Niger Delta amnesty programme was to last only five years – AVM Ararile (rtd)

Retired Air Vice Marshal Lucky Ararile, is the first coordinator of the Niger Delta Amnesty programme that led to the surrender of arms by the Niger Delta militants. In an interview in Abuja, AVM Ararile, now the Ovie of Umiaghwa Abraka kingdom discusses the programme, which he said was bastardized, among other national issues. 

You were the first coordinator of the amnesty programme. The programme has many problems including ex-militants not being paid, the budget for the programme being cut and the repercussions. What is your assessment of the issue?
Not many Nigerians know that I started the amnesty programme or they have forgotten. The amnesty programme from the initial conception was supposed to last not more than five years. It was supposed to be winding down before the 5th year unless for those who were still in the university and those who had acquired some skills. Before the militants were registered for the programme they were asked to surrender in 90 days, those who chose not to surrender were supposed to be on their own but later they started having batches of ex-militants to be paid. The whole programme became bastardized. The programme was not only for the disarmed ex-militants, it was for the whole Niger Delta and by definition, it includes nine states. At that time Henry Okah confirmed that they were not more than 5,000, but later on politics came into it and the figures started rising to 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 and some started claiming that they have not been captured. Therefore, a line had to be drawn and decisions had to be made.
Former President (Umaru Musa) Yar’adua was passionate about the programme, insisting that all the Niger Delta people will be addressed, not just those with arms but unfortunately the concept was never addressed. After a few people – Timi Alaibe and Kuku – got involved in the programme it became tribalised.
I don’t know the plan of the current administration, but the fact is that the programme is designed for 5 years and if we continue this way, others will be encouraged to take arms and become militants, and the late President Yar’adua’s fears will be validated. The people will tend to say that the government only attends to those who carry arms. So the programme cannot be in perpetuity.

As the situation is now, you said it has been bastardized, what is the way forward and what advice do you have for the government?

Well, there is now a new government and they must have their own plans and programmes and also attitude towards the amnesty programme. I cannot suggest because I have been out of the programme since 2010. But if the government plans a review and wants my suggestion, I will do so.

Do you believe that the amnesty programme has achieved its objectives?
The amnesty programme is still in progress, so I can’t say it has achieved its aim or not, the end state is that there will be no more kidnapping and vandalism. Militants will be employed, so it is actually left to you as an individual to weigh if it is succeeding or not.
There is this fear of threat to security if the programme ends suddenly, that the youths will become restive and go back to the creeks.
Honestly, I think the youths who sign the undertaking and who are part of the programme cannot go back to the creeks. The Federal Government has spent much on them; it is the most generous amnesty programme in the world. Rwanda, for example, had a time when the militants were causing similar problems and their government gave them $750, collected their weapons and everybody went home.

In the original concept of the amnesty programme, were there provisions to send some people abroad for training?
Everything was supposed to be localised. The late President Yar’adua even insisted that everything should be in the Niger Delta. Then people came that by the United Nations convention that they should be taken outside their immediate environment. Then the thought of Taraba State and Jos was included as locations where the ex-militants should be taken as part of the programme. The main idea was to take them out of their environment and break the linkage with their leaders so that when they go back they become independent. Bank accounts were opened for each ex-militant in the programme, but when Timi was appointed he cancelled and reverted to paying the boys through the leaders. When I was the coordinator, I established a mechanism that made direct deposit into the accounts of all the ex-militants in the programme, instead of paying directly to the leaders.

This brings us to the issue of bombing of gas pipelines and attack on fuel stations. What do you attribute this to and what is the way forward?
As I said, the programme was all-encompassing; it was not to address 30,000 youths, it was to address the whole Niger Delta and the issues were militancy, youths unemployment, environmental degradation. At the time Timi and Kuku were sole administrators of the programme there was this misunderstanding, especially in the print media that they were a committee. There were several DGs that were members but not that which Kuku was heading.

How would you react to calls for extending the Niger Delta kind of amnesty programme to insurgents?
I don’t think the President has said anything concerning the North-East. What I have heard in the media is that the North-East is going to be redeveloped and the people are going to be resettled, I don’t think the President is using the Yar’adua approach in the North-East.

Many people have thought that this present administration will not have to be fighting the Boko Haram. What is it that the administration is not doing right?
The present administration has done very well in the war against Boko Haram. This war against Boko Haram is not a small war. Let’s flash back to how they started. They were bombing places, killing people in the North. After the Igbos ran away, they now faced the northerners. One of the popular persons they killed was General Shuwa of the Nigerian Civil War, customs officers and other paramilitary operatives.
Talking about the arms deal, it is treasonable. If Dasuki was charged for treason no one should talk about bail. They are all subject to military law and I think they should be sent to the military. These people have brought Nigeria into serious ignominy.
I want to tell you that the $2.1 billion arms deal happened by happenstance. I don’t think the President actually thought he would start the anti-corruption war with the office of the NSA It just happened. The Ministry of Defence is yet to be questioned; the NNPC as well, the civil service, etc.

How do you think the military can regain the confidence of fellow Nigerians?

The average Nigerian knows that the Nigerian Armed Forces are capable, so getting the people’s confidence back is not going to be a problem because they are aware that the money meant for the military was not used judiciously. I’m happy about the anti-corruption war because at the end of the day we are going to have a better military and a better country.

You have given the Present administration thumbs up on the economy and its handling of the Boko Haram issue. But many Nigerians are now complaining that everything seems to be concentrated in fighting corruption?
I have some background in finance, so I will give a brief comment. US Senator McCain once said that he knew how to fight wars and politics but knew nothing about the economy. I suggest the same attitude to Mr President, he has the competence, patriotism, passion and capacity to fight corruption and in any case even if he has the capacity he cannot fight so many battles at a time. So he has to delegate. We need an economic team probably outside the current structure.

There is the issue of the kidnapping of traditional rulers, what should government do about it?
Meetings are ongoing but no strategy has been deployed yet. I think the abduction of two traditional rulers is a coincidence and not planned. There are some that are targeted but not all. As a commander of the air force in Benin, I was involved in the Operation Restore Hope, then I advised the militants against kidnapping and that someday they may likely start kidnapping their own parents when all the white people had run off, and that is exactly what is happening and it also gives room for others to copy and imitate such dreadful behavior.

How can we regain our respect as a nation?
I have always agreed with the President in what he says and does, if we don’t kill corruption, it will kill us. That is why I am advising that he tackles corruption and leaves the economy to a team of economists. I am totally with him.

Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to as the source.