President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Professor Charles Quaker Dokubo as Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs and Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) in March, is perhaps the most cheering news this year for the people of Niger Delta. It demonstrated the President’s commitment to turn around the sad narrative of a long deprived and impoverished oil-rich region, using the amnesty programme as a purveyor.

His choice of a new pilot for the programme further indicated President Buhari’s determination to clean the mess at the Amnesty Office from where unpleasant reports had emanated.

Born in Abonnema, Akuku Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, Dokubo, an erudite professor of international repute, is not a stranger to the Niger Delta debacle. With a first degree in Modern History & Politics from the University of Teesside, Middleborough; a Masters in Peace Studies, University of Bradford, and a doctorate in Nuclear Weapon Proliferation and Control, he has a thorough grasp of the Niger Delta situation. He is deeply-rooted and experienced for the office, setting out from the top-flight Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Lagos, where he was a Research Professor.

An epitome of excellence, Professor Dokubo is conscious of the gargantuan task on his shoulders.  He has a firm resolve to make a difference.

“Today, we are gathered here to take a major step in the ongoing efforts by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari to deepen peace, safety and security in the Niger Delta, using the instrumentalities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme for former agitators in the region. I am truly delighted by the confidence the President has reposed in me to take the Amnesty Programme, particularly the critical reintegration phase to the next level. Previous heads of the programme, in my humble view, have done their bit and possibly their best. It behoves us to improve on what was bequeathed to us based on lessons learnt so far. The President and indeed all Nigerians expect a much more robust and impactful Amnesty Programme,” he remarked at the inauguration of the committee be constituted to review the PAP on assumption of office.

Barely two months of mounting the saddle, there is palpable anxiety, particularly from ex-agitators and delegates for educational programmes within the country and offshore. It is understandable. They had been owed arrears of stipends, tuition fees and allowances before Professor Dokubo assumed office. There are also several pending issues which they want to be sorted out with the speed of lightning. But they need to show understanding and exercise a measure of patience.

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Against the backdrop of the circumstances that necessitated his appointment, he does not need to be forewarned to avoid the proverbial banana peel by treading cautiously. Standing as a wedge, he has to draw a bold and clear line from the past. He has a vision and mission: refocus the Amnesty Programme to its original mandate. But in charting a new course, he has to avoid the pitfalls of the past.

On the assumption of office, he received handover notes which contained a maze of words and figures that threw up questions without answers. Professor Dokubo had to clear the fog in the operations of the Amnesty Office before taking further steps in his transformation agenda. This, no doubt, required a bit of time, support and patience of stakeholders. Therefore, he was not expected to go on a voyage to disaster by blasting on full throttle immediately after his appointment.

Despite his intimidating academic credentials and vast experience, Professor Dokubo has displayed uncommon humility and broadmindedness by not assuming a monopoly of knowledge. His first move after perusing the handover documents unveiled the new face of the Amnesty Programme, as he opened a window of access to his thoughts: “I wish to use the opportunity of the inauguration of this committee to underscore the compelling need to recalibrate and reboot the Presidential Amnesty Programme to meet current realities in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria at large. I have said it severally that when Mr President graciously appointed me to head the Amnesty Programme, I do not intend to run a one-man show. I am very conscious of the fact that the region, like most other parts of Nigeria, is a repository of intellectuals and innovative thinkers. Given my resolve to put my best foot forward in carrying out the assignment our great nation has given me, it is pursuant to this resolve that I have invited some of the best minds I know to help me and, indeed, the Federal Government of Nigeria, to begin the process of charting a new course for the Amnesty Programme,” he told members of the Professor Ayibaemi Spiff-led Review Committee.

The committee was mandated to take a critical look at the handover notes and ascertain the current status of the programme; ascertain current level of compliance with the original mandate of the PAP, recommend programme or policy reviews, where necessary, and review all contracts awarded by the Amnesty Office since 2015, with a view to determine the level of work done, monies paid, beneficiaries and extent of work done.

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Other terms of reference included, recommending a payment schedule for only qualified contractors, determining financial assets and liabilities of the Amnesty Office; conducting a thorough assessment of all departments in the office and offer useful suggestions on how to improve on their performance; determine the current status of all reintegration centres built or still under construction across the states in the Niger Delta; ascertain the current status of the database of the Amnesty Office to determine its certainty and sanctity; determine the current status of all ongoing vocational, educational and post-training programmes of the office within the country and offshore, and to assess the current relationship between the Amnesty Office and PAP’s critical stakeholders with a view to making the relationship more robust.

With the recent submission of the committee’s report, Professor Dokubo has set the ball rolling. He has embarked on consultative visits, meeting the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and other top government officials. Two weeks ago, he met with Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Clark and hosted members of the executive committee of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) led by its national chairman, Air Comdr. Idongesit Ikanga (retd). He is in the process of meeting other critical stakeholders.

A chain of activities is expected to take place in the next few weeks, with stakeholders’ engagement topping the schedule. Facilitation of processes for outstanding school fees and allowances is also receiving the desired attention, alongside a reintegration implementation review. While about 100 beneficiaries are projected for deployment to the Oil and Gas Vocational Training Centre at Agadagba, Ondo State in the three months, plans are also underway to deploy the same number of beneficiaries to the Basic Skills Vocational Training Centre, Kaiama, in Bayelsa State.

The Amnesty Office is also taking the initiative to collaborate with International Development Agencies on a One-Year Work Abroad project; African Teachers Exchange programmes, internship opportunities, and a Nigeria Work Engagement/Employment programme through Human Resource Trade Fair. Verification of students in local institutions will also commence soon.

Clearly, Professor Dokubo is focused on delivering quality service to the people of Niger Delta and Nigeria. He is resolute in keeping hope alive. It’s a new dawn for the Presidential Amnesty Programme.