By Rachael Abujah
President Goodluck Jonathan will on May 29 conclude his tenure as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, while retired Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari will be sworn-in as the new president,
Observers, however, note that one of the major achievements of the outgoing president is the Presidential Amnesty Programme put in place for ex-militants in the Niger-Delta area.
They note that the programme, which was initiated during the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration, has played pivotal roles in stabilising the region and helping the country to increase its crude oil production.
Jonathan, while speaking at the graduation ceremony of the last batch of the ex-militants at the Amnesty Camp in Obubra, Cross River, said that he was happy with the outcome of the Presidential Amnesty Programme.
He attributed the buoyancy of the Nigerian economy to the relative success of the amnesty programme initiated for repentant restive youths of the Niger Delta region.
He noted that the country’s oil production now stood between 2.6 million and 2.8 million barrels per day, attributing this to the effectiveness of the amnesty initiative.
Jonathan recalled that in 2008 alone, the nation lost about N3 trillion during the peak of the activities of the Niger Delta militants, adding that the current high oil production in the country signified the success of the amnesty programme.
“It got to a point where Nigeria’s oil exports dwindled to as low as 800, 000 bpd, compared with a targeted 2.2 million bpd for the first quarter of 2009.
“In 2008 alone, it was estimated that Nigeria lost over N3 trillion as a result of militancy in the Niger Delta,’’ he said.
The president noted that the amnesty programme and the determination of his administration facilitated the restoration of peace and security in the area, saying that peace as a sine qua non for national development.
“It is when we live in peace as a united nation that we can feed our teeming population, tackle unemployment and confront head-on infrastructural challenges,’’ he said.
Observers note that a lot of the ex-militants have undergone skills’ acquisition training, while others were sent to schools abroad for programmes that will turn them into useful and productive citizens.
The Amnesty Office says that 4,149 ex- militants have been trained and placed in skills’ acquisition centres or enrolled for formal education in Nigeria.
Besides, the office says that 20,192 ex-militants have undergone disarmament and demobilisation training, while they have been fully re-integrated into the civil society.
Another set of 6,616 ex-militants have also undergone non-violence training in Obubra under the second phase of the Amnesty Programme, it adds.
Mr Kingsley Kuku, Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta matters, said that ex-combatants are making the best use of the opportunities which the programme provided for them.
He, however, warned that undue politicisation of the Presidential Amnesty Programme could jeopardise the achievements of the programme, underscoring the need to sustain the programme for the peace and stability of the nation.
“The programme is not political; rather it is a programme that is critical to the economic survival of Nigeria; it should not be swept away by any government, irrespective of the party in power,’’ he said.
Kuku said that the amnesty programme had rendered credible and selfless services to the people of Niger Delta; adding that it had particularly promoted peace and stability in the region and the nation at large.
He explained that the programme was established to formulate, coordinate and execute the development programmes which the Federal Government put in place for the Niger Delta region.
Kuku called on President-elect Buhari to sustain the amnesty initiative because of its usefulness in efforts to ensure peace in the country.
He, however, said that he had received the assurance of some key members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that the programme would be sustained by the incoming government.
“The amnesty programme is one of the major reasons for the reduction of criminality, kidnapping, oil bunkering and other vices in the Niger Delta,
“I am sure that the president-elect will not want to take us back to that era of insecurity in the region; I am certain that he wants peace for the entire country,’’ he said.
Kuku stressed that most of the 30,000 youths of the Niger Delta area, who had undergone various skills’ acquisition training in different skills, had become the breadwinners of their families.
“They are now gainfully employed and they are taking care of their families,’’ she added.
“Some of them have since returned from Italy where they had gone to learn cookery and the Italians retained 15 of the 40 ex-militants who went for the training,’’ he said.
Kuku said that the specific focus of the amnesty programme in 2015 was on maritime training, adding that more than 1,300 ex-militants were studying different courses in Nigerian universities.
He said that the youths were encouraged to get fully involved in the programme so as to enable them to partake in the area’s The UNION Features Tuesday, May 19, 2015 25 www.theunion.com.ng development efforts, while developing themselves.
“Thousands of the beneficiaries of the amnesty programme have been placed in globally renowned schools to pursue formal education.
“They have also acquired first-class training in reputable institutions and facilities, particularly those outside the country.
“Some of them have become underwater engineers, commercial marine divers, crane operators, aircraft pilots and seafarers.
“Others have also become marine engineers, marine mechanics, auto mechanics, boat builders, safety and health officers, oil and gas drillers and ICT specialists’’ he said.
Kuku reiterated that the amnesty programme had transformed lives of the ex-militants, saying: “I hope the incoming government will not tamper with the laudable projects of the programme.’’
He said that if the programme was tampered with, thousands of lives would be negatively affected, while such action would not augur well for the country’s security.
“I know the incoming government is quite aware of where we are coming from; we are coming from a situation where we produced a meagre 685,000 barrels of oil per day in May 2008.
“Today, we produce between 2.2 million barrels and 2.6 million barrels per day,’’ he said.
In a nutshell, Kuku said that more than 19, 112 ex-agitators had received training in universities or vocational skills’ acquisition centres within and outside the country.
He noted that 14,596 of them had successfully completed their training in the institutions.
“More 600 ex-militants are currently studying in reputable British universities, while some 300 ex-militants are studying in reputable universities in the U.S.
“We still have some of the ex-agitators studying in schools in Canada, Ukraine, Russia, South Africa, Philippine and Malaysia,’’ he added.
Kuku said that more than 2,072 ex-agitators had been able to secure gainful employments, while some of them had been empowered to set up their own businesses.
He said that several youths had been sent to South Africa and Israel for agricultural training.
He also said that some ex-militants went to India for ICT training, while others received training in aviation and marine institutions in countries such as Poland.
“These are skills that are of strategic economic interest to the nation and the oilrich Niger Delta region,’’ he said
Kuku said that the Amnesty Office had been able to produce 66 commercial pilots and 61 aviation maintenance engineers.
He said that the pilots had their training in reputable flying schools in South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Greece.
He added that nine of the commercial pilots were currently undergoing their jettype rating training at the renowned CAE Oxford Aviation Academy.
The Niger Delta Nationalities Forum (NDNF) has also drummed up support for the Presidential Amnesty Programme, saying that the initiative has particularly boosted youth development programmes in the region.
Its spokesman, Mr Manager Seigha, said that detractors of the amnesty initiative were not doing the nation any good, insisting that the programme was one of most successful initiatives of the Yar’Adua/ Jonathan administration.
“We realised that some persons have been using the media to make uninformed statements about the amnesty programme, making it a subject of party politics,’’ he said.
Seigha reiterated that any plan to jettison the amnesty programme would not be in the interest of the country, especially the people of the Niger Delta.
He stressed that the amnesty programme had been very successful, as more than 26,000 ex-militants, who registered for the programme, had been rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society.
He called on the state and local governments to key into the amnesty programme.
Seigha urged agencies like Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to set up developmental programmes, particularly aimed at assisting the youth in the region.
All the same, there is a general consensus that tangible efforts should be made to preserve the Presidential Amnesty Programme and even diversify its schemes.