Amnesty: Lessons from abroad ,By Leke Adebayo

Kuku 7 newThe disclosure of the reasons for the training of some ex-Niger Delta militants abroad by Nigeria’s Presidential Amnesty Office takes us back to the age-old maxim that travelling is part of educating the mind. Education, according to the saying, goes beyond the four walls of the school. It is experiencing cultures and lifestyles outside your environment in order to make you a full citizen of the world, which formal learning cannot give you.

It was the point Mr. Daniel Alabrah, the Special Assistant/Head of Media and Communications in the Presidential Amnesty Office in Abuja, was making a few days ago when he spoke to journalists on the value and impact of the overseas training of the ex-militants.

According to Alabrah, the purpose of offshore training was to remove the ex-militants from the environment they were familiar with and expose them to other environments where they would mix with different races. The arrangement is to help the ex-militants in the process of integrating with the larger society.

These are Alabrah’s words: “The re-integration is not only about giving them jobs but also removing them from the environment they are used to. In their new environment, they are expected to mix with people from different races… We do not think that they would go back to militancy because we have exposed them to training in different environments that they now see themselves as persons belonging to normal society. Creek life is not an easy life… we do not expect people who have been to school as far as Dubai, US, UK to return to the creeks.”

The pith of the submissions of the Amnesty Office spokesman is that built into the programme of weaning the repentant militants from their diet of violence is a steady dosage of training outside our shores. But, of course, that is in addition to the home-grown package and objective of making the warriors drop their idea of fighting against the state and rehabilitating them. The offshore training initiative is not independent of what the home front offers.

But a school of critics has lambasted Alabrah’s position with the argument that the Amnesty Office is wasting scarce resources to fly a small group of Nigerians overseas for training, when it could use the funds to fix them jobs here in Nigeria. Others have presented the well-worn argument: these ex-militants don’t deserve state assistance; they ought to be prosecuted and punished for war crimes against their fatherland.

However, there is a majority of observers who believe that by virtue of the reality of the peace brought to Nigeria by the Amnesty Programme that stopped the pernicious war in the Niger Delta, the scheme is a roaring success worthy of every kobo spent on it. They hold the view, supported by many, that Nigeria has gone past the argument on whether Amnesty is a success or not. As far as they are concerned, the initiative is a fait accompli, as the French would put it.

So what we should be looking at in analyzing Alabrah’s statement about exposing our ex-militants to positive external influences is how the approach adds meaning not only to their own lives but also to those of their compatriots back home. Thus, if travelling is education, then we are assured that the ex-militants would be returning as refined and better educated citizens nurtured to take up greater responsibilities in the service of Nigeria.

When United States President John Kennedy launched the famous Peace Corps on March1, 1961, his goal was to get a “peace corps of talented men and women… who would dedicate themselves to progress and peace… to the cause of global democracy, development and freedom.” The visionary Kennedy did not delude himself that the young men and women he wanted to recruit could get all these virtues in the highly advanced and sophisticated United States alone. Sending them out outside the US however could equip them with those attributes.

The US citizens he was dispatching abroad were to return better shaped and exposed for more active work for the country. Now today after more than five decades of service, the US Peace corps is reported to have exposed more than 200,000 Americans to more than 200 languages and dialects of the world. It has widened their horizon and given them what the four walls of the college could not offer them. It has helped, in the words of a commentator, “individuals build a better life for themselves, their children, their community and their country”.

I agree then with Alabrah that if these ex-militants are made to absorb a little of the nobility of the outside world, it would benefit our society in the long run. Yes, there is first a limited personal benefit. But, eventually as the former creek fighter applies his new knowledge in his fatherland, and as he relates with others, it is his immediate community and later the country that gain more from his enterprise.

Such a person, relishing a second birth through repenting from his old life as a violent man at war with himself and society and now securing the rare opportunity of exposure to an overseas training, would never go back to his vomit. He would forever be grateful to his country and the government agency that facilitated his transformation.

Adebayo, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja

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