Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
Until very recently, Agadagba-Obon, a coastal community in Ese-Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State was notorious for militancy and restiveness. Youths formed various militant groups and engaged in vandalism and other illicit acts in collaboration with youths from other Niger Delta communities.
Not less than 200 youths from the community surrendered arms and ammunition promising to embrace peace. It was at an amnesty programme by the Ondo State Government in collaboration with the Office of the Presidential Amnesty Programme.
Many of them went on to enroll for vocational training at the newly established Vocational Training Centre sited in the town by the coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Prof. Charles Dokubo. They would be trained to acquire various skills including agriculture, oil and gas, power, maritime and basic skills. Similar centres are located in Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo and Delta states.
The centre commissioned recently in Agadagba-Obon by Dokubo who is also Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, was said to be part of the programmes of the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. He said the Federal Government would ensure that the ex-agitators in the Niger/Delta region do not return to militancy
The training institute would partner with the Petroleum Training Institute located in Effurun, Delta State, while the National Business and Technical Examination Board (NABTEB) would award certificate for graduates of the institute.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu said the amnesty programme transformed the region in the area of capacity building and increased the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) “as militants no longer engage in bunkering and vandalism of petroleum pipelines.” He sought for involvement of more youths, especially ex-agitators, who are yet to benefit from the programme. He lauded the initiative of the late President Umar Yar’adua by introducing the programme, which he said brought an end to agitation by Niger Delta militants.
The paramount ruler of Agadagba-Arugbo kingdom, Doubra Egbumu, said the centre would bring an end to youth restiveness in the community. He said the kingdom is made up of 10 communities and has been involved in agitations for resource control until Yar’adua initiated the amnesty programme.
He disclosed that many of the ex-agitators in his domain willingly surrendered their arms and vowed to live a responsible life: “Peace has since returned to the area since the introduction of the amnesty programme.” However, he called on the Federal Government to reintegrate the ex-agitators into the society:
“Many of them are yet to be reintegrated, a situation which could lead to crisis.” He ruled out the return of militancy in the creeks, even as he promised to ensure proper protection for the vocational centre and other government facilities in his domain.
A leader of a militant group in the area, Okpara Efunibio, also known as “General,” said they engaged in radical activities at the period due to neglect by the Federal Government. He pleaded with the office of the Presidential Amnesty Programme to reintegrate many of the ex-agitators still wandering: “Many of them are no longer fit to work, hence the need for financial assistance from government.
“Many of my colleagues are handicapped and cannot work again. Many of us have three wives and we have no job of our own. There is the need for the Federal Government to take care of us as life has become miserable for us.
“Many of us have returned to school based on the amnesty programme. Those in school have wives at home and we need money to take care of them. Let the Federal Government gives us money regularly to take care of our families.”
Another ex-agitator who identified himself as “Scorpion,” pleaded with government to create opportunity for them to work: “In 2018 when the Ondo State Government asked us to surrender our arms in line with the Federal Government’s amnesty programme, the government promised us good jobs. But till date many of us are yet to be engaged meaningfully. I want government to look into this.
“It is not enough to attend school, it is also important to have a good job after leaving school. Let the Federal Government provides job for us after leaving the school. One hundred ex-agitators have already enrolled at the vocational centre, all these people should be engaged by oil companies and government after leaving school.”
A community leader, Chief James Efiom, said peace has finally returned: “Before the amnesty programme, the militants were engaged in vandalism of oil pipelines, burning of various facilities belonging to government and oil companies. Now, an end has come to such acts and peace now reigns in our land.”
A resident, Tonibor Obon, said: “The Ijaw people are peace loving people who detest cheating. We suffered a lot before the introduction of the amnesty programme. I wish that all the promises of the government will be fulfilled.”
He urged government to continue with its scholarship programme for students from the Niger Delta and provide employment opportunities for them after graduating: “Education is the only tool that can kill poverty and superstition.”