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Author Topic: Government has no hidden agenda on amnesty- Koripamo-Agary  (Read 2181 times)

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Government has no hidden agenda on amnesty- Koripamo-Agary
« on: August 15, 2009, 06:24:06 PM »
Dr (Mrs) Timiebi Koripamo-Agary’s happy mood in the course of this interview attested to the perceived successes recorded by the Federal Government on the granting of amnesty to the militants of the Niger Delta. As the media Coordinator of the Inter-Agency Coordinating Committee of the Presidential Committee on Amnesty, it couldn’t have been otherwise on a day hundreds of militants were expected to surrender their arms.


What are you in this Amnesty deal?
I’m the media coordinator. I was in Planning Committee and now I’m in the Inter-Agency Coordination Committee as the media coordinator. So, I have a stake in the process.

I was going to ask you what experience you want to bring into this deal?
First and foremost, I’m from the Niger Delta and a mother. I know the Niger Delta. Most of the militants are Ijaw. I speak the language. So, I can talk to them. I also have fairly good mediating and negotiating skills. I think I have the ability to convince people to try to resolve disputes and conflicts through negotiations. I personally don’t like to see young people die and I tell them that because their lives are worth more than what they are fighting for and they can come to the table to negotiate and even get better deal for themselves, rather than have people speak for them. I just prefer peaceful means of settling disputes. I’m not criticizing them. In fact, they have a lot of respect for me because, although Isaac Boro started this process, these militants have really raised the ante and brought it up to not just national consciousness but international consciousness and I think having done that, there is no need to continue with the strategy that they are engaged in. Every struggle re-examines their strategies, re-assesses the progress they have made and re-plans. I think this amnesty offers them that opportunity to change their strategy and move up to the political level for political engagement.

Tell us the things you think we don’t know about this amnesty deal, which you want us to know?
I don’t think there is anything you don’t already know because I’ve put everything on the table. I think that the Federal Government is very sincere because that’s one of the things that people are very doubtful of. I can tell you that if every President before Yar’Adua had taken this peaceful step to deal with militancy and the proactive steps that have been taken by way of creating the Niger Delta Ministry and the prompt reconstitution of the Niger Delta Development Commission and other programmes on ground, we would probably not be where we are today. We would have moved on. But you also must admit that the crisis in Niger Delta has slowed down to a large extent, infrastructural development and other developments in the region because the contract for East/West road was awarded but Julius Berger had to pull out because of threats to the security of the workers.

The Federal Government has just re-awarded that contract. So, we’ve lost some time. Again, the destruction of oil pipelines and decrease in the oil that’s available now for export, of course is impacting on our government because we get money based on the level of production from our states and every state of the Niger Delta is affected in terms of the money they get from the Federation Account. Even at the local level, with respect to the States and Local Government, the incomes have declined a lot. That impacts on the programmes that are planned by government. But I’ve heard the President talk with his hand and his heart how pained he is about acts of commission and omission that have driven these boys to this level of agitation. He also believes that they really cannot live their lives that way. There has to be a better life for them. They are Nigerian kids and I believe that this amnesty for now is the best deal. It’s not a stand-alone thing. It’s a process of correcting past neglects of the region.

Should amnesty be the appropriate word? You grant amnesty to people who have committed certain offences. Have they agreed?
I think the President has constitutional powers to grant amnesty. The President has magnanimously referred to everybody as a militant. So, I will not even go into whether they have committed offence or not. But let me ask you: would you rather that they go through this interminable and judicial process that would waste the scarce resources that they don’t have and that would tie up their lives to judicial process interminably or that they just accept this amnesty, move on with their lives, enjoy the freedom that it brings and we all begin the process of building the peace that we desire in the region?

Have you spoken to the militants?
Even this morning, there are militants in Ekeremo, Sagbama axis who naturally are scared because they are closer to the Delta Collection Center. They are worried about their personal security and they are requesting for a bus. Of course I’m going to reach out to Delta people to see how we can coordinate that. I’ve spoken to quite a lot of them. I’ve spoken to the big names and the challenge that they face. First, they are not sure of the sincerity of government. But since the release of Henry Okah, I think he has also reached out to them that it’s not much of a challenge. It’s their personal security that is now a big challenge. Of course, the disarmament and demobilization are purely military operations. The first people that they will see on this programme are going to be military. But they have all been trained on how to deal with them as civil as possible. That is the challenge that I think we have.

