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Assessing benefits of Presidential Amnesty Programme extension

President Muhammadu Buhari, in his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015 had doused the apprehension among stakeholders to the effect that the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) may end in December 2015. “The amnesty programme in the Niger Delta is due to end but the Federal Government intends to invest heavily in the projects and programmes currently in place.

“I call on the leadership and people in these areas to cooperate with the federal and state governments in the rehabilitation programmes which will be streamlined and made more effective’’, the president had promised. Further to this statement in July 2015, the president demonstrated his commitment to the continuity of the programme by appointing retired Brig-Gen. Paul Boroh as the Coordinator of PAP with a mandate to streamline its activities.

It would be recalled that the administration of former President Umaru Yar’Adua initiated the programme in 2009 to address protests and agitators against the perceived oppression and neglect of the Niger Delta region.

The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan also continued the programme following the demise of Yar’Adua in 2010. Stakeholders note that the programme is useful, especially to its more than 30,000 direct beneficiaries. They note that ending the programme without a clear exit plan can return the region to the days of violence and sabotage of the national economy.

Concerned individuals and groups in the region such as the Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide, therefore, solicit the extension of the programme. Mr Udengs Eradiri, President, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), said that there were issues bordering on training of some set of former militants, increasing wave of insecurity in the region and lack of a clear post-amnesty plan, among others, that had yet to be resolved.

Similarly, a group – Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative, highlighted non-payment of outstanding allowances as other lingering issues. The group’s National President, Mr Reuben Wilson, also alleged that the Federal Government had not fulfilled some promises for the region. However, Boroh recently announced an exit plan for the programme designed to run until 2018 during which some of the challenges could be addressed.

Stakeholders therefore commend the move, describing it as a demonstration of Buhari’s deference to the yearnings of the people as well as his commitment to lasting peace in the Niger Delta. Boroh said at a news conference in Abuja that he would immediately develop a template that would ensure a successful winding up of the programme. He said that a task force had been raised to work out and implement the exit strategy with timeline that would ensure that national security was not compromised.

Highlighting the importance of the plan, Boroh noted that the exercise was a significant step in the amnesty programme. The coordinator stated that 17,322 of 30,000 former agitators in the programme had received vocational and technical trainings in welding, aviation, computer technology, leadership, marine technology, entrepreneurship and seamanship, among others, both within and outside the country.

He explained that the remaining 12,678 former agitators, who had yet to benefit, would be trained and empowered within the two-year exit period. According to him, the first set of 3,232 beneficiaries trained as entrepreneurs, has been given starter-packs and is in the process of exiting the programme.

He noted that their exit would save the Federal Government more than N2.5 billion in stipend payments. “The second batch of 1,042 beneficiaries is receiving starter-packs to establish and the batch will soon leave the programme which will result in another savings for government this year,’’ he explained. Boroh added that the Amnesty Office was planning to exit an additional 2,958 beneficiaries by the end of 2016, depending on budgetary allocation and release. This, he said, would save government an additional N2.3 billion also in monthly stipend payments.

He said the Amnesty Office had engaged 78 vendors to empower an additional 1,225 beneficiaries, noting that their exit would save the government another N955.5 million annually. The coordinator also said that those empowered and exited would create employment opportunities in the Niger Delta region through the establishment of Small and Medium Enterprises.

At the inauguration of the distribution of starter-packs in Warri recently, some stakeholders, including trainers and benefiting former agitators, commended the Federal Government for the gesture. Mr Samson Fetimi, the Managing Director of Glasfa Continental Ltd., which partnered the PAP in the vocational training programme, empowerment and business set-up, said that emphasis would move to mentoring because of his organisation’s interest in the success of its trainees.

He observed that the starter-packs, mostly tools, were handed to beneficiaries based on their specific areas of trainings. Also, a youth leader, Mr Joel Bisina, applauded the Federal Government for its commitment to peace and development in the Niger Delta region.

He noted that the skills acquisition and vocational training component of the programme would greatly help to arrest youth unemployment and restiveness in the region. Similarly, Mr James Livingstone, a computer science trainee, thanked the government for the gesture, saying he was proud to be part of one of the achievements of PAP in the area of entrepreneurship. “I was trained as an entrepreneur on foodstuff business and I was given relevant items in addition to a shop where I sell.

“My brothers and I no longer need to go after white collar jobs because the shop is currently sustaining us.“When Buhari won the presidential election, I thought the change he promised during the campaigns would sweep out Amnesty Programme, but now that he has given extra two years; for that, we are grateful to him,’’ Livingstone said.

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