March 30, 2023

Barry Ndiomu: The New Sheriff At The Presidential Amnesty Programme

8 min read

“Without great leadership, a clear mission, and a team that delivers results at a high level, even the best product won’t make a company successful.” Robert Kiyosak

The Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) was initiated and signed into law by President Umaru Yar’Adua on June 25, 2009, to stem youth restiveness, militancy, and the ruination of oil processing infrastructure in the same oil-bearing sections of Nigeria. The programme was articulated to execute a quartet of objectives aimed at mitigating the quantum of lawlessness in the region, which, at some point, had brought oil production figures to barely 700,000 barrels per day. PAP was to pursue the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration of the militants. Barely 14 years in existence, has its turnover of chief executives suggested that successive heads of the establishment scarcely gross two years in office.

From its inception, PAP has been administered by six chief executives. Lucky Ochuko Ararile, a retired air vice marshal; Timi Alaibe, who once served as managing director of the NDDC; and Kingsley Kuku, a former member of the Ondo state house of assembly, were special advisers to the president on the Niger Delta and coordinators of PAP at various times. Paul Boroh, a retired brigadier general; Charles Quaker Dokubo, a professor of international affairs; and Milland Dikio, a retired colonel, have also served as chief executives of PAP. Reports of non-adherence to the founding objectives of the body and mind-boggling fiscal malfeasance have regularly dogged the resignations or dismissals of successive heads of the outfit.

The known figure of ex-agitators who were captured at the inception of the program in Obubra, Cross River State, when they agreed to drop their arms, stood at 30,000. According to statistics seen on the official website of the Amnesty Office as of November 4, 2022, 65 percent of the total were said to be currently undergoing training or schooling. 55 percent have been successfully reintegrated back into society, while 45 percent are waiting in line for their turn.

Perhaps against this background, Muhammadu Buhari undertook a guided search for a new head of the PAP to realign and sanitize the serially raped and battered organization in the months preceding the conclusion of his presidency. He narrowed his quest to Barry Tariye Ndiomu, a retired major general of the Nigerian Army. A press release endorsed by presidential spokesman Femi Adesina on September 15, 2022, named Ndiomu “interim administrator” of the Amnesty Programme. Other military officers have administered the organization as detailed in the preceding paragraphs. Ndiomu has been specifically headhunted both on the strength of his well-earned and eminently deserving antecedents.

The emergence of Major General Barry Ndiomu (Rtd) as the Interim Administrator of the Amnesty Programme is a blessing, and it would have been a missed opportunity for the Amnesty Office and the Niger Delta at large not to benefit from his sagacity.

From a realistic point of view, the Amnesty Program has not fully lived up to its mandate. Even as thousands of ex-agitators have been disarmed, the noticeable shortfall in the process is leadership to aggressively drive rehabilitation and reintegration of the ex-agitators. General Ndiomu brings this and many more to the table. He is a complete package.

Ndiomu is very conscious of the unenviable reputation the organization has earned over time and desires to chart a new path by retooling and refocusing the PAP. He tells us: “I desire to uphold the sanctity of the core values for the establishment of the amnesty program.” According to him, his dispensation will be conspicuously different from the previous eras. His words: “Under my watch, we shall place a premium on transparency, accountability, and hard work. There will be a very clear departure from the past trajectory. Ours will be a purposeful and result-oriented administration”.

Ndiomu’s word and promise cannot be taken for granted. He comes into his job with huge credits of integrity, honesty, dedication, and patriotism. He is focused and forthright, an ideal officer and gentleman. He has begun well, interacting with stakeholders in the amnesty program across the span of his “AOR,” as the military will say, which means an area of responsibility. While he can be trusted to invest his aggregate perspiration in his brief, Ndiomu also needs every ounce of understanding, goodwill, and support in the discharge of his duties.

It is on record that at a time when tensions were high over corruption that rattled the Amnesty Programme and ex-agitators became disenchanted, former President Jonathan reportedly advised the then Amnesty boss, Col. Milland Dixon Dikio, that “one thing I should tell you is that you should not bite off more than you can chew, as the saying goes. You should accommodate the projects that you think you can effectively carry out with your budget.”
The stage is now set for Ndiomu to perform with flying colors. It is his time to shine. The government is now more determined than ever to ensure that the program is re-engineered to ensure that its original mandate is fully realized, culminating in a gradual phase-out shortly.

Interestingly, if the current administration had not backtracked on its plan to wind down the Amnesty Programme, it would have gone down in the annals of history—that Yar’ Adua, a Fulani man from Katsina, initiated the Program, and then Buhari, another Fulani man from Katsina, terminated it. Trust Nigerians; many would have attached cultural sentiments to it.

The computation made by the National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno in 2020 that the Presidential Amnesty Programme’s fund totaling N712 billion released since its creation could not be accounted for is another reason to make a case for better leadership and management.

