Interim Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Milland Dikio, a retired Army Colonel is heading for a head-on collision with some armed youths in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s main oil and gas region.
Armed youths in league with aggrieved repentant militants want President Muhammadu Buhari to fire Dikio immediately for allegedly failing to settle outstanding debts in the amnesty office.
At the centre of the current unease in the oil region is an alleged return of N26 billion unspent Amnesty Fund to the Buhari administration by Dikio.
The money, according to the boiling militants was meant to offset the backlog owed contractors of the Amnesty Programme from 2014 to date. Dikio did not seem to do that, his alleged action is fueling fresh anger in the area.
Leader of the Third Phase of the repentant militants, General Ebi John, is warning that for Dikio to return the alleged N26 billion without paying contractors being owed will spell doom for the Federal Government.
According to him, ‘’late last year, President Muhammadu Buhari listened to our agitation and released billions of naira to the amnesty office to offset debts the office is owing vendors/contractors. But the interim coordinator who refused to pay the contractors, returned N26 billion as unspent fund to the federal government.
“On December 31, by 12am the portal used for payment closed and every kobo was returned back to the Federal Ministry of Finance without paying the contractors. The Interim Coordinator has started failing.
‘’Take for instance, the amnesty office does not train or empower delegates directly. But do so through the services of vendors/contractors. Now, most of these vendors/contractors borrowed money from the banks to execute their jobs because the amnesty office had stopped mobilization of any kind to vendors/ contractors.
“I can remember vividly that on December 17 in Arogbo in Ondo State, when the amnesty boss met with critical stakeholders drawn from First, Second, and Third phases of the Programme in the presence of General Boyloaf, High Chief Shoot-At-Sight, former IYC President, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, and others, he said that payment of debts owned vendors/contractors have started with those from 2014.
“As at Wednesday, 90% of the vendors/contractors were not paid. The disadvantage of returning the N26 billion is that thousands of ex-agitators who were waiting for their vendors to call them for training and empowerment in January 2021 are now stranded at home.
‘’The last part of the amnesty programme is training and empowerment of ex-agitators but it is not working. As ex-militants, we will not allow what is happening to Niger Delta Development Commission to happen to the Amnesty programme.”
Continuing, he said the amnesty deal involves disarmament and demobilisation of militants, rehabilitation and integration of ex-militants, and infrastructural development of the oil region.
‘’The Amnesty Programme also has the mandate of improving the human capital development of the Niger Delta region’’, General John adds.
Before now, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been warning that without peace, there will be no human development in the Niger Delta.
Allowing the issue of the alleged return of N26 billion to boil over will escalate conflicts in the oil region to a point where the balance could tip towards outright warfare, which will be even more difficult to control given the unresolved national question in Nigeria.
Before retiring from the Nigerian Army in July 2004, Dikio commanded the Nigerian Contingent of Military and Police UN Observers in Angola. As Commanding Officer NIBATT 37 ECOMOG, Sierra Leone he was responsible for securing the major land approaches into Freetown, the Child Soldiers rehabilitation Camp in Orogu and Disarmament Camp in Newton.
He successfully carried out the special mission to dislodge Sam Bockerie, a notorious Revolutionary United Front Rebel considered inimical to the success of the Sierra Leone peace process without casualties.
In order to stop cross border rebel activities that had the potential to drag Guinea and Liberia into war, he led an Advance team in November 2000 that conducted an extensive reconnaissance mission throughout the length of the Guinea-Liberia borders in his capacity as the Military Adviser/Principal Programme Officer Peacekeeping at ECOWAS Executive Commission.
With a rich experience, it was expected that he should know that brokering peace in the turbulent creeks of the Niger Delta can only be achieved through a closely coordinated domestic strategy that addresses oil theft, money laundering and illegal arms.
International cooperation can help create a climate where this strategy will have a realistic chance of success. Unfortunately, the specific activities of a regional blueprint for peace does not seem to be encompassing peace-building initiatives; promoting the rule of law and easier access to justice; ensuring the integrity of the electoral process and other leadership selection mechanisms; promoting equitable distribution of the benefits from mineral resources; encouraging demilitarization (including disarmament); and ensuring effective law enforcement and policing.
What is happening at the moment is that the educated Ijaw youths are plotting to take control of the Amnesty Programme, claiming that most of the ex-militants are illiterates. Dikio seems to be playing along, and the ‘’illiterate’’ armed youths are aware of the nasty development.
It has always been expected that agencies that are keen of resolving the Niger Delta crisis should first, identified key issues with a view to addressing the conflict and security situation. The priority still remains, disarming and demobilising the festering militia groups.
Since assuming office last August, Dikio is yet to initiate programmes to foster a climate of peace, and promoting a cross-cultural awareness campaigns to reorient people towards human coexistence, harmony and mutual partnerships.
In alliance with the damaged Niger Delta Development Commission, they should have been embarking on rehabilitation efforts, reaching out to youths who have become largely unemployable or unwilling to develop themselves.
NDDC and the Amnesty Programme have the capacity of making the peoples of the oil region live valued and dignified lives, in peace and free from poverty. Rather than pursue a peace agenda that includes education, easier access to justice and a more equitable distribution of resources, they have compounded the resource curse of the region.
It is equally tragic that since 1999, the oil region is yet to embark on a realistic and mutually agreed long-term development agenda that can be rigorously monitored by stakeholders. Strategies to improve the quality of governance is not focusing on enhanced service delivery, checks on corruption and the engagement of people in shaping policies for their well-being.