Professor Charles Dokubo
Iyobosa Uwugiaren of Thisday Newspaper holds a conversation with the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator, Amnesty Programme, Prof. Charles Dokubo on what he is doing to change the narrative of the presidential amnesty programmes
From the beginning of your administration, share with us the challenges and success story so far?
I came into this office with a mindset that I will like to make a difference to the programme. After reading about the programme and going through the various ideas that have been developed by those who were in charge before me, I said I will make a difference. The first thing I did was to set up a committee to look into the progress of the amnesty, what they have done right and where they have gone wrong. From there, I didn’t want to castigate or investigate anybody, I just wanted to do my own thing because my position has always been that those before me did it in their own way and I want to do it my own way. I believed my own way would be better than all they’ve done because the environment I have come into was totally at variance with what they were dealing with. I think there was a lot of time wasted. I promised to look at the programme and to know where it will greatly impact the lives of the Niger Delta people. Thank God, I came in during the period of reintegration, where they were nursing post-conflict societies back to health, providing post-conflict peacebuilding and other associated relief to communities that have been torn by conflict. My plan was on how we could reintegrate these people and ensure that if we nurse them back to the society they would not relapse again to the conflict they are accustomed to. That was why I decide to put all efforts into the reintegration. But it was not an easy task in the sense that most of the structure that has been set up for integration, like vocational training, were not completed. They were on different stages of completion when I took over office. But, for me, what I decided to start with was the one in Kaiama. I went to Kaiama, I met people and did my first empowerment programme there. This is because of the symbolic nature of the Kaiama Declaration and to go see those who were there when it all happened — so that I could buy them in on what I intend doing. From there, I moved on, and that time I brought the roadmap of the programme and I saw that they abandoned ‘Agadagba’. I said I cannot stand aside to see that a place where a lot of money has been spent is wasted. There are some places where money was paid 90 percent and the work was not even completed. I have to justify expending and also finishing the work because I believe it is for the Niger Delta people. I am not looking at personalities. I try to depersonalise and depoliticise issues so that any development plan could have a direct impact on people. Agadagaba is where we have many levels of people in vocational training so that they would be absorbed into the oil and gas industry that is really a prime industry in our region. I completed that project with the best of instrumentation and engineers from abroad. I was always asking myself how come that in all these years — with a lot of money extended into the programme, there is nothing to show for it — apart from the over-dependency by our people on the N65,000 monthly stipend? As much as it is necessary, it does not advance our people’s development. That was why I took the part of completing the structure that has been left uncompleted so that our people could go into training in required well-targeted areas.
Did you encounter challenges in this direction?
You know that there are people who have been in the programme before, who have worked with the office, and who believe that with the way I was going, it will stop them from getting the money they always have. But, you know coming from an environment like mine, I didn’t understand that there are vested interests whose source of livelihood was collecting money without providing solutions. I defy all those logics. I do the right thing. That is why you are having all those clamour and disagreements. They believe that Niger Delta is only for one set of people, but my appointment defied that. Wherever you come from in Niger Delta, you can attain this high office; and do the right thing for the people. The sense of entitlement that pervades the thinking of our people is such that it was a battle to be fought and be won. I tried my best to deal with that issue of entitlement. My appointment has not even been accepted by a certain part of the Niger Delta, and it is also a challenge because everything you do would be given different coloration; because they believe that you don’t belong. Though I am Ijaw, they believe that if you are not from a particular state, where you can control this office you can never be a Niger Delta. For me, it is a challenge but I was able to face it. It is either you do it my way or you go to the highway, and that is why all these issues of blackmail and petition are coming. I don’t mind petitions but if you do that you must give reasons and examples. This job is not hell.
To what extent would you evaluate the impact of the current opposition you are experiencing from within?
From the position that I have taken from the beginning — that I will do a good job here, whatever the opposition, I will try to buy them in and convince them for the betterment of the whole Niger Delta people. And also to remove that sense of entitlement that anybody from the Niger Delta area could be in charge of this programme.
There were controversies on the projects you did in Kaiama, which was later vandalised. And it was gathered that investigation was being carried out to ascertain the causes. What is the update?
The update is that investigation would soon be concluded on that matter. What actually happened was that I was in Port Harcourt, where we wanted a meeting with some people in Niger Delta to start the Kaiama vocational training centre. We sent letters to a lot of people to come and grace the occasion; because since that place was built they have been using it as a warehouse. So, any empowerment programme you want to do in any part of the Niger Delta you have to go there and pick materials to give to those you want to empower. But to me, right from the period, I was appointed, I questioned the rationale behind the citing of that project in Kaiama. They said Kaiama was where Isaac Boro was born; so, there must be a project. But I have a different view. For instance, we have airports in this country named after people who were not even born there. So the citing of that project from the beginning was planned to fail. Kaiama is so secluded from the entire Bayelsa State. So, we were getting prepared to go to Kaiama and launch the project. All my staff were already in Port Harcourt — ready for the last lap of our journey to Kaiama. Then, a day before that we got an alarm that people were vandalising the place, and I called my Chief Security Officer to go there with troops to see what is happening. The troops were in the environment for a day before I got there. When I got there, the people I saw at the front of the gate were more than 5000, carting things away and they are from Kaiama and its environment. When I got into the place, after security clearance, I addressed them, telling them that no person in his right state of mind would destroy what belongs to the people. I told them they don’t have to destroy what is for them. Almost everything was destroyed, including the toilet seats; they were removed. I have never seen that type of wanton destruction ignited by people against their own people.
