The Commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta codenamed ‘Operation Delta Safe’, Rear Admiral, Aminu Hassan, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Lucky Irabor and Ijaw National Congress (INC) President Prof. Benjamin Okaba, among others, trace the peace in the Niger Delta to the prompt payment of ex-militants’ monthly stipends and constant engagements with stakeholders, writes SIMON UTEBOR
The Commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta codenamed ‘Operation Delta Safe’, Rear Admiral, Aminu Hassan, recently admired showered praises on Col. Milland Dikio (rtd), the Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), who assumed office in August 2020. Hassan observed that Dikio’s administrative style had promoted and sustained the peace in the Niger Delta.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Lucky Irabor made a similar observation when he received Dikio and his entourage in his Abuja office. Gen. Irabor said the amnesty’s boss had reduced the burdens of security operatives in the region with his unique style and uncommon approach.
Ijaw National Congress (INC) President Prof. Benjamin Okaba lauded Dikio for adopting a bottom-top approach in the management of one of the most critical programmes in the region. Okaba said it was the first time an occupant of the exalted office integrated all the stakeholders in the Niger Delta into the management of the Amnesty office.
Breaking Dikio’s style down, the JTF’s helmsman, who spoke when he received the amnesty helmsman in his office, identified prompt payment of ex-agitators’ monthly stipends and constant engagements with them and other stakeholders as Dikio’s major vehicles sustaining the peace in the region.
Addressing Dikio, he said: “Your area of assignment is of interest to us because whatever is happening there has a ripple effect on us. If there is peace in the work you are doing, we can feel the peace and we can also touch it and know there is peace. But if there is no peace we are the first line of defence for that.
“But we can see there is peace. We appreciate your good work. Some of us have been following all you have been doing in that area. Since you took over there have been two key strategies you adopted that I believe are the way to go.
“One is that you are always around the ex-agitators and that is a very good strategy. You are always with them. You hear from them and you talk with them. We are all human beings and all of us need that sense of belonging and when we have it, it reduces tension and pressure.
“Second is the regular payment of stipends. It is another key area and I am encouraging you to always continue along that line. These two areas of continuous engagement and regular payment of stipends are very important and they are really solving a lot of problems.”
Immediately he assumed office, Dikio launched a programme christened ‘Back to the Region Tour’. Through the programme, the amnesty boss regularly visits the region, holds meetings and deliberations with all the stakeholders to gauge their feelings, determine their expectations and back them up with actions to assuage their yearnings.
Col. Dikio has made it a deliberate policy to pay ex-agitators their stipends on the 25th of every month. In fact, in some months the beneficiaries’ bank account numbers are credited with their stipends before the 25th. For example, the ex-agitators were surprised when they got their stipends on June 21st.
Security operatives are happy that such development has reduced the tension in the region. They recalled how ex-agitators formed the habit of blocking major roads to protest arrears of unpaid stipends.
In his recent tour, Col. Dikio was in Bayelsa State. He led delegates of PAP to tour the facilities in the Bayelsa State Medical University (BSMU) in Yenagoa. He rubbed minds with the management of the school on possible areas of training for the ex-agitators. He also had interactions with amnesty scholarship beneficiaries studying in the school.
Col. Dikio had said: “We are here today as part of our partnership and strategic linkages with institutions of learning across the country and beyond, to meet with the vice-chancellor and his team at the Bayelsa Medical University to assess the institution’s capacity and capabilities to train some of our beneficiaries as medical professionals.
“Indeed, we are determined to train some of our beneficiaries in this sector who are capable of being employed in careers in the diverse field of medical science to bridge the manpower gap in the region.”
Prior to the Bayelsa working visit, he was in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to meet with the members of PAP’s Strategic Communication Committee (SCC), his brainchild that has brought him accolades from various quarters. Even Hassan, the JTF commander, described the SCC as PAP’s first line of defence saying the committee should be encouraged to actualize its terms of reference.
SCC, whose members are all ex-agitators, was formed by Col. Dikio with the mandate to be a middleman between the amnesty office and members of the public including ex-agitators in information dissemination.
The committee is expected to correct misinformation about the programme and change people’s negative perceptions about the Niger Delta through positive narratives. Since he set up the committee, the amnesty boss has kept in touch with its activities with constant engagements.
