The inauguration of a special panel by the Federal Government to probe alleged looting of assets of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme is a warning signal that all is not well with a programme that was meant to defuse militancy in the restive Niger Delta region.
While government is committed to making life better for the people of the Niger Delta, some unscrupulous elements are frustrating the good intentions of government and by so doing stoking fire of avoidable violence.
How could any rational person, who cares for the welfare of the ex-militants, dare to loot the facilities and equipment set up under the programme? The looting is a direct assault on the amnesty programme of which only a diligent probe would unravel and bring the culprits to justice. The probe is, therefore, a step in the right direction.
According to reports, the Federal Government inaugurated the six-member investigative panel to unravel the circumstances and masterminds of the recent looting of virtually all movable assets at the Presidential Amnesty Programme Training Centre in Kaiama, Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government of Bayelsa State.
Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Prof. Charles Dokubo, who inaugurated the panel chaired by Brig-Gen. S.A. Songonuga (rtd), in Abuja, vowed to unmask the perpetrators as well as their sponsors and prosecute them accordingly. Dokubo assured that the perpetrators of the nefarious act who also vandalised property at the training facility deserve severe punishment in accordance with the law.
It is, however, curious that the criminal invaders reportedly overwhelmed the military and other security personnel on guard and brazenly embarked on an orgy of looting of items meant for distribution to residents of communities impacted during the Niger Delta crises on the eve of the inauguration of the facility.
Preliminary findings showed that items carted away by the mindless looters included assortment of equipment already procured and installed in the centre for the seamless training of the ex-agitators enlisted in the Amnesty Programme and other youths in the Niger Delta in such areas as carpentry, hotel and catering management, tailoring, shoemaking, welding and fabrication, event planning and decoration as well as hair dressing.
Also carted away were post-training empowerment start-up packs warehoused in Kaiama. The plunderers then proceeded to vandalise the completed lecture halls, administration block and other structures at the Training Centre. What a callous act?The strange looting reportedly went on for three days with about 3000 persons who were said to have overwhelmed the soldiers and other security personnel stationed there.
What is more curious, the amnesty programme boss, noted that but for the instruction passed by the authorities to the army not to shoot the invaders, several lives would have been lost and that would have given the opposition the opportunity to incite the communities in the Niger Delta for violence just a few days to the presidential and national assembly elections.It is, therefore, up to the panel to appraise the role of the military and other security outfits in the whole sordid episode. Why would thousands of people conspire in a community to loot a facility meant to empower their people? There are too many curiosities about the development in the Niger Delta area that the panel should unravel.
It is disheartening that the amnesty programme, an interventionist policy instrument created to bring solution to militancy in the Niger Delta, now constitutes a problem in itself. The amnesty programme was announced by the former President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua on June 26, 2009, to give unconditional pardon to militants in the Niger Delta and assuage them to end pipeline vandalism and insurgency that had become common at the time. The programme was to last for 60 days beginning on August 6 and ending October 4, 2009. During the 60-day period, armed youths were required to surrender their weapons to the government in return for training and rehabilitation.
Militants led their groups to surrender weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, guns, explosives and ammunition. Even gunboats were surrendered to the government. Over 30,000 purported members signed up between October 2009 and May 2011 in exchange for monthly payments and in some cases lucrative contracts for guarding the pipelines. Ever since then, the programme has continued into the present and now appears to be open-ended. This is worrisome too.
Whereas, the programme proved to be a success, with violence and kidnappings decreasing sharply and petroleum production and increased exports from about 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) in mid-2009 to between 2.2 and 2.4 million bpd since 2011. But government has, at the same time, spent billions in training and rehabilitation of the ex-militants, which some greedy people now see as a cash cow that must remain.
Ideally, there ought not to be amnesty programme if the government had taken care of the oil producing communities by way of infrastructural and human capacity development. It is lamentable that the lofty programme has been abused and has become a weapon of blackmail. Being open-ended at the moment, government is at a loss on how to bring it to an end if ever that is even possible any time soon.
That notwithstanding, government should devise a means to round off the amnesty programme before it is too late. In its place, government should devise a more structured and more sustainable intervention package that should take care of the entire Niger Delta region and its people. It is a tragedy, in this regard, that creations of Niger Delta Ministry and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) before the advent of the amnesty programme too have not recorded any remarkable impacts on the region. Even that contraption (Ministry and NDDC) too should be restructured for efficiency and indeed development of the volatile region.