Vandalised Amnesty Vocational Centre at Kaiama
Why was it done a day before your event?
I don’t want to make guesses, but there was a story at that time that President Muhammadu Buhari was coming to visit Bayelsa State. Making accusation may not be something that is very good, but I believe that it was a political plan by the opposition to mar the visit of the president and to bring the integrity of this office to question. Why didn’t they destroy the place when the people they believe was their son was running this place? They believe that someone is nowhere to block where they get money from. We are trying to do things in the right way so it could benefit everyone, not individuals. Most of the people who come to my office talk about individuals; only a few people talk about the issue of the Niger Delta people. That is disturbing. There was also a complaint by the people that their stipends were not paid. When I came into this office, because of the crisis that followed my appointment, the account of this office was blocked for more than two months. I was running this office from the goodwill of people who are our friends. But, when they released the money, those people whose stipends were not paid for two months, I paid everything at once; so that we could clear the backlog of unpaid stipend. To me, the most important thing in the expenditure of this office is that you must pay a stipend and school fees. So, the people investigating the incident has given us a preliminary report; but I think before the end of this week they will give us the full report. I don’t want to jump the gun to say something that would be prejudicial. When the report comes out, we will have a press conference and I will deliver it to the National Security Adviser, and the IGP because I know that people would be arrested. It may be taking too long, but I am not the one doing the investigation. It is being done by the right authority. But whatever it is, Nigerians will see what really happened in Kaiama.
Instead of the stipend being paid to the ex-militants, what else can this office do to change that narrative and empower them?
The programme is geared towards that, but there are challenges going towards that path. There is this entrenched sense of sitting at home and being given N65,000. I don’t want to say how it sounds to other Nigerians because the mentality of ‘we own the oil’ is always there. For me, every Niger Delta person who wants to be educated should be educated. People have been sent offshore and onshore for education; they are in vocational training schools and have been empowered so that they can carry on with their lives. I think the most important thing that I have decided to do is that all these structures that have been left in different levels of completion will be completed, and so that Niger Delta could be a place where people would be trained in all facets of life and they will go out there and earn money. Slow but surely we will get there.
There are other states in the Niger Delta who have accused the Ijaw people of monopolising the amnesty programme; that there are more Ijaw people benefitting from the programme, thereby shutting others out. How true is this?
Those people saying that do not understand the nature of the amnesty programme. Those of them who were at the forefront of the fight and those who accepted amnesty at that time were the initial beneficiaries of the programme. And that is why they have an advantage. At that time, when the Federal Government declared the amnesty programme, many of them were scared, they did not come for documentation. It was those who documented themselves that are part of the amnesty programme. And my office does not have the right to include or exclude anybody. Being a member of the amnesty programme depends on a presidential proclamation and budgetary expansion, which are all beyond my power. So when people say all sorts of things it means they do not understand the nature of the programme.
What if those people who are still carrying arms in Niger delta decide to surrender their arms and key into the amnesty programme, would they be absorbed?
That is beyond me. I have gotten a letter from the Cross River states governor that we should allow the people into the training and they will pay the stipends. But if you are coming into the programme, you should know that it will affect the budget of the programme. I even promised the Ondo people that we can bring some of them into the training to benefit if they could pay them the stipend.
What is the future of amnesty in the next year?
The programme will be so streamlined that it would give room for more training and it would be training by institutions so that those who are trained would be certificated. We will develop the trainings in such a way that when they are done they would make no claim to amnesty again, because they have been empowered. It could be a huge task for the region that has been so used to depending on stipends. I have seen incidents where some of them reject jobs of N50,000 because the stipends being paid to them for just sitting at home is N65,000. They do not think that they could be promoted on the job depending on their performances where they would earn more. If you look at all parts of the federation, there is no region that has been so polluted with agencies like the Niger Delta. If all these agencies can work in concert to do a roadmap for the Niger Delta, things will be better off. If we don’t do that, we might have nothing to show in the nearest future.
The activities of the oil companies in the Niger Delta have been relatively stable for quite some time. Don’t they have a role to play in the new narrative of the amnesty programme?
We are trying to draw them in because if we are creating an environment that is stable enough for them to carry out their activities, then it is more than just a corporate social responsibility for them to also key into the programme. We are adopting the policy of moral suasion that they should look at it in those terms. It all depends on the people around you and how you feel their pulse. If the people start to see a few benefits you can be to them, I think the oil companies will continue to stay there and do their business. The Federal Government is bent on maintaining and stabilising the Niger Delta. They carried out these projects because the Niger Delta people have been ignored for a long time, and now the government is paying a lot of attention to the Niger Delta. I believe that if this programme is well structured and carried out the way I want to do it, a time will come that stipends will take the back seat and training would be available for everyone in the Niger delta.