Therefore, when he assembled them recently in Port Harcourt, Col. Dikio urged members of PAP’s Strategic Communications Committee to change negative public perception about the amnesty programme.
Col. Dikio urged the committee consisting of ex-agitators to ensure effective dissemination of information about the scheme to attract expected development to the region, saying that the absence of a proper channel of communication in the past led to misinformation.
He said: “It’s important for members of this committee to clearly understand that in PAP we take the dissemination of information very seriously. We are very deliberate about information that we put out in the public space and this is why we have a structured system in place on how information coming out of PAP get to the public.
“You must know that all information going out to the public from PAP are authorised by me through my Special Adviser on Media. However, your roles are clearly spelt out in the documents given to you”.
The Chairman of the SCC, Mr. Nature Dumale, and the Spokesman, Mr. Ellington Tam, expressed their excitement over the appointment, describing it as a call to duty.
They said one of the major tasks was to make sure that peace was maintained in the Niger Delta region and the communities were effectively carried along in their activities.
The highpoint of the meeting was the presentation of official letters to members of the committee, signalling their appointments and documents clearly detailing their roles and their terms of reference.
In Yenagoa, Dikio had a busy week. His first meeting with members of the first phase amnesty programme lasted for hours as he paid attention to all their challenges, allowing persons willing to speak to make their contributions.
Leaders of the first phase in attendance were the Speaker of Bayelsa House State of Assembly, Abraham Ingobere; Paul Eris, popularly called Ogunboss; a member of Bayelsa House of Assembly, Felix Bonny-Ayah; Pastor Reuben and Joshua Macaiver among others.
After exhausting all the issues on the table, the leaders praised Dikio’s style. They confessed that they lost hope in the programme until Dikio came on board as its Interim Administrator. The ex-agitators said they never had such robust engagement with PAP in the past.
Macaiver expressed faith in Col. Dikio’s administration describing the Strategic Communication Committee set up by PAP to address the problems of misinformation as a step in the right direction.
He said: “Before the current amnesty boss came on board, certain things went so wrong that when they talked about the amnesty programme, some of us would say that the programme had failed.
“But now that the current amnesty boss sees us as part of the programme. We are very hopeful and have faith that something good will come out of this administration.”
After the first phase, Col. Dikio dedicated another day for an engagement with the leaders of the first and second phases of the programme. Col. Dikio spent hours listening to the ex-agitators and taking notes of their key areas of concern.
But the amnesty boss was honest with them. He harped on the need for them to think beyond the N65,000 monthly stipend. He regretted that the ex-agitators had allowed the stipends to become their stronghold restricting them from harnessing their entrepreneurial potential.
Describing the stipend as inadequate, he challenged the ex-agitators to wear their thinking caps and key into PAP’s vision of making them successful entrepreneurs to enable them to exit the stipend regime. He said it was only reasonable to end the Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) aspect of the programme to begin a post-DDR phase of the scheme.
Col. Dikio said for the region to move forward the scheme must be changed from ‘amnesty’ to the Niger Delta Stabilisation Programme (NDSP) insisting that with the current status “there are things we can’t do and there are countries we can’t enter”.
To demonstrate his seriousness, Col. Dikio organised a workshop on entrepreneurship for the ex-agitators, who paid rapt attention to the facilitator as he taught them various ways of making money in line with the comparative advantage of the Niger Delta.
The amnesty boss visited the INC in its headquarters in Yenagoa shortly after attending stakeholders’ mega sensitisation campaign on drug abuse prevention, which also had in attendance the Bayelsa Governor Douye Diri.
The meeting with the INC was instructive. The President of INC, Prof. Benjamin Okaba, made an important observation about Dikio. He said Dikio’s style of constantly travelling to the region to engage the stakeholders instead of sitting tight in Abuja to be visited by people from the region like his predecessors was a great strategy.
He insisted that Dikio’s approach of constantly engaging the ex-agitators, interacting with affected communities and providing solutions had made a success of the amnesty programme.
Col. Dikio also seized the opportunity to tell the Ijaw elders some home truth. He said it was time the region embraced the principles of strategic communication and shun restiveness that took them away from the decision-making process.