Published On: Wed, Nov 30th, 2016

PRESIDENTIAL AMNESTY PROGRAMME: Bright Spots of Budding Prosperity Amid The Gloom -By Ibiba DonPedro

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Brig Gen. Paul Boroh (rtd.) Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme.


In Onopa, a suburb of Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, Stella opens her salon every day unfailingly. The pretty, fair complexioned young lady has done this every day since the first week in February, 2016, when she opened for business. Stella (the pseudonym she adopted for the Presidential Amnesty programme) is one of the focused young persons who has demonstrated determination to move firmly away from the endemic poverty that stalks millions, especially women and girls, in the Oil rich, but deprived Niger Delta region.

In her customary soft tones she has consistently declared that, “I want to be in control of my life and not depend on anybody to eat. I know that with hard work and God’s blessings, I can achieve my dreams”.

Between December 2015 and February, 2016, Stella was one of 40 Delegates who received refresher training in running Businesses with Business Starter Packs and began running their businesses in four business areas including, Fashion Design/Dressmaking, Hairdressing, Catering and Building under a Post Training and Re-integration Business set Up, Mentoring and monitoring under Amaebi Integrated Concepts, a contractor to the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP.

The programme which began in 2009 under the Late Musa Yar’Adua Presidency with a goal to end the militancy in the Niger Delta is in its 7th year and has provided opportunities for vocational training as well as formal education in the country and abroad for thousands of young men and women captured in the programme. The programme is currently headed by Brigadier Gen Paul T. Boroh (rtd.) a seasoned peacekeeper, who was active in peace-keeping activities in Sierra Leone and North Central axis of Nigeria.

Before this, Stella, was one of 50 young people who spent a year from June 2013-July 2014, at Amaebi Integrated Concepts, Lagos acquiring skills in Fashion Design/Dressmaking. A cool level headed young lady, she emerged one of the best 16, representing an approximate one third of the grandaunts and was rewarded by the Training Centre, with basic business set-up kit including, a petrol  generator, sewing machines, irons and others.

During a refresher programme in December, 2015 that was part of the beginning of their priming to start and run their businesses, Stella opted to be empowered with Business Starter Pack for running a Unisex Hair salon. As she explained on her choice, “I’m good in both areas. I already have equipment for a Fashion House given to me by my trainer, Amaebi Integrated Concepts with which my sister runs a Fashion house belonging to the two of us. I chose to be given empowerment in Hairdressing.”

Stella was one of 40 Delegates assigned to Amaebi Integrated Concepts for empowerment in 2015/2016. From December 8-14, 2015, Delegates were invited for a Refresher programme at the company’s centre in Lagos.

During the programme which involved sessions to explain what the Empowerment Programme entails, Delegates were given basic business set up and management training. Delegates especially those who trained in Fashion Design were given refresher training on basic design, cutting of Fabrics, branding and marketing. They were also put through counseling on dealing with customers and fabric care.

Delegates were then requested to make their choice of Business area based on training or interests. They were also advised and given options of choice and a window to change their minds on business area of choice.

Of the lot, 36 persons chose empowerment in Fashion Design/Dressmaking, Two (2) persons chose Catering, and One person chose Hairdressing, while one male chose Building and Sale of building materials.

Delegates were then requested to begin the process of securing shops in their locality, with specifications given to them. The presence of Mrs. Margaret Obazie-Humphrey from the Post Training and Empowerment (PTE) Unit, made the process truly fruitful through her interventions and explanations.

By the end of the period of Mentoring/ Monitoring, Amaebi Monitors/Mentors experienced mixed results, mostly on the positive side. Many Delegates, who earlier appeared quiet and unsure of themselves, have grown and blossomed, emerging among the ‘A’ List. Some others, who appeared aggressive and confident, have regressed to the bottom of the pile. Others are in between, quietly running their business, making progress one day at a time, making mistakes and learning along the way.

A few others never gave themselves and their businesses a chance, as they absconded with their Empowerment packages.

In the end of programme assessment of Delegates performance, 12 Delegates were among the top list. Nine (9) Delegates were in B category, making progress also, with hints of strength to succeed. Seven (7) Delegates were in category C, made up of those who looked quite promising, can work, but later proved un-serious. The bottom list, D List, is filled by some Delegates who proved un-serious, clearly came on the programme without any intention of running a business. According to DonPedro, “In this list also, were all those who collected Business Starter Packs and disappeared and those who after they had paid their rent, went behind to collect and share monies with the owners of the shops. There are seven of them. Fortunately, from an initial list of 7 offenders, we were able to get four persons back on track. Only 3 have no known shop having abandoned the shops paid for.”

