Jared Jeffery | NKC African Economics
President Muhammadu Buhari fired Paul Boroh as coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) which oversees the stipends paid to ex-militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta. He has replaced him with Charles Dokubo who is currently director of research at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.
The PAP has been central to bringing stability to the region and the bombing of oil infrastructure in 2016 was a reaction to plans to cut payments and other benefits of the scheme.
Rumours that Mr Boroh, a retired brigadier general, would be sacked were vehemently denied in January.
At the time he told reporters: “What is happening is the handiwork of political enemies and those who do not want the region to be peaceful. The rumour they are peddling is just rubbish and unfounded. Under my watch, the programme, candid [sic] speaking, has helped greatly to stabilise the region.”
Mr Boroh was appointed in July 2015 and under his watch the bombing campaign of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) seriously impacted oil output at a time of low crude prices and helped cause the country’s first recession in decades. To be fair though, Mr Boroh had lobbied Mr Buhari towards the end of 2015 to keep the PAP in place and slowly phase it out rather than ending it as the president had considered.
In addition to firing Mr Boroh, the president has called for an investigation into financial impropriety in the programme.
Allegations of impropriety have dogged Mr Boroh for some time. In September 2016, ex-militants told Sahara Reporters that he was “pocketing a whopping sum of $700,000 in school fees” by bloating the number of ex-militants undergoing training for underwater welding in St. Kitts and Nevis (from 50 to 70).
Mr Boroh had told elders from the Delta that all 70 who had undergone training had returned to the country, but this came as a surprise to the stranded ex-militants still on St. Kitts and Nevis that Sahara Reporters contacted by telephone.
Mr Dokubo, a professor with a focus on security matters, promises to bring a different approach to handling the issues of the region.
In a journal article published in 2000 (Ethnic minority problems in the Niger Delta), he foresaw the instability that affected the region during the campaign by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), a precursor to the NDA, that was active mostly between 2007 and 2010.
His recommendations were to relook at the oil revenue sharing formula and to make inhabitants of the Delta stakeholders. “If the communities have a stake in the oil exploited from their communities – in which they have invested, in some cases with foreign capital – the recurrent problem of hostage taking, raiding of oil platforms and the sabotaging of oil pipelines will be a thing of the past”, he wrote.
Almost two decades on, these recommendations are still being called for by activists.
It is unclear what Mr Dokubo’s views on the PAP are as a sustainable solution to conflict in the Delta.
Research into the PAP and initiatives to reintegrate former militants back into society by the Belgian University of Leuven has highlighted the problems with the approach.
Firstly, they found that the former militants prefer to remain in the programme, receiving the stipend rather than taking up lower-paying jobs. The stipend of N65,000 is far higher than Nigeria’s minimum wage of around N18,500.
Secondly, the programme incentivised other youth to join militant groups or start new ones in the hope of benefitting from the PAP.
While the programme is effective over the short term, it is unsustainable in the long run and does not address the underlying causes of militancy – poverty, youth unemployment and low levels of social cohesion in the country.
The last thing Mr Buhari needs is trouble in the Niger Delta in the lead up to next February’s election. Crises on other fronts – Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt and Boko Haram in the northeast, for example – are serious but they do not impact the federal government’s ability to function in the way another militant campaign in the Delta would.
Clearly, then, Mr Buhari felt it safer to replace Mr Boroh than it would have been if he had stayed in his post and opened the government to criticism by citizens of the Delta – and the ex-militants in particular.
There has been no reaction to the change of leadership at the PAP from the NDA on its website as yet. In fact, the website has not been updated since January 17 when the group threatened to launch fresh attacks.
We argued at the time that that was unlikely to occur as long as stipends were paid, and we continue to think that stability will only be threatened if the PAP is jeopardised.
If the replacement of Mr Boroh at the helm means the programme is run more cleanly and effectively, all the better..