He came into the job at a very difficult moment in the history of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP. By the time President Muhammadu Buhari announced Major General Barry Tariye Ndiomu (retd) as the Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme on September 22, 2022, the real essence of the programme had virtually been defeated with the expectations of the people of the Niger Delta, on whose behalf PAP was instituted, had been substantially dashed.
At the time he was ushered into office, it was clear to Ndiomu, a retired but brilliant military officer and lawyer, who had excelled in all his command and leadership positions while in service, that he had a tough job to deal with given the level of rot and disillusionment that had set into the scheme and eroded the confidence of both the government and the people.
It was also obvious to the interim administrator that the scheme had significantly deviated from the main cause for which the late Umaru Yar’Adua predicated the programme when he declared amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta to lay down their arms and accept peace on June 25, 2009 in return for the government to train them, empower them and develop the region.
At the time of Ndiomu’s emergence too, anger was rising high over the future and relevance of the PAP following the reported plan by the Federal Government to terminate the 13-year-old programme since in the thinking of the government, the scheme had outlived its usefulness and substantially failed to address rising crime wave in the region as evidenced in the large quantity of oil being stolen in the Niger Delta by malevolent elements and other sundry crimes, which have put the region on edge despite the sustenance and prevalence of PAP.
There was also heightened tension among leaders of the region and particularly the 30,000 individuals who claimed to have dropped their guns for peace and have been receiving monthly payments of N65, 000 from PAP since 2009. At the same time, previous administrations are reported to have left behind huge questionable debts totaling N90 billion and another doubtful N4.5 billion in PAP’s cashbook for Ndiomu to contend with on his arrival, a burden that has continued to stare at him on the face like timeless mirage.
But if these are considered as simple issues, Ndiomu knew he had a more complex and daring task to deal with and this has to do with a group of roughly five or six powerful and disruptive individuals who remotely control all the ‘foot soldiers’ in the Niger Delta. These unseen but powerful elements have been remotely controlling the activities of the PAP since its inception and can make or mar any administration or administrator who attempts to ignore them in the running of the scheme.
They decide who should be or should not be captured as a beneficiary of PAP and they also largely determine which contract should be given to who and at how much and whether it should be done and should not be done and also lead protests to block and free the only highway in the area- the East-West Highway.
This largely explains why the figure of 30,000 beneficiaries of PAP has continued to be elongated rather than diminishing after thousands of them had been successfully trained and empowered with start-up packs and many others given huge cash and equipment to begin businesses of their choices in many areas of human endeavours.
The 30,000 members receiving N65,000 stipends monthly have become a big burden on the neck of any administrator and any attempt to use forensic method to ascertain who the beneficiaries are, where they are located, what they are doing and which arm they submitted, have been ferociously resisted by the powerful figures who arrogate to themselves the toga of being the ‘godfathers’ of the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta, who should be treated with the highest level of respect and recognition by any chief executive appointed for the PAP.
The real trouble that created a serious drawback for PAP before Ndiomu’s appointment was that only a handful of powerful and influential elements used their positions and connections with the administration to draw down undeserving and questionable contracts worth hundreds of millions of Naira and went on to become overnight billionaires to the chagrin of majority of the real persons and communities that actually surrendered arms and brought about the institutionalization of the PAP in 2009.
This has been the major reason why there are frequent showdowns between the supporters and opponents of the ‘new billionaires’ and those who feel abandoned and marginalized by the PAP and the federal government before Ndiomu arrived on the scene. They are seriously craving for recognition and designation of roles for them by PAP in order to have a sense of belonging in the programme, which they want to see and feel as their own and by so doing, show their support, understanding and goodwill.
But there is hope that Ndiomu will address all the interest groups and entities that are contending for the soul of PAP given his strong leadership and military skills. He served well and recorded tremendous success in the military and left with an unblemished career record. Ndiomu remains fearless but charismatic and straightforward, attributes that might have endeared him to the Presidency in appointing him as the interim administrator of the PAP.
It is obvious that the Presidency must have read the minds of all factions in the Niger Delta very well in deciding to bring in such a brilliant and pragmatic administrator in the person of Ndiomu, who does not only understands the yearnings and aspirations of the people and the tiny but powerful subsets that always attempt to hijack the benefits meant for all, but also has the pedigree, determination and the capacity to provide the needed leadership to steer the PAP from near failure to success, add value to the people of the region and fulfill the mandate that the Federal Government set for it in 2009.
Ndiomu has already started well by striking one of the no-go-areas of PAP, which the ‘godfathers’ or ‘untouchables’ have been using over the years to claim huge cash from PAP and smile to the bank. The tough military officer has successfully removed no fewer than 1900 questionable names from the list of 30,000 PAP beneficiaries thereby saving the much needed cash for the government.
He is likely to take off more and more questionable and undefended names from the list thereby pruning fake beneficiaries from taking home free cash on a monthly basis as they have been doing since 2009.
Ndiomu has also touched on a very crucial area of waste by negotiating with one of the contractors who claimed to be owned N4.5 billion by the immediate past administrator and successfully reducing the amount to N3.2 billion, thereby saving a huge N1.3 billion for the government in the process.
This is how leadership should be and this is what people-oriented management is all about. Maj-Gen. Ndiomu has so far demonstrated by actions and utterances that while he is ready to promote the interest of the people and bring about peace in the Niger Delta, train and rehabilitate the beneficiaries of the PAP, he is going to do so only on the basis of transparency, accountability and respect for all individuals and groups.
He has made it clear to all that he is not ready for the business-as-usual model of operation that has kept the PAP on its knees for years and virtually derailed its cause and almost convinced the Federal government to shut it down and move on. He has also promised to look into reports that the scholarship programme meant for the children of Niger Delta under the PAP was breached and sold to non-natives by officials of the agency.
This enquiry is imperative given the fact that close to 1700 places meant for Niger Delta youths were reportedly hijacked and sold like cakes to the highest bidders from any part of the country, a development that smacks of fraud and betrayal of trust by the said officials, who should be fished out and punished publicly to serve as a deterrent to others.
Ndiomu has also acted as a mediator and peace advocate by appealing to the federal government to continue to sustain and run PAP as a Social Intervention Scheme rather than terminating it as was previously contemplated. Happily, the federal government last week announced its determination to continue to sustain PAP and make it work for the Niger Delta people, a development that significantly calmed frayed nerves and brightened the hopes of those who depend on it for training their children at home and abroad and those who earn substantially from PAP through contracts and stipends.
This development also calls for all the actors in the Niger Delta to work closely with the new administrator in making the programme a success and a scheme that works and gives value to all and not a tiny few as it has been in the past years, creating enmity and bitterness in the process.
Rather than opposing and fighting Ndiomu, the current position PAP calls for stakeholders to rally round Ndiomu to fashion out ways and means of making those who have become billionaires from the scheme to also provide the needed support and foundation for the numerous youths in the region to be gainfully engaged so as to desist from untoward activities that can dent the image of the people of the region.
By all intents and purposes, the new administrator, Maj-Gen. Barry Tariye Ndiomu, means well and should be supported rather than being pulled down as has been the case since the inception of the PAP. As tough as the times may be and as intriguing as the PAP has turned out to be since its inception, Ndiomu appears as the right man for the tough job and at a challenging season like this!