The year 2011 was a security nightmare for most Nigerians. In various parts of the country, terrorists, armed robbers and kidnappers kept citizens under siege. Yet, while the risks of conflict and criminally grew in many parts of the country, the Niger Delta, once notorious for battles, bullets and blood, grew progressively calm.
The relative peace in the delta was, partly but undoubtedly, the result of the sustained and diligent implementation of the Federal Government’s Amnesty Programme for former militant youths in the region. For very ably steering that programme – refocusing the youth on constructive life, improving human safety in the region and boosting the economic fortunes of the nation - Hon KINGSLEY KEMEBRADIGHA KUKU, Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Office, is SAFER AFRICA MAN OF THE YEAR (NIGERIA) 2011.
The Niger Delta Amnesty Programme began as an off-shoot package of the presidential pardon granted to Niger Delta militants through a proclamation by then President Umaru Yar’Adua on 29 June 2009. The programme offered transformation training and skills acquisition opportunities for any militants who laid down their arms.
The Presidential Amnesty Office chaired by the Special Adviser to the President on the Niger Delta was mandated to administer the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of the ex-militants, as a pre-condition for medium and long term development in the Niger Delta. Specifically, the Office was to groom the 26,365 ex-militants who accepted the offer of amnesty in 2009, to become key players in the emerging economies of the Niger Delta.
Kuku was appointed Special Adviser to the President and Chairman of the Amnesty Office on Niger Delta in January 2011 and formally took over from his predecessor, Chief Timi Alaibe, on 3 February 2011. As they say, he hit the ground running, completing the disarmament and demobilization processes, and forging ahead with the task of reintegration.
On 25 May 2011, Kuku and his team achieved closure in the disarmament phase of the Programme. In collaboration with the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu, the Amnesty Office publicly destroyed the arms and ammunition that were submitted to the Federal Government by the ex-militants in 2009. The weapons destruction exercise which took place in Lokpanta, a boundary town between Enugu and Abia States, was carried out in conformity with the extant DDR codes as spelt out by the United Nations.
The next major challenge Kuku and his team had to tackle involved the demobilization and re-orientation of the ex-militants, away from violence and crime, towards constructive and productive life, and in line with the second core objective of the Amnesty programme.
Former militants who enrolled in the programme were taken through non-violence transformational training at the Amnesty Demobilization Camp in Obubra, Cross River State. The curriculum at the camp, delivered by experts from Nigeria, South Africa and the United States of America, was designed to “extinguish the belief of the ex-agitators in violence and provide them a more powerful alternative: non-violence”.
On 24 September 2011, the final batch of 616 out of the 20,192 ex-combatants that enrolled in the first phase of the Amnesty Programme left the camp. With the successful completion of that demobilization process, Kuku and his team wrote Nigeria into history as one of the few countries of the world that achieved successful closure to the Disarmament and Demobilization phases of its DDR programme, following the cessation of armed conflict.
The next challenge has been that of reintegrating the ex-militants into peaceful, productive society. Kuku once observed that: “The phase of reintegration, for me, is more difficult than the disarmament phase”. After taking the ex-militants through their non-violence training and career classification at the camp in Obubra, the Amnesty chief and his team painstakingly placed them in study and training institutions in Nigeria and abroad.
To ensure that they would be of good conduct throughout their training, Kuku, on 11 March 2011, introduced a Code of Conduct which every trainee was required to sign. By this Code, the trainees committed to abide by the laws of their host country and to avoid any form of disorderly conduct before, during and after the training programme. The penalty for violating the Code was expulsion from the Amnesty Programme. The trainees’ subscription to this Code has gone a long way in ensuring their good conduct, particularly in training centres and institutions abroad.
By the end of September 2011, the Amnesty Office had successfully placed a total of 5,349 former combatants in skills acquisition/training centres as well as in formal educational institutions, both in the country and offshore. The courses for which they were enrolled included pipeline welding, underwater welding, ocean diving, crane operation, oil drilling, automobile technology, fish farming and entrepreneurship, as well as formal academic courses leading to the award of degrees in various disciplines.
As at the end of September, a total of 3,482 beneficiaries had been enrolled in 77 training centres in the country. The offshore placement quota, as at that date, was as follows: South Africa: 933; Malaysia: 172; Russia: 64; Benin Republic: 42; Israel: 22; Sri Lanka: 34; United States: 56; India: 65 Poland: 21; and Philippines: 129. However, on 20 November, another 247 trainees were sent off to Malaysia and South Africa for six months vocational courses.
Furthermore, on the persuasion of the Amnesty Office, key operators in the nation’s oil and gas industry (OGI) set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to help with the reintegration of 3,000 of the ex-combatants. As at the end of September 2011, members of OGI, using the modules and templates developed by the Amnesty Office, were sponsoring about 1,000 trainees in skills acquisition centres across the country.
