Ekpo Okemini, Umuahia
The Federal and Abia State government at the weekend engaged each other in a heated argument on whether or not the state has benefited from the federal government’s amnesty program for surrendered militants in the Niger Delta region.
At a town hall meeting with the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and the Niger Delta States (Abia State Edition) at the International Conference Centre, Umuahia, the Abia state capital, the governments made claims and counter claims on the program on Friday.
In his presentation, the Coordinator of Presidential Amnesty Program, Brig-General Paul Boro (rtd) stated that 237 youths from the state had benefited from the program, which was initiated by the late President Musa Yar’Adua in 2008.
Boro, who is also the Senior Adviser to the President on Niger Delta added that the beneficiaries had been trained in both formal education up to first degree and post graduate levels and as well as in skill acquisition and capacity building.
“The Federal Government is committed to resolving the resolving the Niger Delta crisis, including the Amnesty program in a comprehensive manner”, Boro concluded
In a swift reaction, the former Commissioner representing the state in Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Chairman of Abia State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (ASOPADEC), Chief Sam Nwogu said the state has no such records.
He maintained that the adviser, who had said that his claim was based on records available in his office, might have been misled and appealed to him to make the list of the beneficiaries available to the state for verification.
He thundered: “We the people of Asa have never benefitted from the Amnesty program and it seems as if the Federal Government is taking our peaceful disposition to our challenges for granted”
Boroh had told journalists the previous Friday that, “The main challenges the Presidential Amnesty Office has faced is inadequate funds.”
Boroh was quoted by Reuters as saying that the funding meant the tuition fees of some ex-militants in local and international universities had not been paid. He added that most vocational training had stopped, affecting 1,770 participants.
“Inadequate funding has also limited the capacity of the office to empower delegates and exit them from the program,” said Boroh.
In his address, Osinbajo warned Nigerians of the dangers of the country’s continued over reliance on oil as its major source of foreign revenue especially as international demand for the product had been declining.
Osinbajo rolled out programs and projects earmarked by the federal government to address the challenges facing oil-producing communities across the country, commending the people of Asa for their peaceful disposition to the challenges.
He listed the steps to include cleaning up of the Asa land as it is being done in Ogoniland, provision of social amenities, infrastructure development, stepping up of security of lives and property and completion of abandoned projects by successive government.
The vice president, whose other engagements included being accepting a chieftaincy title of Enyi Oha (friend of all) of Abia by the state Council of Traditional Rulers, commissioning of Abia Investment House, reiterated the commitment of the state to making Aba the manufacturing capital of the country.
Similarly, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu appealed to the federal government to treat the state on equal terms with other Niger Delta states in terms of appointment and establishment of federal presence to compensate the people for their contributions to the economy of the state.
He joined other stakeholders in the state, to call for establishment of a University of Science and Technology in the oil producing community, adding that the state remains the only one in the country that has only one federal tertiary institution.
Leaders of the oil producing community including the youth, women and civil liberty organizations, and traditional rulers presented addresses, which centered mostly on unemployment, poor infrastructure, environmental pollution, and exploitation by the oil companies.