Of course, some of them are not very clear in their mind about what is available at the integration point. I’m telling them to just enjoy the freedom. The have to sign the renunciation form and that renunciation form says I will no longer take part in militancy. Some people ask of the big time boys. I think at the appropriate point, they would probably be big time businessmen. The necessary procedures would be followed for them to take part in legitimate business in the Niger Delta. There has been exclusion and there has to be opportunities for them to be included.

While you were introducing yourself, you said you are skilled in negotiation and negotiating skills. Has it got to do with your training because you told us you attended the University of Ibadan; but you didn’t tell us your discipline.
I’m actually a Biochemist. I’m not an Arts person at all. I have a science background. But I like to mentor people. I was bit of a rascal in the university. I was in student unionism but never violent in school because I was always a moderating voice. I sharpened those skills when I went to Ministry of Labour and dealing with Comrade Oshiomhole at the time required one to be really on one’s toes because he’s a very smart and extremely intelligent person. I think it’s just on practice and I’ve gone for a few training on ADR and on negotiations. I think God has just helped me to probably identify that aspect of my life. I like peace and I pray to be the instrument of peace really. There are lots of things that can be resolved without raising the voice, but by just showing good fate, sitting down to talk and saying I’m sorry.

I have been reading a lot of things and the impression I get is that there are discordant tunes from various quarters about this amnesty deal. Do you have a template for identifying the real militants to avoid a situation where some people might take advantage of what’s on the offer from the government?
There are no discordant tunes. I talk to the militants and one of the things we have asked the leaders or the militants is that we would like to know which camp you belong to and who your leader is. Believe it or not, we have some idea of who the leaders are and where the camps are. If you are a militant, you have to belong to a camp and you have to have a leader.

They are very organized if you want to know. We are going to depend on the leaders who will compile their names. So, there are really no discordant notes. Majority of the militant leaders are ready to come out. I don’t want to mention their names. But I have spoken to some of the big ones. They are tired. Don’t forget they are in the creeks. It’s not an easy life. There was escalation at some point and you don’t know from day to day what’s going to happen to you. Some of the big time boys are ready to come out and we will do everything to exclude those who are not militants.

I will use this opportunity to also say there are people who were detained as a result of militant activities, who are either in police custody or in prison custody. Just like Okah, their lawyers should go to court so that they will enter nolli proseque and they will have the opportunity of renouncing militancy. I need to emphasize the importance of this renunciation. Your name and everything would be taken out of the renunciation form and it would be gazetted so that nobody would – ten years on – hold you accountable for what you did that the President has granted you amnesty on. So, that renunciation form is very important. So, even if people don’t want to stay on beyond the demobilization point, it is in their best interest to sign that renunciation form because it would be gazetted, just like the proclamation has been gazetted. Their names will be gazetted for history and in their best interest.


How long is this process going to last and if after that period, some people have not signed the renunciation form, what would the next course of action?
Today is day one of the 60-day amnesty period and I don’t think I want to really jump to the end of it. I want to take one thing at a time. My appeal to the militants is: come out, take this amnesty, enjoy your freedom, participate in the discussions, come and be part of the politics.

You don’t envisage there could be some remnant of the militants after this period?
We are doing everything we can to reach them. Of course, there are merchants of conflict. Even in the Niger Delta, there are those who are benefiting from what is going on and who don’t want it to end. But we are also emphasizing that they don’t need to die for anybody. They should come out. I like to wait until the end to know whether there are remnants or not because we are doing everything we can to convince the militants to come out. I’m not saying that there might not be agitations. But it’s my hope that the kind of arms bearing that we are seeing would stop. One of the questions that nobody is asking is: how the arms got to the Niger Delta.

How many militants have signed the form from your records?
What I did was I called in the morning. This is the first day. Overnight, personnel were being moved to the various arms collection points and I have asked for reports. But what I have been told by the Coordinators of Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Ondo States where this exercise is going on is that the militants are ready and they are willing to accept the amnesty. They are willing to turn in whatever arms they have.

We expected the anxious militants to have turned in their guns immediately or a day after. What is the situation?
You know there has to be logistic bottlenecks. You know as well as I do that in the Niger Delta, this is a rainy season. Don’t forget we had some challenges with the Governors because the government of the states were partnering with us until they raised some issues and said they were going to back out. These issues, at least, are in the process of resolution. We had two meetings with the President yesterday with the Committee and the Governors trying to work out, explain and reconfirm their support for the process.
They went back yesterday. So, we expect these little bottlenecks to be cleared in the next few days. They are fully on ground and those Civil Servants who were trying to save their necks and their jobs because their Governors said they were not going to support the process are back. We can reach them now and talk with them. Some of them had gone underground and we couldn’t reach them.
It was a drawback but we have resolved it because the President intensified his engagement with the Governors. I was at one of those meetings and the Governors at the end of that meeting addressed the press and made their commitments to support the process.

