[OPINION] Dikio’s efforts to put Amnesty Programme in order by Felix Tuodolo

He came with a vision to achieve his mission of peace as the Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP).  His early days passed across the loud message that Col. Dixon Dikio was not prepared to waste his time on frivolities and needless distractions. He was out to provide the needed leadership to steer the Presidential Amnesty Programme through turbulent waters to safer shores where its mandate is fulfilled and mission accomplished.

His vast experience and training as a military officer and administrator, especially for someone like Dikio who is decorated with ECOMOG, OAU and UN Peacekeeping medals, provided the needed compass for him to navigate the rough terrain of the Amnesty office, which under his predecessors had become a quicksand of unfulfilled hopes and aspirations for nearly all the stakeholders, especially those it was meant to serve.

He was not oblivious of the negative public attention attracted to the affairs of the Amnesty Office by the inglorious history of corruption that heralded his appointment as the Head of PAP. In fact, he didn’t need storytellers to remind him of the odious reputation of the Amnesty Office. All eyes were truly on the PAP as he was appointed to run it and principally whether his stellar reputation would help to overcome the rot and enable it deliver its mandate, at last.

In the event, Col. Dikio has proved the wisdom of his assignment to the role. His style was to move with deliberate speed and without all the pomp and circumstance many an appointee to such a position would invest in that office.

He opted for effectiveness in place of speed. He designed a programme of action which centered on effective relationship with the 30,000 ex-agitators enlisted in the programme and critical stakeholders in the difficult task to sustain peace in his native Niger Delta.

His was a plan of action that would ensure optimal utilization of funds meant for the Amnesty Programme, which had for years been dogged by sleaze, mindless and frivolous expenditure. And to the extent that success could only be attained on the basis of transparency and integrity, he made these the pillars of his approach, putting in place  a system that would ensure optimal and efficient use of  scarce resources meant for the PAP.

On his resumption as the new helmsman at the PAP, Dikio decided that the quest for lasting peace in the Niger Delta and the desired creation of a safe environment for business growth would be better achieved with an effective first hand relationship with critical stakeholders in the region.

He wasted no time in deploying his conflict resolution credentials which were honed and tested during his numerous field engagements and policy advisory roles at both local and international levels.

Although he was armed with his ideas and vision, he placed emphasis on productive cross-fertilization of ideas. He resisted the temptation to call the shots from the PAP’s cozy office in Abuja. He designed a programme of action which he christened Back-to-the-Region-Tour, which was designed to take the Amnesty Programme to the people of the Niger Delta where they lived and worked, as the programme was originally conceived.

He began with targeted meetings with the ‘big five’ –  the alias for the five notable arrowheads of agitation in the region and enlisted under the Amnesty Programme. He followed up  with various meetings with the leaders of the the three recognized phases of the PAP and the notable leaders and stakeholders across the Niger Delta.

As an administrator who is aware of the critical place of the traditional institution in peace maintenance, Dikio and his team went to the palaces of traditional rulers across the Niger Delta with his gospel of peace as a condition for economic prosperity and development. 

He did not pretend that he could wish away the cooperation of the ex agitators or of the leaders and people of the Niger Delta for that matter. He gathered activists, leaders, and ex agitators into conference halls in Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Ondo states to hold frank discussions.

Dikio resisted security reports that the region was too volatile to embark on such a ‘dangerous tour’ because of his firm conviction that he needed to brave all odds in order  to succeed in his daunting assignment.

“I am here today with my delegation to underscore the importance of the traditional institution to peace building and the mitigation of conflicts in their domain. That is why we are seeking to partner with the traditional institution to ensure the sustenance of peace in our region,” he said during his visit to the Pere of Gbaramatu, His Royal Majesty Ogboro Gbaraun II Aketekpe.

“The PAP is a programme that was designed especially for ex-agitators. If you are not an ex-agitator you’re a stranger. I don’t see why it will be the other way.

“I was told by some people not to come. They believe that the region is not safe. Why should I be in this office and not visit my main area of operation? So, I said I must come so that we can see eyeball to eyeball; let me hear from you the issues so that, together, we can begin to discuss how to move on. I was in Okochiri in Okrika yesteday where I met with the Big 5 in the palace of King Ateke Tom and it was a fruitful meeting. Today, I am also meeting with you all to reinforce my vision for the PAP,” he said.

During his visit to the various states and strategic communities in the Niger Delta, Dikio’s message of peace was laced with an overt challenge to the youths of the area to pursue their desires and dreams beyond the N65,000 stipend being paid ex-agitators of the programme. He urged the youths of the Niger Delta to break free from confusing the Amnesty Programme for the package.

The Amnesty boss, who has been emphatic in his repeated declaration that violence and its destructive implications should not be associated with the oil-rich Niger Delta, has enjoined the youths to devote their strength and creative energy to technology and acquisition of digital skills in order to become dominant forces in the world like their counterparts elsewhere.

He said during one of his visits: “The struggle Niger-Deltans are embarking on is no longer an armed struggle, but dominance in the intellectual space, science and technology driven by skill acquisition.

“I want you all to understand that you can be what you want to be. You can choose to be great and you will be great. It all depends on you. So, for you to be great, you must think great and begin to do great things, not things that will be inimical to your growth.”

Thus did Dikio speak at Agadagba Obon, Arogbo, Ondo State, during the graduation of PAP delegates trained by Bradama International Skill Works Ltd in pipeline welding/fabrication, quality assurance/quality control, sandblasting, general safety, electrical installation/maintenance, etc.

He made a pointed reference to the managing director of Bradama International Skill Works, Chief Bibopre Ajube, alias Gen-Shoot at-Sight, who runs a multimillion-naira outfit a model whose can-do spirit should inspire the ex-agitators and indeed youths in the region.

