Barry Ndiomu: President Buhari Has Done Well For The Amnesty Programme

Since assumption of office as Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) Major General Barry Ndiomu has tenaciously resolved to change the negative narrative that has clouded the Programme for years.

In this interview with selected Journalists in Abuja, the PAP boss disclosed that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has displayed committed empathy towards the sustenance and impactful operation of the PAP. Our Correspondent ERE-EBI AGEDAH, was there and reports.

Can you brief us on the current state of your internal reforms and why you started it?

It’s been over three months since I took over the helm of affairs here at the Presidential Amnesty Programme. When I resumed office, I naturally inherited a myriad of problems based on the briefings I received from the various departmental heads. I had a clear mandate from the Office of the National Security Adviser on what was expected of me to do.

First of all, there was a clear directive for me to put an end to all contract awards and of course that also meant that we had to discontinue the award of scholarships on other programmes other than the ongoing programmes that are inherited.

Now the idea behind that directive was to enable the new dispensation take stock of the activities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and to see how we could bring the Programme back in actualising its mandate. At the time when the Amnesty Programme was conceptualised, the plan was to terminate in 2015.

However a couple of things happened, I wasn’t here but somethings happened between the time it was established and the year 2015. The numbers of ex-agitators kept increasing until eventually the concept of impacted communities was introduced and that further expanded the number of ex-agitators that was initially captured.

I believe personally it was from that point the programme deviated from its original vision that was conceptualised by those who originated it. The figures kept increasing from about 19,000 plus until it got up to 30,000 ex-agitators. Of course there were other reasons that were given for that explosion in numbers.

Some averred that it was because quite a number of the ex-agitators did not come out from the creeks because they did not trust the true intentions of government at the time and so when they were now reassured of their safety, quite a few of them emerged from the creeks. Like I said, in addition to the idea of impacted communities, this expanded the Programme.

It got to a point where the programme was no longer addressing the original agitators captured, focus was now more on the impacted communities. So scholarship schemes, beneficiaries were not even the ex-agitators but it came more or less like a social welfare programme that cut across the entire Niger Delta.

Also, one of the directives that were given was to carry out an education audit to ascertain the number of ex-agitators that have been trained in educational and tertiary institutions across the country and overseas. Ofcourse the audit programme is still on, we have just received report of the education audit, we are studying it at the moment.

But I think snippets of it that I can give for now, very clearly, three-quarter of the beneficiaries are not the ex-agitators that the programme was intended to carter for. Therefore, we have large number of ex-agitators that have not been trained. They have not been beneficiaries of this scholarship scheme neither have they been trained in any vocational training centres.

Although it could still be argued that in certain cases, some of the ex-agitators surrendered their rights to be educated. And they surrendered that right to their siblings, children and members of their communities in quite a number of cases.

So it was not necessarily the fault of anyone but then again I have received complaints from the same ex-agitators that they were left out in the training Programme that has been carried out by the PAP. This seems to have worked as cross-purposes with the true intention of those established the programme.

Since your resumption, you have been putting much effort in the engagement of ex-agitators in various government establishments; can you say what informed your decision to push on it?

Interestingly, when we looked at the data we had for the ex-agitators and members of impacted communities that have benefited from either the scholarship scheme, or the vocational training programmes, we realised that less than one percent are gainfully employed. That was totally at cross-purposes with whatever was intended of the amnesty programme and I’m not joking, less than one percent are gainfully employed.

Why I visited the Head of Service was because we had 350 beneficiaries of the Presidential Amnesty Scholarship Scheme. The 350 individuals are not necessarily ex-agitators; I want to bring up this distinction so you will have an understanding.

But the important thing they may be classified as those who benefited on the basis of the impacted community concept. Interestingly, this 350 individuals, very brilliant Niger Deltans, first class and second class upper. They were specially selected and the federal government at the time decided that they should be employed at the various federal ministries and agencies.

This happened in 2017, and till date you will not believe it, not one of them has been employed despite the presidential directive to that effect. So when I resumed and my attention was drawn to the issue, I quickly wrote and had audience with the Head of Service. As I speak, I am also trying to make contact with the Vice President because his office was also very much involved in trying to ensure that these 350 Niger Deltans were gainfully employed.

As a matter of fact, they have actually been distributed to various Federal Ministries; the numbers were stated in the correspondences. I realised that I needed to give it that additional push which I can assure you is in progress, the Head of Service was very kind and magnanimous, she’s looking into it and I believe by the time the Vice President gets involved, I’m positive that we would have these 350 individuals gainfully employed in the various ministries of the Federal Civil Service.

Last year you resolved the payment of fees for students under this programme at the Baze University. Are you placing priority on Scholarships?

If you recall I had mentioned when I started that the directive to me was to suspend all contracts which included scholarships programmes. That directive has not been lifted and the reason like I said, we were asked to take stock of what was existing and what I inherited, which we are doing.

Let me quickly mention here that one of the reasons it was necessary to suspend the scholarship programme, is because of the costs of Presidential Amnesty Programme. For example, we now have a total of well over 3,000 individuals to whom scholarships have been awarded.

