Budget 2013: N36 billion Ex-Militant’s Largesse In Review
EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE looks back at the federal government Niger Delta Amnesty Programme viz-a-vis its N36 billion 2013 budgetary plan for the ex-militants.
When seen through the lens of pecuniary benefits and unrestricted access to power (at least the presidency), indeed, being a militant in Nigeria ranks top among lucrative businesses.
Enticed by the programme (Amnesty), the militants emerged a couple of years ago from the oil-soaked swamps of the delta. Some of the leaders took up residence in the executive floors of Abuja’s Hilton and through much of 2010 and early 2011, spent weeks or months enjoying the Executive Lounge’s complimentary supply of Hennessey V.S.O.P. cognac, priced at N8,000 a shot on the room-service menu. Over a buffet of fiery Nigerian dishes–gumbos, jollof rice, pilafs, goat stews–they rubbed shoulders with the country’s leading politicians and influence peddlers, who often live on the floor’s N100,000-a-night art-deco rooms, the Wall Street Journal in an August report aptly captures the militants new status.
Former President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, on June 25, 2009, proclaimed a 60-day unconditional amnesty period for militants in the Niger Delta, as a step towards resolving the protracted insecurity in the region. The disarming of former agitators was done under the supervision of the military and the security high command in the country. This ended since October 4, 2009, which was the deadline for the surrendering of arms by the repentant youths.
In televised ceremonies, guerrillas dropped off rifles, machine guns, tear-gas canisters, dynamite bundles, rocket launchers, antiaircraft guns, gunboats and grenades to be sold to the government, which also offered the nonviolence training courses and nine-month vocational classes.
Nigeria is shelling out billions of naira a year to maintain an uneasy calm in the oil-rich delta, where attacks ranging from theft to bombings to kidnappings pummeled oil production three years ago, to as low as 500,000 barrels on some days. Now production is back up to 2.6 million barrels daily of low-sulfur crude of the sort favored by U.S. refineries, which get nearly 9 per cent of their supply here.
Under the arrangement, the government grants living allowances to tens of thousands of former members of the bandit crews and sends them to vocational classes, in sites ranging from Houston to London to Seoul. These costs are on top of millions of dollars paid at the outset to the crews’ leaders for handing in their weapons.
In a case, the federal government offered Asari Dokubo a truce and $1,000 apiece, he says, for his AK-47 rifles, numbering 3,182. He says he took the deal and used the profits to purchase more weapons and return to the swamp.
Ex-militants, Tompolo, Dokubo-Asari, Boyloaf and Ateke Tom are being paid respectively N5.1 billion, N1.44 billion, N608 million and N608 million yearly by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to protect the pipelines from oil scooping, the Journal report said.
On Tuesday, the Presidency announced plans to spend N35 billion on Niger Delta ex-militants in 2013 going by budget estimates presented to the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta.
According to the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Amnesty Programme, Mr Kingsley Kuku, the budgeted sum is for skills acquisition and vocational training leading to reintegration of the ex-agitators enrolled in the Presidential Amnesty Programme.
Kuku stated that 63 per cent of this sum will go to servicing on-going commitments while the balance, that is 37 per cent, will be expended in placing 3,000 transformed ex-agitators in either formal education or vocational training in the fiscal year 2013.
“The budgetary figure for the placements of the estimated 3,000 ex-combatants in re-integration centres is based on the profile from the career/Professional counselling and re-integration classification sessions of the transformational training.
“66 per cent or 1,980 of the 3,000 ex-combatants have opted for vocational training. It is estimated that local training centers will be able to absorb 1,000 participants. The balance of 980 ex-agitators will be trained offshore”.
Chairman, House Committee on Niger Delta, Warman Ogoriba (Bayelsa/PDP) who picked holes in the budget estimates, said the Committee would set up a sub-committee to review the proposal of the Amnesty office.
– EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE