I—-, residing at—-formerly engaged in militant activities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, do solemnly swear, (or affirm) that I hereby renounce all my previous acts of militancy, including my affiliation and allegiance to any militant group and/or organization; and that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and respect every constituted authority; that I shall never again engage in any act of militancy whatsoever; and that I will, in like manner, abide by; and faithfully and lawfully support every effort being made by the Federal, States and Local Governments and their agencies for the overall development of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.’
Each of the Niger Delta militants granted amnesty by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in June 2009 swore to the foregoing oath. But whoever becomes president next year will inherit the challenge of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP). I recently encountered PAP Interim Administrator Major General Barry Ndiomu (rtd), and the conclusion I drew from our conversation is that like many government programmes initiated with good intention, a scandalous mismanagement of scarce resources over the years has turned PAP into another slush fund to line pockets for political patronage. And we are talking of several hundreds of billions of Naira over a period of 13 years.
In August, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) engaged the services of an oil pipeline surveillance firm, Tantita Security Services Nigeria Limited, led by Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, to guard the oil pipeline network. Following the controversial decision, readers who sought my view could not understand my endorsement. While the NNPCL may have signed the contract out of desperation given the quantum of oil being lost to criminal cartels, I am also aware that this was part of the Niger Delta amnesty deal with ex-militant leaders. I should know because I had the privilege of sitting with the late president, along with his principal secretary, David Edevbie, at separate meetings with Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Farah Dagogo and Henry Okah. In fact, the only such meeting the president attended without either of us was the one held in Yenogoa with Ebikabowei Victor Ben, aka ‘Boyloaf’, but he had then Bayelsa State Governor and current Minister of State, Petroleum, Timipre Silva with him. One of the accepted recommendations from the amnesty panel was that “qualified ex-militants should be employed by Private Security outfits to perform surveillance duties on oil pipelines and installations.”
Meanwhile, I understand that oil production has recovered from an all-time low of 1.1 million barrels per day (BPD) in August 2022 prior to signing the contract to an average of over 1.4 million BPD in November, translating to an increase of over 300,000 BPD. Data from the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) also reveal that more wells and associated surface facilities that were shut down because of incessant theft and vandalism are being reopened. Similar impact is being recorded on gas production. Prior to this period, according to industry sources, outage of major trunklines had severely impacted gas production and evacuation thus depriving gas power plants and gas-based industries feedstock for operations and gas exports through NLNG. Several factors, including renewed offensive by the military and closer collaboration with the communities by industry operators may be responsible for this but one can also not discount the efforts of ex-militant leaders who know the terrain. Besides, keeping a man like Tompolo on the side of the law is a no-brainer.
Before I make my point, let me quickly add that the amnesty programme was not an event. It was a process designed to improve the environment, human capacity, and overall development in the Niger Delta. And it was well planned. To commence the exercise, President Yar’Adua constituted an amnesty panel headed by Major General Godwin Abbe (rtd). Members included Elder Godswill Orubebe, then Niger Delta Minister, Air Chief Paul Dike, Chief of Defence Staff at the time, Mike Okiro, then Inspector General of Police, Mr Bukhari Bello, a legal practitioner, Dr Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, a retired federal permanent secretary as well as representatives of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ondo, and Rivers States.
The Presidential directive to the committee included preparation of a step-by-step framework for amnesty and complete disarmament, demobilization, and re-integration of ex-militants with appropriate timelines. By the presidential mandate, those with criminal records should not be allowed to take advantage of the amnesty while the panel was to work out the cost to government. The panel was also given the leeway to examine any other matter considered relevant to its assignment and was allowed to invite any person or group of people that could assist them.
The first issue the panel resolved was the legal hurdle of whether the president could offer amnesty to people who had not been convicted of any offence. Their conclusion was that although the term ‘Amnesty’ is not mentioned in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, Section 175 empowers the president to grant pardon to any person concerned with or convicted of any offence. “The same section divides the power of pardon into two categories. These are those that concern persons who have committed offences but have not been prosecuted, and those who have been prosecuted and convicted of offences. The panel believes that the amnesty being proposed would encourage the militants to voluntarily come forward and be reconciled with society. The Panel therefore recommends that all categories of militants should be allowed to benefit from the amnesty which should take the form of a presidential broadcast whereby details of it would be proclaimed to the public, including the militants and the international community,” according to their report.
