By Dan Alabra
Our attention has been drawn to a report published on Sahara Reporters and some online news portals credited to a shadowy group alleging fraud in the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) for former agitators in the Niger Delta and calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to sack his Special Adviser on Niger Delta/PAP Chairman, Hon. Kingsley Kuku.
Clearly, the report and, indeed, the allegations lack substance and can easily be dismissed as the handiwork of and another futile attempt by political jobbers bent on distracting Hon. Kuku, whose consistency and successful implementation of the Presidential mandate on the programme has brought pride to our nation.
We could have also elected to ignore it given that the signatory, one ‘Diepriye Jackson Dikibo,’ and the authors, the so-called Niger Delta Awareness Coalition and Ex-Militant Leaders Forum, are faceless and unknown to the Amnesty Office. Our records have no such entry as Diepriye Jackson Dikibo as an ‘ex-militant leader.’ We challenge them to controvert this and show proof if such a person exists.
As a responsible interventionist government agency, deploying public funds in the training of Niger Delta youths whose violent agitation almost brought our country to a standstill economically just a few years ago, we deem it absolutely important to always keep the records straight and to dispel the concocted tissues of lies and misinformation in such kind of reports.
In their haste to tar the chairman of the Amnesty Programme with the brush of corruption and fraud, the authors claimed that “Niger Delta youths are shipped away to unaccredited training and educational institutions across MOST of the THIRD World.” Unfortunately, they failed to mention even one of such institutions.
We however urge them to verify whether the following institutions where our delegates are currently training are unaccredited, are third-rate or in the Third World.
In the United States of America, there are a total of 70 delegates on government scholarship and undergoing various educational programmes at these institutions: Alabama State University, Alabama A & M, California State University, Salisbury University, University of Houston, Liberty University in Virginia, and Tissin University in Ohio.
At the moment, there are 582 delegates in 58 institutions in the United Kingdom alone. These include the universities of Birmingham, Manchester, Kent, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckingham, and Swansea.
Others are Kings College, Anglia Ruskin University, Coventry University, Dundee University, Robert Gordon University as well as the universities of Plymouth, Portsmouth, Essex, Brunel, Liverpool, and Sheffield among others.
Seventy-one (71) of our delegates are at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa while 160 delegates are in Limkokwing University (84) and Linton University (76), both in Malaysia, and others in Belarus, Russia, Northern Cyrus, Ukraine, Phillipines, and Ghana (Cape Coast University).
A robust selection and academic preparation process is also in place through partnership with some reputable educational bodies that administer foundational training programmes to these delegates before they are offered admission into some of the aforementioned institutions. These bodies include the Navitas Group (an Australian educational body that administers foundation programmes for universities in UK, U.S, Australia and Singapore), the Study Group in UK as well as the Washington Post-owned Kaplan Educational Services in UK and U.S (It is currently preparing 180 delegates in Lagos on a seven-month foundational programme preparatory to their entry into six universities in the U.S).
The petitioners equally faulted the aviation training programme, which has today produced commercial pilots for Nigeria, on the premise that there are no airlines or aircraft to engage them on completion of their training.
Nothing could be more laughable! Do you wait until there are jobs before you go to school or build the capacity of our youths? If that is the case, all the universities should be shut down until the government is able to provide jobs to accommodate the graduates.
The aviation training component of the amnesty programme is one of our prime programmes that was borne out of a conscious effort to narrow the global shortfall in qualified pilots and aviation personnel. At the moment, 22 of those who qualified as Commercial Licensed Pilots in South Africa are at the Lufthansa Training Institute in Frankfurt, Germany while another nine are at the prestigious CAE Aviation Academy in Oxford on a 14-month jet/type-rating programme. On completion of the training, they will be able to fly the Next Generation aircraft of either Boeing or the Airbus.
Over 100 others training to become pilots and aeronautical engineers are in Greece and Jordan and at the Fujairah Aviation Academy in Dubai (after which they will proceed to the Emirates Aviation School also in Dubai for their type-rating training).
Also, in the last two years, no fewer than 800 Niger Delta youths have been trained in several fields in the critical maritime sector. About 100 of them were placed in seafaring programmes in the United States of America, Vietnam, Italy, Poland, Ghana and in Nigeria. Nineteen of the trainees who completed their training at the Gydirma Maritime Academy in Poland have gone on board vessels to gain the requisite sea-time experience.
The World Maritime Academy in Sweden will early next year commence the training of our delegates while 30 other youths from the region will soon be deployed to France for power technology training.
Over 1,000 of our delegates are also on scholarship in five private universities in Nigeria undergoing various degree programmes.
In the last three years since the implementation of the amnesty programme began in 2010, no fewer than 16,000 former agitators out of the 30,000 beneficiaries have been trained in various vocational skills and educational programmes or are currently in training locally or offshore.
These are facts that are verifiable and the figures support our assertion that the amnesty programme is not a drainpipe neither is it a fraud. The lives of hitherto restive and disoriented youths in the Niger Delta are being transformed through these carefully planned capacity building initiatives undertaken by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration as part of his Transformation Agenda.
In a few years, the positive outcome of the amnesty training programme will be visibly felt in our nation and other parts of the world. Already, 30 of our delegates trained in welding and fabrication at the Proclad Academy in Dubai have been gainfully engaged by the Proclad Group in the United Arab Emirates while another 30 are undergoing training in France under a partnership with Schlumberger, which will employ them on completion of their training. Samsung is also set to engage another 1000 upon completion of their training in welding, fabrication and drilling operations.
Let us also clarify that the inclusion of some non-former agitators in the programme, such as the 180 students in Lagos, a large percentage of our aviators, and students under the Special Scholarship Scheme, is in consonance with a typical Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, which provides that while attempting to stabilise peace and security in an affected area by educating, training and creating alternative means of livelihood for ex-agitators, effort must be made to side by side educate and train persons affected by the fighting forces. These include internally displaced persons, adversely impacted communities and vulnerable women and youths.
Indeed, what Hon. Kuku deserves are accolades and not the mudslinging and wicked propaganda against him by some persons in the Niger Delta, who now see the amnesty programme as their next target for reasons that are far from being altruistic. To achieve this, they have commenced a ‘Kuku Must Go’ campaign. It is regrettable that such persons still prefer the laissez faire and business-as-usual approach to government business whereby they see public funds as free money to be frittered away on frivolities.
In our country today, it is easy to make wild and unfounded allegations of fraud and corruption by public office holders without any effort by the accusers to prove such claims. The trite principle however remains that whoever asserts must prove, and we challenge those opposed to Kuku’s handling of the amnesty programme to OPENLY do so.
The bad news for them, however, is that the PAP Chairman remains focused and cannot be distracted by the blackmail, subterfuge and antics of political jobbers and professional petition writers whose stock-in-trade is P-H-D (Pull Him Down). He is irrevocably committed to his mandate of ensuring that the amnesty programme delivers its quota in the Transformation Agenda of Mr President.