Before the appointment of Dikio,  Amnesty office had dominated the media space for the wrong reasons. It was only competing with the sister agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission for the odious distinction of being counted among the most corrupt agencies of government  in the country. In addition, the office had become a hotbed for  incessant protests in the Niger Delta. At the centre of the protests which always culminated in the blockade of the biggest highway in the Niger Delta, the East West Road, was the issue of the non payment of the N65,000 monthly stipends to beneficiaries of the Programme.

In his determination to strengthen the foundation for peace in the Niger Delta, Dikio introduced measures to ensure the prompt payment of the stipend to the 30,000 beneficiaries of the programme. Dikio delivered what many have adjudged as an early master stroke when he  declared his readiness to pay the controversial stipends by the 25th of every month.

“Since I came, I have undertaken some reforms to ensure that we get it right. So your monthly stipends will be paid every 25th of the month. It’s not rocket science. All that was needed to do was to put the accounting process in order” he said.

In addition, Dikio allayed escalating fears in the region that he was appointed to drive the process of the termination of the PAP. Since he took over control of the office, he has embarked on drastic measures to introduce reforms designed to put the PAP on the path of delivering results.

The quality of leadership provided by Dikio has laid to rest much of the negativity fostered by political robbers and vested interests over whether he would deliver results. Now, the ex agitators and the stake holders are more inclined towards Dikio’s gospel of self – actualization than the puerile claims that he was appointed to with instructions to wind down the programme.

Not when most of Dikio’s reforms and policies designed to transform the amnesty programme are beginning to resonate among ex-agitators and key stakeholders. One of those policies is the train, employ and mentorship scheme which entails that going forward PAP will pay for the training but with the understanding that the ex-agitators will be employed and mentored afterwards. The policy is simply adopting the Igbo apprentiship system so that at the end of the day it’s a win-win for everybody.

But Dikio’s story at the Amnesty Office is not without its challenges. As the saying goes, many are the adversaries of a reformer especially where vested interests only thrive in an atmosphere of sleaze and corruption. Naturally, the powerful clan of the corrupt who have established putrid aristocracies through the record breaking graft and sleaze in the Amnesty office are angered by his policies to do things the right way.  

Dikio has a plethora of enemies from within and without who are up in arms against him for stopping the diversion of billions of Amnesty funds into private pockets. But he is not fazed. This retired military officer with a reputation  for integrity and excellence does not know how to do business any other way.

In the past one year that Dikio has been in the saddle at the PAP, his work and sustained efforts to adhere in strict terms to standard practice at the office has brought him into conflict with one of the most desperately vicious cabals of corruption in Nigeria’s history. The crooked syndicates seek to compromise staff of the Amnesty office and in league with some contractors and  collaborators farther afield are giving meaning to the term ‘Corruption fights back.’ Having being deprived of the filthy lucre which the Amnesty office of yesteryears offered them to the detriment of beneficiaries of the Programme, they have bared their fangs using multifaceted strategies against him.

For weeks, these angry purveyors of graft besieged the media space to generate public outrage against Dikio and his team having failed in earlier attempts to pitch stakeholders and ex agitators against him.

The coalition of the corrupt against Dikio has waged this intensified media action with the desperate objective to return the regime of gross fiscal irresponsibility nay rascality at the Amnesty Office. These people who are not comfortable with the reforms Dikio has introduced to sanitize the Amnesty office are fighting on all fronts to prevent his confirmation as the substantive head of the Amnesty Office.

But Dikio is not without his supporters in the Niger Delta. A cross section of informed opinion in the region which has watched with disdain the gnawing story of Financial recklessness involving the Amnesty Office and the NDDC has risen rather strongly to his defence.

The  Pan Niger Delta Forum, the biggest socio cultural Organisation, in the South South has championed the campaign against Dikio’s detractors who can not reconcile themselves with the new regime of fiscal accountability at the Amnesty Office. The PANDEF leadership which described Dikio as the best among the four recent administrators of the Amnesty Office, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to confirm him as the substantive coordinator of the PAP after his one year track record as the interim administrator. PANDEF’S Chairman, Chief Emmanuel Essien, summed it up when he said that Dikio has the support of the genuinely concerned people of the Niger Delta to actualize his desire to transform the ex agitators to entrepreneurs among others.

“I want to congratulate Col. Milland Dixon Dikio (rtd.) on his one year in office. We are very happy with his performance in the Presidential Amnesty office. 

He is doing very well compared to the past administrators that have been there. As a matter of fact, he is really focusing on the core mandate of the Presidential amnesty so we are very happy with him and we congratulate him on his first one year in office.

“The stakeholders are quite happy. At PANDEF, we have recommended that he should be confirmed as the Administrator and Special Adviser to the President on PAP. This is the opinion of the majority of the stakeholders in the region because of his excellent performance,” he said

However, in spite of toxic rumours deliberately spinned to ignite hatred in the public domain against Dikio that he was on a mission to terminate the Amnesty Programme, Dikio’s eyes are focused on greater things, for instance the proposed transmutation of the Amnesty Programme to the Niger Delta Stabilization Programme which to him, will serve as a more entrenched vehicle for peace and development in the region.

He is of the firm conviction the Niger Delta Stabilization Programme should be the next focus,  given the deliberate efforts to  galvanize and unleash an entrepreneurial drive in the ex-agitators for more meaningful and productive  engagement and development not only for the betterment of themselves but to assure the future of their communities.

• Dr. Felix Tuodolo, a foremost Niger Delta Activist and former Commissioner for Culture and Ijaw National Affairs in Bayelsa State, sent in this piece from Yenagoa

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