Niger Delta Amnesty Programme, Job Creation and Delta State Example

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

It is evident that the actions and inactions of Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, the Governor of Delta State, in the past six years of his administration, not only supports but seamlessly aligned with the saying that the development of initiatives that focuses on social dimensions, and consist of introducing comprehensive plans to enrich human capital and enable citizens to grow through education, training and support, are the major attributes/preoccupation of good leaders.

This opinion was arrived at after reading/listening to Okowa in the last month speak at different events on the efforts his administration is making to curb youth unemployment in the state.

One thing is evident; Delta as a state may be unconnected with the argument in some parts of the country that the greatest militating factor is leadership, the biggest failures is leaders’ imagination and most stubborn refusal to admit the need for change.

Out of many instances, this intervention will focus on two examples.

The first was at the occasion of the 2021 International Youth Day Celebration, organised by the state’s Ministry of Youth Development in Asaba, the state capital, and had as theme Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health, the governor said that for the nation to effectively tackle the challenges of youth unemployment and restiveness in the country, there must be a deliberate effort by governments at all levels, individuals and other stakeholders, to give agriculture its rightful place, qualifies him as one of those outstanding leaders. Some natural resources as oil and gas are exhaustible, but agriculture was as old as man’s existence and would outlive man, adding that its importance in the provision of employment and food for man could not be overemphasized.

The second was at the 2021 Annual Lecture and Symposium organized by Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism (RCDIJ), held on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, at Sheraton Lagos Hotel, Lagos.  The lecture had the theme Rebuilding Trust in a Divided Nigeria: Advancing the Conversation.

Governor Okowa said in part; “We also have a deliberate policy to tackle youth unemployment through skills training and entrepreneurship development programmes. I believe that the way out of the unemployment quagmire is to equip the youth with the technical know-how, vocational skills, values and resources to become self-employed, as distinct from one-off empowerment.

“This is what my administration has done by instituting various skills training and entrepreneurship development programmes, which include: Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Graduate Employment Enhancement Programme (GEEP); Rural Youth Skills Acquisition Programme (RYSA); Girls Entrepreneurship Skills Training (GEST); and Women Entrepreneurship Skills Acquisition Programme (WESAP).

These programmes he said are trainee-centred and service-oriented. The sectors and activities covered include agriculture, agricultural value chain services, vocational skills-based microenterprises and cottage enterprises.

Furthermore, the training and mentoring processes aim beyond raising entrepreneurs to producing leaders and managers that have high levels of personal responsibility and effectiveness. I am pleased to let you know that after six years of faithful implementation of these programmes, we have trained and given business support packages to several thousands of youths.

Following the success of these interventions and other efforts in promoting technical education, Delta State was ranked the Best State in Human Capital Development in the 2017States Peer Review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria.

Also in 2020, Delta was adjudged to be the Second Least Poor State, coming only after Lagos, Nigeria’s business hub, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Indeed, there exists a torrent of lessons the federal government on one hand, and the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme handlers must learn from the above account particularly as there exists within the government at the federal level a long history of inabilities to come up with, and implement a well-foresighted plan as demonstrated/demanded above.

These particular failures/failings have forced many Nigerians at different times and places query the Amnesty handler’s intelligence and in some cases concluded that most of the coordinators lack a distinct set of aptitude a leader must demonstrate in three central contexts of work; the accomplishments of the task, working with and through other people, and judging oneself and adapting one’s behaviours accordingly.

There exist other concerns expressed in the past about the Amnesty programme.

First, apart from stakeholders questioning the wisdom behind teaching a man to fish in an environment where there is no river to fish or training a man without a job creation plan, how will FG explain the fact that the amnesty initiative which was programmed to empower the youths of the region via employment has finally left the large army of professionally-trained ex-militants without a job.

In fact, the region and of course the nation is in a dire state of strait because unemployment has diverse implications. They pointed out that security-wise, large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed, and any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take us nowhere.

The second arguments thrive on the belief that the amnesty programme in the estimation of the Nigerian government is succeeding, as there is relative peace in the region. And since the exploitation of the region is going on unchecked with the privileged political class flourishing in obscene splendour as they pillage and ravage the resources from the region at will while the people of the region diminish socially and economically.

But looking at commentaries, the Niger Deltans with critical interest, are not particularly happy that the FG has abandoned the original amnesty document as proclaimed by Yar’Adua which was meant to stand on a tripod-with the first part of the tripod targeted at disarmament and demobilization process; the second phase to capture rehabilitation which is the training processes, while the third phase is the Strategic Implementation Action Plan.

This last phase, they noted, was designed to massively develop the Niger Delta, but unfortunately ignored by the federal government.

Regardless of what others may say, proper management of these teaming youth and integrated development of the region are the panaceas to determining the success or otherwise of the programme. Like Comrade Evah, the National Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group, rightly noted recently, when asked to comment on the performance of the current Niger Delta Amnesty Programme.

It is only by engaging these teaming youths through employment creation that the incessant youth restiveness can be arrested.

To copiously quote him, he said in parts; the current coordinator has just arrived. The current coordinator is less than one year in that office and we have told him that we want all our boys who are yet to be trained. If he cannot train all of them, we will tell him that he is a failure.

We want him to train them because they are just roaming about. They can become another threat to our homeland. Let us train them.

The resources in the Niger Delta can be used to create industries to absorb them. If the amnesty office can buy fishing trawlers and train our people in ocean rowing, fish processing, it will create job opportunities for our people. There are abandoned fishing trawlers in Lagos.

The Amnesty office can buy them for this purpose. The number of people that will be needed to do that job will double. We will discover that the number of youths presently trained will not even be enough. We need more than 10,000 people for amnesty to go and engage in seafood processing.

If we make use of the Atlantic Ocean for the seafood trade with our youths and we have fishing trawlers, we can feed the Niger delta and even export fish. All these are solutions that we have given to them. We, therefore, want the new coordinator to be practical. What the previous ones did not do, he should do it; train our youth in seafood processing and marketing and engage the idle brain, he concluded.

Indeed, Comrade Evah, in my view, may not be wrong.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via [email protected]/08032725374.

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