In the course of their work, the amnesty panel divided itself into four sub-committees: Amnesty, Disarmament and Demobilization, Publicity and Liaison and Rehabilitation and Reintegration and coopted many people from both public and private sectors. For the amnesty sub-committee chaired by Okiro, co-opted members included Dafe Akpedeye, SAN, G. E. Odegbaro, Bestman Nnwoka, O. J. Oworibo, Azubuko Udah and Y.M. Bichi (current Director General of the State Security Service). They were to determine categories of people to be granted amnesty, define exact procedures, identify, and recommend reporting and screening centres as well as modalities for the establishment of a database of militants from which information/profiles could be extracted. The disarmament and demobilization sub-committee chaired by Dike was to recommend procedures for disarming militants who surrender and modalities for documentation, storage, disposal of arms and ammunition and other weapons. They were also to determine the location of holding camps for screened militants. The publicity sub-committee headed by Koripamo-Agary was to identify and establish liaison with all stakeholders, including oil and gas majors, and media, particularly those in the Niger Delta. The rehabilitation and reintegration sub-committee chaired by Orubebe was to work out modalities for the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-militants, liaise and collate views of NGOs on such reintegration process, while working with other committees to identify vocation centres where militants could acquire skills.
In their report to the President, the panel stated that disarmament and demobilization could only be achieved when sources and means of arms procurement had been severed from the militants to prevent them from re-arming. “It is therefore important to note the close correlation between armed conflict in the Niger Delta and illegal oil bunkering. It is recommended that effective monitoring and checkmating of illegal oil bunkering is an essential requirement for arms control and conflict prevention in the Niger Delta.” The panel further wrote: “The Nigerian Navy must be adequately empowered in terms of new platform acquisition to effectively put a stop to illegal bunkering while the JTF should equally be empowered to control the proliferation of light weapons in the Niger Delta before and after the proclamation of amnesty.”
At the end of the exercise, 20,194 ex-militants were recorded at Obubra in Cross River State where data collection took place. But the figure soon jumped to 30,000 after Yar’Adua died. When I spoke with Ndiomu, he admitted inheriting a debt portfolio totalling over N90 billion owed to sundry stakeholders, including contractors, institutions of higher learning both at home and in the diaspora. But the bigger challenge, in addition to a lack of accountability and transparency in PAP management, is the absence of any reliable data of the real ex-militants. Ndiomu told me that efforts to retrieve information from Chams Computer, believed to have captured the initial numbers have not yielded results.
From the list of 30,000 ex-agitators, each of whom earns N65,000 monthly, Ndiomu has been able to weed out 1,900 persons. But with dwindling resources from the federal government, there are challenges ahead. Ndiomu also shared insights on the current state of the five Vocational Training Centres (VTCs) whose construction commenced in 2012 by the Jonathan administration under Kingsley Kuku as PAP chairman. The centre in Agadagba, Ondo State and Gelegele, Edo State are both 80 per cent completed without hostels for students while the equipment installed in both is now obsolete. The centre in Bomadi, Delta State is also 90 percent completed; with no equipment installed. The centre in Jamestown, Rivers State, is only 30 percent completed, without hostels for students and no equipment installed. Perhaps the real sad story is at Boro Town, Kiama in Bayelsa State where the centre was completed and fully equipped before it was vandalised. So, effectively, none of the five VTCs is operational and, according to Ndiomu, it would require a minimum of N15 billion to complete and equip them, as well as train the instructors. “I inherited a scholarship debt of about N6 billion for just this academic session (2022/2023) alone. I am hoping there will be some intervention”, Ndiomu said while sharing his frustrations. “In the case of on-going vocational training for short duration ending in December this year, there was a debt of N4.5 billion which I renegotiated down by a whooping sum of N1.3 billion. That proves conclusively that these training costs were grossly inflated.”
Meanwhile, the amnesty programme was structured to run in three phases: Training, Empowerment and Engagement—after which the beneficiary is expected to exit. That the number of ‘ex-militants’ continued swelling is evident of a racket, even though many of the original agitators are not among the emergency billionaires strutting all over the place. Scholarships running into billions of Naira that are ordinarily meant for Niger Delta indigenes are also being offered to people from the Southwest, Southeast and the three zones in the North, in what has become another avenue for political patronage.
Notwithstanding, I still believe that the Niger Delta amnesty was well-conceived. But for the programme, it would have been difficult to contain the violence that had made the region ungovernable at the time. It is also doubtful if the oil and gas industry could have survived the intensity of sabotage. Now, we are only talking about oil theft, which can be resolved with the right tools and requisite political will. As for PAP, Ndiomu believes it can be redesigned as a social investment programme, rather than winding it down totally. That may not be a bad idea but for it to happen, there must be a structure that will ensure better transparency and accountability.
Overall, the idea of pursuing a community-based initiative to deal with pipeline vandalization by engaging ex-militants was sanctioned by President Yar’Adua as part of the ‘Equity Matrix’ for Niger Delta designed by the late Emmanuel Igbogah, then special adviser to the president on petroleum. The challenge of the moment therefore is not Tompolo conducting legitimate business, as opposed to when he led a gang of outlaws in his ‘Camp 5’ at Chanomi creeks. Rather it is that we have not managed the amnesty programme well and the dire implications that portends for the future of our country.
