Tony Ailemen, Abuja
Federal government yesterday announced a two year deadline to end the current Amnesty programme in the Niger Delta saying it can no longer bear the cost of running it.
Government also announced that so far, 17,322 out of the 30,000 ex- militants have so far benefited from the five years old programme, also revealed that government has set up exit plans for the remaining 12678 that are yet to benefit.
Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Paul Boroh, a Retired Brigadier General in the Nigerian Army who also double as Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, while speaking with Journalists in Abuja yesterday, noted that the programme ought to have ended in December, 2015, but for lack of an exit strategy for the beneficiaries
” It is only Nigeria that is carrying out this kind of programme in the world. The cost is simply too high and under the current economic situation, Nigeria cannot continue to bear this burden”
General Boroh who paid glowing tributes to the initiators of the programme, however lamented that the absence of exit policy for the programme, made it impossible for government to end the Programe in 2015
” We have decided to push it forward to the next two years because it will not be right to end it abruptly without a proper exit plan”
He disclosed that the Government would be saving as much as N5. 64 billion in 2016 alone, by exiting some of the beneficiaries from the Programme which he described as significantly expensive to sustain especially as the country tackles dwindling resources.
Boroh who was appointed by President Buhari in August last year also disclosed that his office is presently in talks with relevant authorities- local and foreign to begin the rebuilding of the Nigeria Delta reg
He disclosed further that government has plans to ensure that the beneficiaries of the amnesty programmes are fully engaged and absorbed by companies in Nigeria, as part of the overall plans to provide employment for them after their trainings
He also noted that this is the first time the government was planning an exit policy in place for the Amnesty beneficiaries adding that his office has already set up a task force that would work out and implement the exit strategy of the Programme with timelines that would ensure that national security is not compromised.
“The aim is that this Programme should not be endless.. The good thing now is that it has an exit strategy. We cannot be paying so much without knowing when we are going to stop,” Boroh, a retired General stated.
“Like I said, It is an extremely expensive Programme, not every country can afford it. However, no amount of time, effort, and resources spent on achieving peace is a waste,” he added.
Giving details of the strategy, Boroh said the Presidential Amnesty Programme would be exiting 3,232 beneficiaries who have been trained as entrepreneurs and have received business and set up/starter packs.
Also affected, according to him are all beneficiaries of the Oil and Gas International Foundation (OGIF) Programme and the four hundred who his office has secured employment for.
Boroh noted specifically that by the end of this month, about 3,232 beneficiaries would leave, having gained from the entrepreneurship programmes that they were engaged and will save for government N2,250,960,000 in stipend payments in 2016.
A second batch of 1,042 who are currently being given starter packs to establish their individual businesses are also soon to exited from the Programme which would result in a further savings of about N812, 760,000.
He further explained that depending on budgetary allocation and release, the Amnesty office also plans to exit an additional 2,958 beneficiaries by the end of this year which would amount to a N2,307,240,000 savings that would otherwise have been spent on stipend payments.
“This exercise is a significant step in the five-year Amnesty Programme which had never exited any of the 30,000 beneficiaries,” Boroh told the Editors adding that, “it is also part of the exit strategies of the Presidential Amnesty Programme.”
The Amnesty Programme has in the past five years of its existence secured admission and awarded scholarships to 5,234 beneficiaries in tertiary institutions, out of who 3,082 gained admission within the country and 2,150 abroad. 272 of them have also graduated, figures show.
Already, the Amnesty office has opened offices in Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Edo and Delta- but it is yet to open Bayelsa, Imo, Ondo and Abia states inorder to bring its activities closer to ex-agitators for effective coordination.
Boroh noted that the Programme equally has opened offices in Nigeria’s mission in UK to afford students outlets to lay complaints rather than embarrassing the country anytime there are issues. He said there are also plans to similar offices in the USA, South Africa, Russia, Asia, among others.
He further stressed that apart from training beneficiaries, the Amnesty Programme has equally embarked on the domestication of all its programmes. Presently, five of its 49 training Centres are offshore while it has students in 131 tertiary institutions abroad.
But beginning 2015/2016 session, 95 percent of the student deployment has been for local institutions.
According to him, “There are two groups of people we are talking about- the 30,000 ex -agitators who are captured in the amnesty Programme. We have other persons that are within the area and there plans could be continuous, probably we will hand them over to the ministry of education for continuity.”