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Tension brews in Niger Delta over call to scrap amnesty programme

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Angry stakeholders and ex-agitators in Niger Delta have faulted call by an Ijaw leader and President of the Ijaw Peoples Association (IPA) in Great Britain and Ireland, Francis Akpanari, to terminate the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP).

The Ijaw leader said this in an interview with newsmen in London during the weekend.

“I don’t think the programme has worked the way they designed it and once it didn’t happen that way, it means that the programme is not working. Back in London, so many of the amnesty boys that were supposed to be going to school have stopped because their school fees were not paid.

“And they started coming to the association to beg for money. I know about seven of them that have been working in London without going ahead with the programme. To me, it isn’t a successful programme.

“I don’t know if there are some people that benefited from it but the students that genuinely went to study, most of them didn’t complete their studies. The idea was good but it was mismanaged by so many different people. It is not successful, they better stop it”, Akpanari stated.

Among those who condemned Akpanari’s call were the Ijaw National Congress (INC), the Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU), Forum for Ethnic Nationalities of the Niger Delta (FENND), ex-agitators and other leaders.

The President of INC, Prof. Benjamin Okaba, said it was wrong to call for the scrapping of PAP because of a few problems noting that most of the problems critics referred to disappeared immediately Col. Milland Dixon Dikio (rtd) was appointed the Interim Coordinator of PAP.

The INC president said that Dikio introduced some great changes in the scheme giving it a new face compared to what obtained in the past.

“If you look at the programme itself, the changes being introduced by the current administrator, Milland Dikio, have blocked a lot of loopholes.

“The truth is that people who benefit from such corrupt practices will certainly not be happy. But right now, things have changed somehow. We see that money meant for the boys directly get to them much better than what we used to have in the past.

“To fight corruption is not something that is easy. It will take some time. We believe that over time, if Dikio is consistent with this new approach to ensuring that whatever releases are made get to the persons, there might be some delays, at the end of the day, that will bring more benefit to the people and the purpose for which the programme was established will now be realised.

“I think it is wrong to call for the scrapping the programme because it has problems. We have to repair it. Let us repair it together and make it more workable. If there are issues, let them identify them and the administrator is somebody you can reach out to so that if there are things to work on, let him do so”, Okaba said.

He stressed that scrapping the programme was far from being the solution to whatever problem that beset the scheme.

“The Amnesty programme was set up for a purpose. Yes, it has not fully actualised that purpose, that does not warrant the scrapping of the programme in its entirety. Instead, what is obtainable with intervention agency programmes and policies will call for improvements so that the mandate given will be actualised”, he said.

The National Publicity Secretary, Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU), the apex Urhobo socio-cultural group, Chief Abel Oshevire, faulted the call to scrap the scheme describing it as “stupid and nonsensical”.

The UPU publicity secretary criticized what he described as some interests in Abuja for the plot but warned them to be “ready for the outcome of their stupid and nonsensical move”.

“How much does the amnesty programme cost annually, compared to what we make from the sales of crude oil? How much does the programme cost, compared to what we lose from illegal bunkering and a lack of local production facilities?”, he said.

Oshevire said although the programme would not run indefinitely, calls for scrapping it was ill-timed.

“This is not the right time. The polity is over heated. There is so much acrimony, suspicion, and mistrust in the country. This is not the right time for anybody to be calling for the scrapping of PAP”, he said.

Convener, Forum for Ethnic Nationalities of the Niger-Delta ( FENND), Dortimi Tawari Kester, accused Akpanari of playing politics, stressing that the call was “a joke taking too far”.

He noted instead of calling for the scrapping of the amnesty programme, Akpanari should find out if the scheme was being adequately funded by the government.

His words: “The question Akpanari should be asking is how regular has the federal government been meeting its financial commitment to the programme.

He praised the successes recorded by the amnesty programme, saying it had reduced youth restiveness in the region.

He posited: “The amnesty programme is succeeding and Milland Dikio is making everything possible for the programme to move forward. Akpanari should be talking about amending or improving the programme and not advocating its scrapping.”

In the same vein, a former President of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC ) Worldwide, Eric Omare, said Akpanari’s remarks were misplaced and unguarded.

He also explained that the reasons advanced by Akpanari were common challenges with human endeavours adding that through the scheme, many Niger Delta people, who never dreamt of obtaining higher education, had done so.

Omare, a lawyer, maintained: “I don’t agree with the reasons he gave and also don’t agree with his call. The truth is that the amnesty programme has made success in many respect. So many people that ordinarily will not contemplate approaching the four walls of a higher institution, today, are graduates. Some of them are Master’s and even Ph.D holders.

“We also have people, who up till this moment, are in different institutions of higher learning, especially the masses that are from low income earning families from the creeks of the Niger Delta. So I don’t agree with him.

“In every situation, there are bound to be challenges. Those things mentioned by the Ijaw People’s Association in Great Britain and Ireland, are usual challenges in any human endeavour. So they shouldn’t be a basis to call for the scrapping of the amnesty programme.

“On the reverse, our position has always been that the amnesty programme shouldn’t be stopped untill the last person is screened. Because that is the contract between those who accepted amnesty and the government of Nigeria; ‘drop your arms, we will reintegrate you into society and equip you to live a life of your own’.

“And until the last person, that contract between those who accepted amnesty and the Federal Government is implemented, there is no basis to stop it. So I disagree with him, and I think it is an unguarded call”.

Ex-agitators in Akwa ibom wondered why an Ijaw leader should take such position amid growing number of youths seeking empowerment.

Coordinator phase 11 of the Amnesty programme in the state, Mr. Imoh Okoko said the FG had yet to empower all participants, that had undergone trainings.

Okoko, who is also the Chairman of Ibibio Youth Forum also hinted that repentant militants would soon agitate an upward review of the amnesty monthly allowance to N200,000.

He reiterated that any move to disband the programme would lead to increased tension and insecurity in the Niger Delta region and the country.

“No right thinking person or group will suggest that the amnesty programme be scrapped”, he narrated.