Once again, the relief enjoyed by the rest of the country from the disquiet caused by former militants in the Niger Delta, was breached Monday, when a certain group of "reformed" militants raised the bar on protests in Benin City, the Edo State capital.
Hundreds of the ex-militants under the aegis of Phase II protested the non-payment of their salaries for 18 months.
Given the frequency of their protest, it called to question the enduring impact of the rehabilitation and re-orientation programme the ex-militants were exposed to in the reformation camp at Obubra, Cross River State. Many militants have protested their non-inclusion in the amnesty scheme, essentially because they failed to trust the programme and so did not enlist at the beginning.
Monday, the former militants who stormed the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) secretariat in Benin City with placards with various inscriptions such as "Justice Must Prevail", "We Need Our Money", "11 months, no payment", "We need our Money", accused the managers of the scheme of selective negligence.
But the spokesman of the amnesty programme, Henry Ugbolue, refuted the allegation, stressing that the programme does not owe any of its trainees. "It is a bloody lie (that the Amnesty Office does not owe some ex-militants). The Amnesty Office does not owe any of the 26,358 persons enrolled in the Amnesty programme their stipends or allowances," he said.
Ugbolue explained further that, "the people protesting are merely impostors claiming to have enlisted in the programme. They are unknown to the scheme. The people genuinely enlisted in the programme are not being owed a dime."
But Emomomemi Ezebri and Julius Bank, who spoke on behalf of other protesters, traced the present plight of over 6,166 members of the second phase amnesty programme to the activities of the leadership of the scheme, alleging that as soon as the Obubra Camp in Calabar commenced, they opened individual accounts where funds meant for the programme was credited to them.
They also accused the Amnesty Programme Office of blocking some amnesty delegates' bank accounts. But Ugbolue faulted the claim, saying that the payment of allowances to the ex-militants was about the easiest part of the job. He noted that the instruction to pay the allowances was in the form of an irrevocable standing payment order (ISPO) to the various banks used by the ex-militants.
"As we speak, the payment for this month has already been made, because it is computer automated. And depending on the type of account they have, by the 25th of every month, they would have been paid their monthly stipends," Ugbolue explained.
The irate ex-militants pointed out that they had channelled their grievances to the appropriate quarters which was obstructed on one occasion in Okene while they were on their way to Abuja, to cry out, to those who are currently responsible for their predicament.
But they failed to properly define their status - whether they were under training or not, or whether they had graduated from the scheme. They merely insisted that they were ex-militants who had been accredited, but have not been paid their statutory allowances. It was gathered that the same set of persons who have been protesting their exclusion from the scheme are the ones who intermittently stage protests to drum home their demands to be included in the programme.
Monday, they threatened to go back to the creeks should the Federal Government and other relevant authorities refuse to address their plight.
"We came in for the amnesty programme since 2010; we have not been paid even when we opened individual accounts. They owe us about 12 to 18 months. The Federal Government had paid this money to the Amnesty Office, but they refused to pay us. They either pay us or we go back to the creeks," they warned.
"We are tired; we have made series of complaints to the Amnesty Office. They owe some of us 11, some 12 and some 18 months," adding that "we cannot continue like this."
The Amnesty Office, however, maintained that those who failed to enlist in the programme at the expiration of the deadline in 2010 could only be admitted into the scheme, if President Goodluck Jonathan so directs. Even then, THISDAY gathered that the Amnesty Office is presently making a case to the presidency for some of the protesting boys to be assessed and possibly admitted to the programme if their status as former militants is confirmed.
The Federal Government had vowed to treat anyone causing trouble in the Niger Delta, under the guise of militancy, as a criminal after the expiration of the deadline given to all militants to surrender their arms and embrace the amnesty scheme.
Under the programme, several ex-militants have been sent to foreign countries for various kinds of training in different skills, including pilot training programmes in South Africa.