IMPACT OF THE AMNESTY PROGRAMME IN 2011
Throughout 2011, the Amnesty Office under Kuku’s leadership made considerable progress in reintegrating the ex-militants. It refocused many of them towards becoming key players in the emerging economies of the Niger Delta. Equipped with new skills and knowledge, a growing number of these youths have now been empowered to work not only in the oil and gas sector, but also in the many new construction sites, town development projects, railway projects, agriculture and pipeline protection projects that are expectedly underway in the Niger Delta.
However, the impact of Kuku’s work has gone well beyond the primary mandate of his office, which was to refocus the ex-militants and reintegrate them with normal society.
Perhaps the most critical indicator of its impact beyond that mandate is the improvement in public safety and security which it has brought to the Niger Delta. Prior to the programme, kidnapping and hostage taking targeting both expatriate and local workers, as well as sabotage and outright damage of oil and gas infrastructure, were rampant across the region. The sustained implementation of the Amnesty programme and the non-violence transformation of many former members of cults and gangs has had a calming effect on the region. The improved climate of public safety and security contributed significantly to curbing electoral violence in the region, in the run-up to the April 2011 polls.
Peace in the Niger Delta is also creating an environment for revival of economic activities, return of foreign investment and improvement of economic security. By 2009, the conflict in the region had greatly eroded the confidence of both foreign and even local investors. But with the effective end of armed conflict and the progress in peacebuilding, that confidence has been greatly restored, and is now attracting new investment, particularly to the upstream sector of the nation’s oil industry.
Peace in the region has also enabled an increase in the production of crude oil and boosted the revenue accruing to the nation’s Federation Account. In 2008, it was estimated that Nigeria lost over 3 trillion naira due to militancy in the Niger Delta. By mid-2009, the conflict in the region had virtually crippled oil production, cutting output down to only 700,000 barrels per day. Today, following the improved security situation in the region, production has bounced back to about 2.6 million barrels per day. This amounts to an estimated N6 trillion more revenue in 2011 than what the country would have earned if production had continued at the 2009 level.
Furthermore, the improved security situation in the region has also created an enabling environment for the implementation of several infrastructure development projects, planned by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and various state governments across the region.
On 24 September 2011, as the 17th batch of ex-militants graduated from the Obubra camp, President Goodluck Jonathan observed that the amnesty programme had succeeded far beyond expectations. Again in his New Year message to the nation on 31 December 2011, the President counted progress on the Amnesty programme as one of the positive developments recorded in the country during the year. Jonathan said: “We have, with the astute and diligent implementation of the amnesty programme, fully restored peace in the Niger Delta and boosted the production and export of crude oil which had plunged to record lows in the dark days of militant agitation in the region”.
The success recorded by the Amnesty Office in 2011 owes largely to a number of personal attributes which Kuku brought to the job.
First, he is a true believer in the cause of the Niger Delta, having paid his dues at various points in the region’s struggle for a better deal in the Nigerian nation. He therefore came to the office with a clear understanding of the tasks and challenges at hand.
John Idumange, a Certified Business Analyst, and Fellow of the Institute of Public Management in Nigeria observes that: “He (Kuku) has been involved in the Niger Delta struggle and that has given him first class knowledge of the needs of youths in the region. Thus, in managing the process, he gets the youths emotionally involved to appreciate the essence of the programme and what they stand to gain when they painstakingly undergo the required training and acquire the requisite skills”.
Secondly, the Amnesty Chief is a good manager of men and other resources. “My verdict as a stakeholder and a social critic”, says Idumange, “is that the Amnesty Chief is generously endowed with a team-building spirit, the right organizational skills, the passion and, above all, the right strategy”. Idumange further notes that, in terms of timely decision making, Kuku is “not only alert, but consults widely before taking actions”.
Thirdly, those who have worked with Kuku, say he is a tireless workaholic who pays good attention to every aspect of the programme. Kuku is keenly involved in networking with training institutes across the world to identify those with appropriate and credible training programmes; and he keeps a close eye on everything from the processing of trainees to their studies and welfare. As the need arises, he visits them at various training centres, tracking their progress and ensuring that they remain focused on their goals.
Fourthly, Kuku’s success also owes to what a former colleague describes as the “high sense of discipline” and zero tolerance of shoddy work, which he brought to the office. Several incidents have repeatedly underscored these attributes. In seeking to maintain a high level of discipline in the programme, Kuku has had no reservations in showing the red card to any trainee who violates the Code of Conduct or abuses the opportunities offered by the amnesty programme.
For instance, in February 2011, when some of the 212 trainees initially sent to the National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) in Ghana heckled a hotel attendant and held their coordinator hostage in Takoradi, Kuku immediately deported five of them. Other trainees who misbehaved, in such countries as Sri Lanka and Russia, have also been recalled, instantly.
In April 2011, when six of the 38 trainees he took to train as marine mechanics in Florida, USA, got there to say they didn’t want to be mechanics but Marine Captains, “a field that does not exist” as he said, Kuku lost no time in shepparding them home.
He said: “We brought them back, passed them through Immigration. I told the security agencies: Pick up their passports from them, because I don’t want them to find their way back to the US with the visas. We wrote to the American Ambassador: 38 visas issued but six returned with me on issues of the course they will like to go through, which is not existent in Wyotech Technical Institute, Florida. We are back. Here are the passports, you may cancel their visas”.