Today, Stella is one of the success stories issuing from the empowerment programme under the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, OSAPND, headed by Brig Gen. Paul Boroh (rtd.)  who is also Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme.

Stella’s business enjoys regular flow of clients every day with persons seeking hairdressing or barbing as well as manicure and pedicure services. She also does good business selling hairdressing and cosmetics products.

On the major road leading into Yenagoa, at Akenfa, is the cute Fashion House belonging to Ebimuine, another calm, focused young lady from Bayelsa State and beneficiary of the programme.

Ebimuine is one of the faces of hope in the effort to demolish the wall of poverty, hopelessness and instability in the region. Ebimuine, also emerged among the best 16 grandaunts during her training year in 2013 and 2014 at Amaebi Integrated Concepts in Lagos.

Ebimuine has employed a very skillful male dressmaker, who is wowing the fashion consciousness of Yenagoa the Bayelsa State capital and its environs.

Ibiba FileThe Monitoring Team in Ikebiri SILGA March 2016 1

The Monitoring Team in Ikebiri SILGA March 2016

Several hundreds of kilometers away in Warri, Delta State, Serina (also a name adopted for the Amnesty programme) each morning opens her shop, where she runs a Fashion House and also sells hair and cosmetics products  in Okumagba Layout, a bustling centre of business in the oil rich city of Warri. She does this early, without failing every day.

A smart, adventurous and bold 18 year old teenager, Serina had asked the programme Co-ordinators at Amaebi Integrated Concepts, during the Refresher programme in December, 2015, to be empowered in both Fashion and Hair Dressing. This was a tough request as there are strict regulations for Delegates empowerment. A compromise was reached in the spirit of supporting those who are focused and she was given most of her empowerment items in Fashion Design/Dressmaking and some items to enable her set up a cosmetics section in her shop. She does brisk business and as she explained to Amaebi Integrated Concepts Delta State Co-ordinator in the person of Mrs. Biodun Lawyer-Egbe, “Even when people don’t have money to make or buy clothes, they buy cosmetics or hair products. People want to look good always, no matter the economic situation.”

In Rivers State, Timinipre, a young graduate and beneficiary is based in Port Harcourt and recently got married. He chose empowerment in the building sector which involves the sale of cement as well as building items like wheelbarrows, shovels and similar materials. He is focused and very clear about his goals and how to achieve them. He is set to be one of the success stories of the empowerment programme.

Stella, Serina, Ebimuine and Timi, represent some of the focused young persons across the States of the Niger Delta where funds and a business mentoring structure from the Presidential Amnesty Programme is providing rich soil for the flourishing of small businesses. Timi says, his main challenges lie in, “getting a reliable staff to be in the shop when I`m away delivering cement to clients and the high cost of transporting cement to customers.”

Bags Of Business Starter Pack Items for Fashion Design Dressmaking

Bags Of Business Starter Pack Items for Fashion Design Dressmaking

Many other Delegates being mentored by Amaebi Integrated Concepts are based in riverine communities such as Ikebiri, Ikeyenbiri, Olugbobiri, and others in Southern Ijaw LGA, SILGA, Bayelsa State. SILGA, a notoriously volatile LGA, known as a haven for militancy had been the theatre for much of the violence that characterised the governorship election of December 2015 and the re-run of January 9, 2016.

In mid-December, 2015, some persons, among them Delegates who were returning to their communities in SILGA from Lagos and Yenagoa were trapped in an attack on their boat on the river by sea pirates. They recounted woeful stories of fear, pain and loss of valuables including cash and phones. Still, they were lucky to escape with their lives and without suffering major injury. Scores of others, especially young girls and women, have been raped in incidents of piracy attacks on that stretch of river. Some locals have lost their lives in the shootings that attend such regular attacks on traders and community persons.

On March, 2016 a monitoring mentor-team from Amaebi Integrated Concepts, made up of Managing Director, Ibiba DonPedro, Primrose Kpokposei-Oringerigha, Famous Tiroro and Oscar Dan, put aside the fear and worrisome tales of violence that attended the re-run elections in the area and travelled to SILGA interact with the Delegates.

