(By Michael Jegede)

When amnesty was granted, most Nigerians thought nothing good will come out of it. But now the story is different. Our youths are being trained all over the world in critical sectors. We are very impressed and my advice to these young Nigerians is to continue to be good ambassadors of our country.

CONTRARY to the thinking in some quarters that the amnesty programme for Niger Delta former militants is a total failure, I make bold to say that the amnesty under the direct supervision of the Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, Kingsley Kuku, remains the most successful programme ever run by the Federal Government.

I stand by my position in my previous piece on this matter that the amnesty declaration remains the most genuine, valiant and profound effort made by any Federal Government since the country’s independence to tackle the agitation for fairness, equity and development in the oil-rich Niger Delta. It has, in my view, been the most effective tool employed by any government in addressing a critical national issue.

Of recent, I have read several write-ups in which different kinds of unsubstantiated allegations of fund mismanagement were made against the leadership of the Niger Delta Amnesty office. Some have even suggested that the programme should be brought to an end on the ground that Kuku and his team were only enriching themselves from the fund meant for the amnesty, arguing that there was nothing to show for the allocations they have received since inception.

Well, I do know that many discerning and perceptive Nigerians would agree with me that such argument is obviously illogical and therefore cannot hold water because the gains of the amnesty programme are there for everyone to see. Anybody who says that the funds meant for the programme have not been judiciously applied may have deliberately blindfolded himself such that he cannot see the progress being made by the introduction of the programme.

As I pointed out in my last publication, even though there were doubts at the incipient stage as to whether it was going to yield any fruitful upshot, today, the amnesty programme ably and adeptly co-ordinated by Kuku, has made significant impact in the restoration of peace in the Niger Delta, a region that was hitherto known to be the seal of violence and massive destruction with the activities of the ex-agitators.

I had equally pointed out that it is for the reason of the huge success recorded by the programme that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, despite his death, has continued to receive accolades from most Nigerians for considering the option of amnesty in the long search for peace in the area. President Goodluck Jonathan, the then Vice President, has likewise received commendation and applause for deeming it fit to ensure the sustenance of the programme.

Upon completion of their oversight/inspection visit in September 2012 to the Afrika Union Aviation Academy in Mafikeng and the Flight Training Services in Midrand, South Africa, where 53 Niger Delta youths were being trained as pilots, members of the Senate and House committees on Niger Delta commended the Presidential Amnesty office for what they termed “judicious utilisation of funds meant for the programme.”

The Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta, Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, who led the delegation, expressed satisfaction that it was being properly implemented. Speaking on behalf of the team, he said: “We came here to assess how deep the amnesty programme is. We all know what brought about this programme because Nigeria decided to address a fundamental injustice to a section of the country. From what we have seen and experienced during our interaction with the trainees, I can tell Nigerians that the amnesty programme gives us hope and we are very proud of these youths. The funds allocated to the programme are being judiciously used and we will continue to support and expand its scope.”

He described the young pilots as the future of Nigeria’s aviation industry. Adding to the voice of Abatemi-Usman, Chairman of House Committee on Niger Delta, Warman Ogoriba, applauded Kuku for succeeding in dismissing the pessimism that Nigerians had towards the programme when it was introduced in 2009. Ogoriba said: “When amnesty was granted, most Nigerians thought nothing good will come out of it. But now the story is different. Our youths are being trained all over the world in critical sectors. We are very impressed and my advice to these young Nigerians is to continue to be good ambassadors of our country.”

The National Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN), Allen Onyema, is also one of many insightful Nigerians, who clearly agree that the amnesty programme has been a monumental feat. Onyema, while speaking to newsmen, noted that the programme is celebrated the world over, as the international community seems to be bemused as to how Nigeria was able to get it right from the stage of disarmament, through demobilisation to re-integration.

According to the FEHN boss, the level of crude oil production prior to the programme was about 700,000 barrels a day, but since the commencement of the programme, it has risen to over 2.6 million barrels per day.

He went further to say that the success of the programme should not be measured by the increase in the level of production alone but viewed from the level of lives that are being changed and touched by the programme. In his words, “people who were condemned as useless are now trained as pilots, technicians, lawyers and nurses, among others.” Just as I had advocated in my earlier article that more funds should be allocated to the amnesty office due to the large number of people involved, Onyema called on the Federal Government to increase the funding for the programme.

Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had noted in an interview that it was completely out of place for some Nigerians to be calling for the closure of the programme for now. On the argument that too much money was being spent on it, the three-term senator said: “Let us look at the other side of it. What was the country losing when we had militancy? It is easy to do a cost benefit analysis. If what we were losing was far in excess of what it costs us to get peace, then, I think the amnesty programme is justifiable.”

We must continue to encourage the amnesty office, under the dynamic leadership of Kuku, to build on the successes recorded so far in the running of the programme, which involves 30,000 Niger Delta youths. The young man has, no doubt, demonstrated great, sterling leadership qualities, as seen in his proper co-ordination of the affairs of the amnesty office, which can be said to be largely responsible for the meaningful inroads made in the amnesty drive. For a programme that has been saving about N34 billion per day for the country, it is only appropriate that we all support it to further stabilise our economy.

• Michael Jegede, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”