Some of those who have worked with him over the years say Kuku has a no-nonsense approach to the job. In May, Mr Ekpein Appah, a senior staff of the Amnesty Camp in Obubra, granted an unauthorised newspaper interview accusing the Bayelsa State Governor, Timipre Sylva, of harbouring the fugitive militant leader, John Togo, in his Government House. “That allegation”, Kuku told The News magazine, was “a very terrible statement...the most severe embarrassment the amnesty programme has faced ever since we commenced”. He lost no time in sending Appah on indefinite suspension, for “fundamental breach of the rules of his engagement”.
Later in the year, when it was established that a South African company, Westgate Unique Alliance Limited, which had been contracted to facilitate the professional training of 87 trainees in crane operation and pipeline welding, had failed to abide by its contractual obligations, Kuku sought and obtained President Jonathan’s approval to terminate its contract on 25 November 2011. He warned that he would not hesitate to take similar action against any other training provider whose services fell short of the Amnesty Programme’s contractual expectations.
This firmness in dealing with issues has won Kuku the respect, not only of his staff, but also of all the stakeholders which the Amnesty Office collaborates with, in carrying out its mandate.
In spite of his successes and achievements, Kuku’s office still faces several challenges in 2012.
First, groups of youths going by various names, are still popping up in the Niger Delta, seeking for inclusion in, or indeed claiming rights to the benefits of, the amnesty package. Explanations by the Amnesty Office, and even categorical statements by President Jonathan, that they cannot now be included in the programme as they did not come forward on or before the 4 October 2009 deadline, are still falling on deaf ears.
Clearly, these youths cannot now be admitted to the amnesty programme, but they also cannot be ignored. Federal, State and Local Governments, along with relevant ministries and other agencies of governments, need to work out modalities for training and empowering them within a framework of programmes for human capital development.
There are also concerns about the fate of the programme’s beneficiaries on graduation from skills acquisition centres and other training institutions in Nigeria and abroad. As Kuku himself readily admits, “The success of the amnesty programme will be determined by our ability to provide gainful employment for trainees”. On 2 August, the Amnesty Office took a lead in this regard, partnering with Century Energy Services Limited (CESL), to provide placement for a first batch of 500 trainees either within the Century Group of Companies or in third party companies in the sector.
The Federal, State and Local governments as well as the major oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta must follow that lead and work out creative ways of employing the graduates or giving them robust starter packs to go into self employment. The Nigeria Local Content Office should also streamline policies on how to accommodate the youths, not only in the oil and gas industries, but also in such other areas as the marine, tourism and ICT industries.
Thirdly, going by the budget proposals which President Jonathan presented to the National Assembly in December 2011, the budget of the Amnesty Office is being slashed from N96 billion in 2011 to N76 billion in 2012. This colossal reduction, if approved by the federal law makers, could undercut the Amnesty Programme significantly and jeopardise the sustained achievement of its stated goals.
Other persisting challenges have to do with the slow paced processes which the Amnesty Office continually has to go through in sending trainees offshore, due to the complexities of immigration matters and fund transfers. Furthermore, the programme is still manoeuvring between the lack of specialised vocational training centres in-country and the limitations on resources for sending trainees abroad, especially with its budget severely slashed in 2012.
There are also lingering doubts about the sustainability of the programme and the durability of the relative peace currently prevailing in the Niger Delta.
Hon Dakuku Peterside, a Federal legislator from Rivers State and Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) says he doubts whether the “relative peace in the region” achieved by the amnesty programme is sustainable, considering that the more fundamental issues of resource control, infrastructure development and environmental restoration have not yet been addressed.
Dr Timiebi Korimapo-Agary, a retired federal permanent secretary and one-time media coordinator, Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament for Militants in the Niger Delta, says she is impressed that the amnesty programme has brought “peace in the Niger Delta” and that “income from oil and gas has gone up tremendously and the country is better for it”; but she also adds that “the downside is that not enough is being done to address those fundamental issues that raised activists that metamorphosed into militancy”. Many would agree with Hon Peterside and Dr Agary on the persistence of the “fundamental issues”; but they also agree that these issues are outside the mandate of the Amnesty Office and must fall into the courts of other stakeholders.
A COMMON VERDICT OF SUCCESS
Thus, the common verdict is that judged strictly by the provisions of its mandate, the amnesty programme, under Kuku’s leadership, had been one of the most successful conflict management and youth transformation programmes ever implemented in the history of Nigeria. Nwokedi Nworisara, a policy and media consultant based in Port Harcourt, observes that: “The success of the Kingsley Kuku-led Amnesty programme is just a pointer that this is actually the direction government should be going, if she is serious about ending youth unemployment and its inherent instability in the polity”.
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo used to say that "The great man is not he who comes home to distribute bread, but the one who comes home to distribute hope". Kuku, by his dedicated service to building peace in the once-violent Niger Delta, offers us the hope that someday peace and progress will be possible in all other troubled parts of the Nigerian nation.