If you looked at the bill, tuition fees is well over N7 billion for the section. We are talking about onshore 3,000 plus, offshore, there’s no government institution. There was need to take a second look at it and that was why we had that problem with Baze University because it was just impossible to pay the tuition across these institutions.

These were not government-owned universities; we are talking about private universities. Millions of Naira on individual students, I don’t want to put blame on anyone but that was without any doubt, reckless. There was need to take a second look at it which we are doing and we are not going to suspend the scholarships which have already been awarded because it was not the fault of these children to be awarded these scholarships, we have to work out a way of looking for the funds to upset these huge bills that we are confronted with.

That was why it possible to discuss with Baze University to do a certain percentage payment, so that later on this year, we will be able to upset the balance of the tuition fees. We hope to do that with all other institutions before we can begin to talk about re-awarding scholarships in a more rational and reasonable manner consistent with the budget of the amnesty programme.

What is your plan about ensuring proper monitoring and evaluation in all these reforms and ongoing, scholarship and trainings?

We are doing that, that’s why immediately I took over, one of the first departments that I carried a reform on was the reintegration department, it’s under the reintegration department that you have the education department, vocational training, peace building, and job placements.

Infact I fired the officers who were there, because if I didn’t do that, they had already put out a very terrible and nasty situation which we are still trying to confront at the moment. I had to bring in people with institutional capacity and sufficient knowledge in these areas and so we have a thorough-bred professional currently heading the reintegration department.

We have various stock taking measures and audits which are ongoing so that at the end of the day we will now work within the ambit of the budget.

In December 2022 the National Security Adviser inaugurated an Oil Theft Committee which you are chairing. What plans does your Committee have for the ex-agitators? Especially those that are into what is called the Kpo-Fire business?

To be honest, I would not want to pre-empt the work of the committee, maybe whatever opinion I will be expressing will be my personal opinion and also based on capacity as a Interim Administrator of the Amnesty Programme.

First of all, I have always wondered why anyone who will be talking about pipeline security and surveillance without involving the Presidential Amnesty office. I do believe to start with, problems confronting the Niger Delta, stems from the issues around pipeline vandalisation, which eventually led to agitations of different forms and which also led to the forming of Presidential Amnesty Programme.

But to say you are talking about pipeline protection and surveillance without the Amnesty Programme, I think it was a mistake. I have expressed this and emphasised it privately to the G.O of the NNPC, and I’m waiting for his response because I believe that the ex-agitators should be given the opportunity to be involved in the protection and surveillance of oil pipelines within the Niger Delta.

It is something they have also discussed with me and I believe it will also be a way of testing their faith and commitment. We are all aware of the dangers the issue of vandalisation of pipeline poses to the environment, so it will be a wonderful opportunity for them to also understand the need to safeguard the environment by ensuring these pipelines are not vandalised.

The feedback I have gotten from them is that they a very willing and interested and they want to take up the challenge if given the opportunity. I hope at the end of the day, the G.O of the NNPC will extend that hand of friendship to us and allow the PAP through these ex-agitators, because it will also be a way of empowering them. Ensuring also that they are part of the process of keeping the Niger Delta and the oil facilities intact and safe.

Do you think the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari has done well for the PAP?

To be honest, the current administration has done exceedingly well. In the funding the PAP, they have given us sufficient resources that financed the programme in a timely manner. That is why we have been able to pay stipends to the ex-agitators, probably the first government agency every month that is able to pay stipends I can assure.

Except for failures of the system which is nobody’s fault and is based on technology, by the 20th of every month, stipends are paid. I will tell you that the government has not short paid the amnesty programme by one Naira.

Considering that a reasonable number of the ex-agitators are yet to be engaged after several trainings. Are you also considering entrepreneurship for them? What’s your plan to strategically create sustainable livelihood for these ex-agitators?

Talking about how to ensure gainful employment for the ex-agitators, it is one of the reasons why I have gone round, writing a number of government agencies and ministers in trying to see how we can secure employment for this boys.

In terms of entrepreneurship, we have a number of initiatives that by the grace of God with the signing and passing of the budget by the President, we are looking at setting up cooperatives. The idea behind the cooperatives will be for these same ex-agitators who will become the administrators and managers of their own destiny.

We would attach experts to these cooperatives, we will finance the cooperatives so that they will have access to micro-credits, along with consultants who will advise them on whatever initiatives and businesses and entrepreneurial skills. So that they can do businesses that will help to improve their individual and economic situations.

Quite a number of these initiatives also, we built into the budget so that we can atleast have a reason to spend the monies judiciously that has been given to the agency. We are also thinking about setting up fishing trolling companies which would entail procuring fishing trolleys. We will also send them outside the country to be trained and get as many onboard that are interested because we are not going to compel any individual.

This programme is not intended to last forever, the idea is to provide them with what they require to be able to earn sustainable means of livelihood. Otherwise we would create an impression that the Niger Delta remains a region that is in a constant state of conflict and I think that’s not going to be in our best interest.