the amnesty pact in June this year, Kuku, the Presidential Adviser in charge of the Amnesty Office, had revealed that the programme has saved the nation about N6 trillion in production gain since its inception.