Over the years, a lot of people have fed off of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, many of whom are called ‘billionaires’ today. Sadly, the majority of the main agitators who battled in the creeks are not part of this ‘billionaires’ clique. The Amnesty Program has made a lot of business owners billionaires, but the majority of the ex-agitators are still trying to find sustainable livelihoods. The corruption is now fighting back. The reason why sponsored groups are blackmailing the General is that he came on board to stop their ‘business as usual’. But he must not renege on his quest to put the Amnesty Program back on the path of righteousness.

Part of his focus is also to make the Federal Government see reasons why the Amnesty Program should be redesigned as a social investment program rather than winding it down totally due to the outcome of stakeholder engagement. This, he has succeeded in doing already.

Arguably, the amnesty program has not created much value in terms of employment or engagement of the trained ex-agitators. Some massive projects and investments have been carried out in the Niger Delta, especially in the oil and gas industry, but with little or no strategic measures to engage these trained ex-agitators. In the course of the program, scholarships were given to hundreds of non-indigenes of the Niger Delta region.

Another thrust of thought is that in Nigeria’s Northeast Development Commission, one would hardly find any Niger Deltan working there. But in the Presidential Amnesty Office, non-Niger Deltans, including those from the north, hold sensitive positions.

In May this year, Nigeria saw its crude production plunge to its lowest level in more than 30 years, to 1.23 million b/d, according to estimates by S&P Global Commodity Insights. Aside from some operational and technical factors, sabotage and oil theft were largely responsible for the shortfall. Key oil fields and terminals across the Niger Delta have been hit by a resurgence in attacks on critical oil infrastructure.

The estimates added that Nigeria and Angola are not expected to be able to meet their current OPEC quotas “for at least another year, having produced almost 300,000 b/d less than their combined quotas throughout 2021.” According to Platts Analytics, Nigeria’s crude production is not expected to reach much more than 1.51 million b/d in 2023 and could dip lower by the end of the year.

Upon assumption of office, the General met over N90bn debt on the ground. He also inherited an N4.5 billion debt owed to contractors, which he swiftly renegotiated down to the tune of N1.3 billion, thereby saving costs for the Federal Government. This is precision leadership with a deliberate intent to right the many wrongs in the Amnesty Program.

Structurally, the amnesty program is designed to run in three phases: training, empowerment, and engagement, after which the beneficiaries are expected to exit. Sadly, the 30,000 figure of beneficiaries captured since inception is not reducing; it is rather swelling. The government had raised eyebrows at the fact that the program, which was established with 30,000 ex-agitators, still runs with the same number, even after billions of naira have been spent on training and reintegration programs.

In a deliberate move to tackle this, General Ndiomu’s earliest efforts since assuming office have beaten down the 30,000 former agitators list by over 1,900 persons. This would further save costs for the federal government, as these dismissed individuals will no longer be on the payroll for the $65,000 or so monthly stipend.

Another permutation is that if Tompolo, NNPC Ltd., and other stakeholders had leveraged the 30,000 ex-agitators to secure manpower to execute the pipeline surveillance contract, it would have reduced the number of untrained ex-agitators and would have been a win-win situation. The numbers will be trimmed down, just as more value would have been created for the federal government. Many have also imagined that the Federal Government considers Tomplolo’s Pipeline Protection Contract as a tenable excuse to end the Amnesty Programme.

“Under my watch, we shall place a premium on transparency, accountability, and hard work; there shall be a clear departure from the past trajectory to a purposeful, result-oriented administration.”

“We shall equally embark on reorientation, training, and empowerment of the ex-agitators in line with the present realities of the nation.”

“I desire to uphold the sanctity of the core values for the establishment of the Amnesty Programme that borders on disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, which form the tripod upon which the Programme presently stands,” the general pledged when he took over as Interim Administrator of the Amnesty Programme.

General Ndiomu’s military training and track record in the Army, especially in terms of churning out positive results in assignments given to him, were top-notch. No doubt, this must have triggered President Buhari to appoint him at this critical time as the interim administrator of the amnesty program.

An indigene of Odoni in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, Ndiomu was admitted to the Nigerian Defense Academy as part of the 29th Regular Combatant Course and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1983.

His service was meritorious as the Garrison Commander, of Nigerian Army Headquarters, and at various times, he was the Chief of Training and Operations, besides other command and staff appointments he held in the course of his successful military career before retiring in December 2017.

He is also a trained lawyer and an alumnus of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, Badagry, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the George C. Marshall Centre for European Security Studies, among others.

General Ndiomu has brought a lot of experience from his background in the military, and he believes in building capacity amongst the youth and women, the result of which is that he has helped many youth and women get jobs in the military, immigration, correctional services, and civil defense for youths across the Niger Delta Region.

His reintegration into good positions in the international oil companies (IOC) despite the mindset of deep socio-cultural traits mitigating against the positive, purposeful development of the region cannot be overlooked.

The rot in the Amnesty Office and the Federal Government’s earlier intention to wind down show clearly that General Ndiomu has a herculean task ahead and that he is capable of bringing his past transparency and accountability to bear on the Amnesty Program.

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