The Interim Administrator, Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Col. Milland Dixon Dikio (rtd), in this interview, speaks on a number of key issues, including his plans to sustain the peace in the Niger Delta region. Excerpts:
What were your findings when you first assumed office?
If I had not been a soldier if I had not faced tough challenges in the past, I probably would have chickened out because, to say the least, the place was very dysfunctional, with about N71.4billion debt, a fractured logistic process and my first walk around the headquarters was very dispiriting. To compound it, there was dichotomy between the staff who are principally the main drivers of the programme and the civil servants who are supposed to support them. There was trust deficit from the ex-agitators’ community and the students; often times they had to block roads for their stipends to be paid and so one of the first things I did was to say ‘hey, this thing is not rocket science, you know you must pay people every month, lets challenge ourselves to a date’ and many people thought that I was working on thin ice by saying that payment on the 25th was not possible but by the grace of God we have not only been able to do that, but most of the times we did that before the 25th. The Minister of Finance has been very supportive in producing our documentation timely. The Accountant-General has been very supportive in ensuring that there are no bottlenecks concerning our releases. My immediate superior, the National Security Adviser has gone above and beyond the call of duty. So, we have taken on those challenges I mentioned earlier, one after the other. We are mindful not to break or bend the structure so hard so we don’t break it in the course of trying to fix it, and with time people will begin to understand that they have a part to play; this is a collective responsibility and the image of PAP is not the image of Dikio but the image of everybody that is associated to Niger Delta Amnesty.
But how can you build a structure in a place where there is trust deficit?
Well, trust deficit is caused by lack of transparency. Just level with people, I don’t over promise, I don’t say what I cannot do and if I miss the mark, I am the first to say ‘hey I didn’t get it right, I will do better next time’.
What has been your experience in the last one year you have toured the Niger Delta?
One of the things that was very widely expressed was that they have never seen people in my position in the Amnesty Office come that close to the folks in the region and I find that as part of the reasons why I have the kind of support I have. People are hungry to meet with decision makers to express their views. I’ll give you an example. When we went to Uyo, many came out of curiosity to find out if I was really on ground. When they found me, they said they had a lot of things to say but that because I was there physically they would not express those concerns anymore and then they asked if I could go to Oron to see their jetty and I said why not. We went to Oron and that alone created a connection, which they had craved for so long.
What are your plans for ex-agitators in the New Year?
Principally, we want to train, employ and mentor but this will be focused on about 8,000 people who have never been trained at all. The second group of people will be those who have been trained but not empowered. To help us do that, we are reviewing some of the contracts that were awarded. Those contracts that have not been executed up to 50 per cent, we are reviewing them with the vendors to ensure that they reflect our current vision to train, employ and mentor and anyone who is ready to do that, we are ready to partner with them.
Ultimately, what we want to see is that these ex-agitators are given the training they need to either become entrepreneurs or a qualification they need to compete in the job market successfully. For the economy at large, we want to encourage them to think about shared prosperity. Where there is prosperity or what people refer to as human security, the urge for violent agitations will be reduced to the minimum because people are protected. That’s the whole idea.
How do you intend to implement this your Train, Employ and Mentor (TEM) scheme?
The Train, Employ and Mentor scheme is nothing new, it’s just an adaptation of the Igbo apprenticeship system. All we have done is to scale it up. We got to that because we took a holistic look at the former model of empowerment and we found out that it did not go far enough.
The second aspect of it is that training people in an economy that has a large army of unemployed people only to dump them in the job market is kind of frustrating. So, the imperative to find an alternative was what took us to Train, Employ and Mentor. What it means is that we will pay for the training but we will be partnering with viable entities and businesses so that the people we train will become part of their workforce. Because those companies are viable, it will help them to grow and keep our people employed, mentored and prepared to be able to go out to start off on their own if they want to or they will remain part of the organisation.
We hope to continue that drive into many areas but principally in the areas of food security, maritime security and the blue economy, particularly maritime transport.
What exactly are you doing differently that changed the horrible reputation of PAP you inherited?
We have different motivations in life. I come from a background where failure is not an option, don’t make excuses. People are simple, they just want you to level with them and the few occasions when we were not able to pay as promised on the 25th, we didn’t just wait, we knew and saw that we will not be able to make the date so we let them know (ex-agitators), ahead that, this month the alert won’t come as when expected but it will come not long after the expected date. So, those are the kind of things that have built the kind of confidence that has followed us everywhere.
What legacy do you intend to leave behind?
I know that I am not exactly what I used to be before. So, I am in my period of life where I want to leave a legacy of someone who took up the challenge of righting some of the wrongs in administering some of these special agencies. I don’t claim to have a magic wand but I believe strongly in the divine providence that my appointment was divine and all along I have had destiny helpers helping me and with the support of people of the region, we will be able to make a mark that cannot be erased.