Ikebiri, Ikeyenbiri, Olugbobiri, Koluama and other communities in SILGA, represent the bleak reality of the vast majority of communities in the Niger Delta, where life appears to be stuck in a dark, bleak past. Many community members live in houses built with mud, sticks and topped with rusty zinc roof.

Amaebi Integrated Monitoring Mentoring Team on the way to one of the beneficiaries location

Amaebi Integrated Monitoring Mentoring Team on the way to one of the delegates location

In this 21st century, these relics from the past, tell stories of the horrors of poverty and deprivations in communities that bear the resource, oil that has made billionaires of persons outside, many of who may never have been to these communities.

Only a few expensive looking, massive houses built with cement, aluminum and glass, roofed in colourful tones which locals say belong to some of the militants from the area, politicians or civil servants who hail from the communities, were observed during that first visit.

In Ikebiri, many community persons still drink water, take their bath and empty their bowels straight into the River water, from which they drink and wash their food items. Many community members do not feel there is anything wrong with this, claiming that, it`s what our Fore-fathers and Mothers drank to grow up on.  They forget to add that the threat of water borne diseases is an ever present reality in this and similar communities.

Stretch of wetland near Ikebiri- source of food water and transport

Stretch of wetland near Ikebiri- source of food water and transport

Also, the population of persons using the same water for transport has risen astronomically. There has also been an increase of persons from outside the community pouring into the area, since oil became the main resource oiling the Nigerian economy.

One feature of modernity in Ikebiri is presented in the only primary school in the community which bears a signboard proclaiming proudly, “Established in 1914”. With the large number of young persons, both male and female in the community who are barely literate, it is clear that much more than just a primary school is needed here.

A few Delegates, who live in SILGA among them, persons like Iwerikumo and Caro, appear to know what they want concerning running a small scale business. They live in the communities and are already involved in the business of buying and selling basic commodities. Their Fashion businesses are a bonus. Unfortunately, they do not have the advantage of a large market like those delegates who live in places like Yenagoa, Warri, Port Harcourt and other big cities. Their businesses are also negatively impacted by the general economic downturn in a civil service state like Bayelsa, where workers’ salaries are unpaid for many months. But, the monitors and mentors encourage the Delegates to hang in there, as this bleak season will hopefully fade away in the coming months. When this happens however, only those who keep their shops open, attend to their customers faithfully will reap any dividend.

ibiba-file-left-a-delegate-receives-her-business-registration-certificate-in-her-4

A Delegate receiving her Business registration certificate in her location

A substantial number of the beneficiaries among the Delegates, whose progress is detailed here, recognise that their training and empowerment offer them real opportunity to flee poverty and the humiliation of begging for food. For many of the female delegates, it offers a chance to live life free from having to sleep with men who are an integral component of the violence infrastructure in the Niger Delta region, in order to access crumbs that fall to the region, forever. Those who recognise this reality are busy at work in their shops every day, making money, saving some. Others are in delusion thinking they could simply collect cash or sell off their empowerment Business Starter Pack and walk away.

Cross Section of Business Starter Pack items for Building

Cross Section of Business Starter Pack items for Building

Many success stories will emerge from those delegates who are prepared to work, grow their businesses bit by bit, following the Amaebi Integrated Concepts strict, structured Mentoring and Monitoring programme. As it were any unserious delegates who breached the programme rules, and had earlier collected cash after their shop rents were paid early in the year, were later rescued from the cracks and are now running their business in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States.

From all of these as well as several other local success stories strewn across the Niger Delta region, Brig. Gen Paul Tarela Boroh (rtd.) will have further cause to smile and celebrate, knowing that, young persons and their families are being empowered and given hope.

The underlying reality in all is the urgency for interventions to move millions of community members from this reality of deprivation and want. The Delegates who have benefited from the empowerment are the envy of many young people in their communities. More persons should be empowered before the end of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, expected to wind up at the end of 2017.

Guests have fun at the formal opening of a Delegates Eatery in Yenagoa

Guests have fun at the formal opening of a Delegates Eatery in Yenagoa

Beyond this, there is need for massive infrastructural development, environmental protection and remediation in the Niger Delta. Also, a return of the country to true fiscal federalism, as centred in the decades old agitations in the area, to involve all Local Council and State governments, Federal Government and the Private sector including the International Oil Companies, among others. When that is done, the long sought peace and stability in the region will flourish and impact life in the country for good.

 

 

 

 

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