It’s a major drawback. Don’t forget we are running a Federal system and the Federal Government cannot just go and unilaterally do certain things in the States, especially in a democracy.
As a matter of fact, we now decided to fall back on plan B because of what happened. For example, the states were supposed to provide us with reintegration centers. But because of these little problems, those centers are not ready. We are going full stream now to make sure that those centers are ready. But in the interim, we have decided as a plan B to use our Federal Government Institutions in the States. So we are going to have what we call holding camps in the Federal Institutions, pending the completion of the reintegration centers.

Could you tell us what this reintegration process entails?
Reintegration process entails rehabilitation by way of training them up, finding them jobs and those who want to go for further education to facilitate that process. There would be opportunities for those who are entrepreneurs to set up their businesses with support for micro credit. All of those things would be worked out. But the real implementation will be driven by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs with Niger Delta Development Commission that has a lot of capacity in that area. The development partners too have shown interest to work with them. Who is going to go where will be determined during the demobilization when people will say what they were doing and what they would like to do. They will sort them out so that when they get to the reintegration centers, those who want to go to school, I’m sure the NDDC will make the necessary arrangements to accommodate them.

How long do you envisage that they are going to spend in the reintegration centers?
It’s indeterminate. I can’t determine how long they will spend because reintegration is a very long process and they may not necessarily spend all the time in the centers. There might be some skills that can be provided within those centers. But if somebody wants to go to the university, he won’t be in the center. He will go to the University. The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the State government would ensure that for the duration of his stay, whatever he needs would be met. Reintegration is not time bound as such. It’s a very long process and we can’t determine the duration at this point. I’m asking this question based on what I have just read here that your budget has been scaled down to N15 billion.

As a matter of fact, it’s been scaled down to N10 billion. What was approved by the National Assembly in the supplementary budget is N10 billion and that is also going to be released in trenches as the need arises for the sixty days. Somebody who comes thirty days to the end will not get sixty days. Somebody who shows up today and stays till the end will get for the sixty days. But it’s only for sixty days. People who have been in the creeks, when they come out, these boys need personal things for their personal hygiene.

Could you project how many militants we are talking about here?
Between 8,000 and 10,000 militants, based on my discussions and the numbers from the Bakassi end, all the way to Ondo.

Is this your budget enough?
It’s an indicative budget. It is still an estimated budget. It’s an estimated budget. If we finish what is approved and there is need for more, of course I worked in government; we will make a request for more funds.

Beyond this amnesty thing, are the militants raising any questions?
The questions they are raising are the issues of fiscal federalism, increase in derivation, resource control issues and, of course, the distribution of positions in the oil and gas sector. They are raising issues and the issues they are raising are genuine concerns for any Nigerian that there should be equity and justice. But I don’t think they are issues that can be resolved through arms struggle. I think that they are issues that would be resolved through dialogue and negotiations. That’s why I believe that they must embrace the amnesty and get themselves ready. They are very articulate. I read Jomo Gbomo’s releases and I know the guy has intellect. Why go and stay in the creeks? You should come to the table and challenge those retrogressive forces that don’t want things to work well face to face, not under a mask. If Jomo Gbomo comes to the table to negotiate, I know that he’s going to negotiate the best deal available.

Has government accepted to do all these things because if these things are not resolved, chances are that we might come back again to the drawing board?
I cannot say government has accepted to resolve the issues because government cannot unilaterally under a democracy begin to resolve issues. We have a National Assembly. A lot of these things are matters for amendments of Constitution, of discussions and of consensus. Beside these issues, they are also talking about infrastructure. They are also talking about development. You cannot have development, infrastructure and some of the things they are demanding without peace. The agitation in the Niger Delta, as you know is also becoming self affecting. It’s affecting us because there is insecurity. Our old people are being kidnapped.

Our children are being kidnapped and the collateral damages are usually the women and children. It happened in Odi. It happened in Gbaramatu recently. In any conflict situation, the collateral damages are women, children and old men. It even happened in the recent Boko Haram incident. So, why do we have to go through this lot when there are easier, better and more peaceful ways of achieving the same thing.

Will the Amnesty agreement resolve all these issues?


Read more at:

http://www.sunnewsonline.com/webpages/features/powergame/2009/aug/16/powergame-16-08-2009-003.htm