With the recent ground-breaking ceremony at the Kolmani River oil and gas field that straddles the Gongola Basin, the Northeast is now effectively an oil producing region. The federal government must therefore take onboard lessons from our failings in the Niger Delta. We must begin to pay more attention to issues of accountability, environmental protection, and most importantly empowerment for the oil communities and critical stakeholders.
Obasanjo, The Letter Writer
One man who has cultivated the habit of writing letters at critical epochs in our history is President Olusegun Obasanjo. Well-timed and brutally delivered, Obasanjo takes no prisoners when he decides to write a letter, especially if the recipient is in a position of power and authority. It is therefore little surprise that Musikilu Mojeed, one of the few genuine investigative reporters in the country (and co-founder/editor-in-chief of Premium Times) has decided to dig deep into Obasanjo’s letters in his book, ‘The Letterman’ that will be publicly presented in Abuja today. By putting context to these letters, including some that are already in the public domain and others that are private, the author has given us a window into the mind of Obasanjo.
After spending considerable time at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital to research the book, the author attests to the incredible record-keeping capacity of the former president who retains huge volumes of personal correspondence, including many more than 70 years old. “For instance, I saw a letter written to Obasanjo by his father, Amos, dated 16 February 1952. There were also at least nine letters written to him by his mother, Aje, between 2 February 1952 and 11 November 1955. Also preserved for posterity are at least nine letters to Obasanjo from his late younger sister and only sibling, Adunni. So are letters by his children to him, beginning with one by his eldest daughter, Iyabo, dated 28 January 1977,” Mojeed wrote.
With a foreword by former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the 462-page book opens with the behind-the-scenes drama of how the author scooped Obasanjo’s December 2013 letter to the then incumbent President Jonathan and the varied reactions that followed the damaging publication. But there was nothing unusual about the letter, given the history of the writer. According to the author, Obasanjo “has been writing to almost every key person who played important roles in the affairs of Nigeria, Africa and the world since 1969” and many of those letters are captured in the book. “Some letters are just goodwill messages, salutations, or expressions of appreciation for favours done to him or telephone calls made to him. Other letters deal with issues of governance, they contain Obasanjo’s suggestions to public officials in Nigeria and elsewhere on workable solutions to some burning controversial matters. Several letters are however strongly worded criticisms and expressions of anger and irritation at certain events.”
Among those who have received intemperate letters from Obasanjo are the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Second Republic President Shehu Shagari and General Sani Abacha, as well as General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Audu Ogbeh and Archbishop Peter Akinola. There are also several civil war exchanges with military colleagues. But Obasanjo also wrote endearing letters like the one to Austin Jay Jay Okocha in 2002, asking the mercurial midfield football player not to retire from the Super Eagles and another to American tennis legend, Serena Williams, through her father.
As explained to the author, Obasanjo did not have copies of his own letters that elicited replies from his parents because “he was not smart enough at the time to make duplicates for his files. But some of the letters clearly indicate they were replies to missives from Obasanjo.” I found this admission rather interesting because of my own experience, which confirms Obasanjo’s love for letter writing and meticulous record keeping.
On 12th November 2007, the first Council of State meeting held under the late President Yar’Adua and as usual, Obasanjo was at the Villa. Even though he acknowledged greetings from other presidential aides, he ignored me, and it was not the first time. As it would happen, during the Council of State meeting, my seat was directly behind Obasanjo’s and as the session progressed, I grew increasingly uncomfortable. At a point, I picked up the papers in front of me and wrote Obasanjo a note seeking forgiveness for whatever I may have done to rile him so much. He read it, looked back, and smiled. About five minutes later, he handed me a piece of paper on which he wrote a terse reply: “Dear Segun, you are forgiven and restored. O.O.”
The next day, as I walked to the office of then Chief of Staff, Major General Abdullahi Mohammed (rtd), he handed me a piece of paper, “This is a photocopy of your handwritten note to Baba. He said I should collect from you a photocopy of his own response.” That experience taught me the importance of keeping even the seemingly minutest of records. Meanwhile, despite that professed ‘forgiveness’, Obasanjo still reserved ten pages in Volume Two of ‘My Watch’ to deal me (and my late principal) heavy blows in response to my book, ‘Power, Politics and Death’ on the Yar’Adua years. But right now, I am in good standing with the tireless and perpetually restless ‘old soja’.
In ‘The Letterman’, Mojeed offers readers a treasure-trove which, as Kadaria Ahmed, points out in the blurb, “provides significant insight into the philosophy and politics (life and times, head, heart, and soul) of one of the most consequential post-colonial African leaders, former President Olusegun Obasanjo.” It is a book I strongly recommend, especially for those to whom President Obasanjo may have (at one point or another) prefaced his remark, ‘With all due respect’, before wielding the sledgehammer!