By Mathew Didaya
GbaramatuVoice, a well respected local tabloid in the Niger Delta region recently published an editorial with the caption, “PAP: Contradictions surrounding Ndiomu’s suspension of Niger Delta ex-agitators’ scholarship scheme”.
The opening sentence of the editorial read: “Like every well meaning Niger Deltans of goodwill, the GbaramatuVoice received with shock, and watched with dismay the recent inconsiderate and reckless decision by the Federal Government of Nigeria’s suspension of the scholarship scheme for the Niger Delta ex-agitators under the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP)”.
It continued: “The announcement which came from the Interim Administrator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Major General Barry Ndiomu (retd.), gleefully disclosed that the decision to suspend the scholarship scheme for the Niger Delta ex-militants and ex-agitators was as a result of increasing tuition fees, which he claimed, have reached over N7 billion per session.
“Indeed, while Major General Barry Ndiomu (retd.) decision may be deemed as right, a broader analysis of the above action by GnaramatuVoice Newspaper postures it as not only deformed but a pronouncement made ahead of reason and thus, cannot hold water when faced with embarrassing facts.
GbaramatuVoice editorial which is seemingly inciting editorial is coming after an official statement from PAP office, dated January 6, 2023 and signed by the Technical Assistant to the Interim Administrator, Flight Lt Ekugbene Ajobena (rtd), has been made public.
It reads in part: “All PAP current scholarship beneficiaries i.e both onshore and offshore remain bonafide delegates of the programme and shall continue to benefit from the approved privileges of associated with their respective scholarship awards. However, due to the current education scholarship debts and outstanding commitments, the PAP has suspended award of fresh scholarships until these obligations are cleared”.
This editorial, from all indications is biased and hasty as it falls short of all known standards of an objective editorial writing from a well known newspaper in the Niger Delta region. The very first criterion for a good editorial is to make it an objective opinion on an issue based on evidence and not to rely on sentiments and figmentations of one’s imaginations compelled by seeming vested interest.
I like to remind GbaramatuVoice that the immediate past Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Col. Milland Dikio (rtd), also owned up to the fact that his administration awarded 1652 scholarship slots, meaning the incumbent Interim Administrator, Maj. Gen. Barry Tariye Ndiomu (rtd) only inherited this oversubscribed scholarship scheme from the immediate past Interim Administrator and therefore should be not blamed.
My personal investigation on the PAP scholarship programme fraud further revealed that 1,717, persons actually benefited from the scholarship scheme, as against the earlier claim made by Col. Dikio that only 1652 persons were deployed under his tenure in office.
A source who preferred to be anonymous also disclosed that children and wards of political power brokers and other class of influential persons formed the bulk of those who benefitted from the scholarship slots, revealing that the criteria for the selection and eventual award of the scholarships under Col.Dikio did not even follow any laid down procedure in the PAP.
But GbaramatuVoice editorial never bothered to inform the puplic what informed the temporary withholding of award of fresh scholarships in PAP, pending when the huge debt burden inherited by the new Interim Administrator has been sorted out.
It is so sad that none of the 1,717 persons awarded scholarship and subsequently deployed to schools went through any form of pre-deployment orientation of physical screening beyond the digital selection process conducted via the PAP web portal, just as the deployed persons were not also made to sign student’s sponsorship charter or code of conduct as usual before now Col. Dikio’s administration came on board.
The repercussion of this omission has resulted to a plethora of cases of students’ indiscipline and character deficit in the programme as a result of this oversubscribed scholarship programme. The debt liability required to offset these expenses associated with the more than 3,000 sponsored persons in schools within the country (onshore) and those outside the country (offshore) from October – December 2022, amounted to N5, 502633, 219. 21.
It is instructive to note that while the Presidential Amnesty Programme’s monthly subvention stands at N5.4B, Gen.Ndiomu met an outstanding debt liability of 49,995,480,634.49, representing monies for work done. This quoted figure was for the Reintegration Department only. The Reintegration department of PAP is the core driver of the operations which directly oversees all matters associated with the management of PAP beneficiaries.
Therefore, on asumption of office, the current Interim Administrator, was to expect monthly allocations of 4 months to draw from i.e., September to December 2022, totaling N21.6B. Meanwhile, the formal education segment had been over-subscribed in terms of award of scholarships without due recourse to the budgetary provisions for PAP.
Between January 2022 – August 2022, a total number of 1,662 persons were deployed to universities within the country, most of which were privately owned institutions, (for the 2021/2022 academic year).
Also, between August 2021 and August 2022, some fifty-three (53) persons were awarded foreign scholarships and subsequently deployed to five different countries by the immediate past Interim Administrator before Gen. Ndiomu came on board.
On assumption of duties, he discovered that the data management system of PAP was fraught with all kinds of manipulations and distortions with persons other than the genuine ex-agitators were listed as beneficiaries under a supposed ‘impacted communities’ rationale that was never properly articulated nor documented. The above stated points are verifiable and can be fact-checked for further analysis too.
It is therefore very embarrassing for GbaramatuVoice to come up with such an editorial.
The editorial which described the temporary suspension of the scholarship scheme as “not only deformed but a pronouncement made ahead of reason and thus, cannot hold water when faced with embarrassing facts”, failed to provide substantial evidence to back up its expression of shock over the withholding of the award of scholarships by Gen. Ndiomu.
It is so sad to observe that GbaramatuVoice would brazenly lay blame on Maj.Gen. Ndiomu over the discovery that three-quarters of the beneficiaries of the 1,717 scholarships awarded by his predecessor, Col. Dikio were not ex-agitators. The question raised in GnaramatuVoice editorial as to whether, “If Ndiomu is unaware that his declaration that non ex-agitators infiltrated an agency presently under his watch is an admission of leadership failure”, speaks volumes of the intentions of the editorial board’s decisions.
The editorial sounds like an incitement of the youths in the Niger Delta, particularly the ex-agitators to war against the authorities because of type of language used. The Presidential Amnesty Programme has a specific budget, just like other federal government agencies and parastatals that have their budgetary provisions, therefore it is needless to compare the scholarship schemes of such agencies like NIMASA and PDTP with PAP.
While I commend GbaramatuVoice Newspaper for its doggedness and boldness in expressing her opinions on issues that concern the peace and development of the Niger Delta, I like to advise the editorial team to ensure that its editorials are geared towards opinion making, reconciling between contrary viewpoints or standpoints and balanced in its analysis of evidence and events in the region.
However, having said that, it must be noted that an editorial is not only a literary piece. It must also express a firm and balanced opinion on something, an opinion that clarifies the muddle into which committed writers and researchers may lead the reader.
A good editorial must also be careful to leave a good after taste.
It must be such that the reader feels enlightened, or empowered, or helped in forming his own opinion on an issue. While a good editorial expresses an opinion, it does not force it down the throat of the reader.
It should be rather subtle enough to appeal to the good sense of the knowledgeable reader without forcing him to toe its line. This is its real test of editorial writing.
A good editorial should express an opinion without being opinionated. It should teach without being pedagogic. It should transform without being evangelical.
It should engulf without drowning. It should motivate to action without making you dictatorial. It should enlighten without getting you dogmatic, prejudiced and egotistical.
Hence a hard-hitting editorial is as legitimate as a balanced equipoise that reconciles apparently conflicting positions and controversial posturings, whether amongst politicians or amongst researchers
It must attempt to critically analyse and sift from the various opinions, analyses and evidences floating around. It must present a refreshing perspective on an issue so as to retain balance when writings get opinionated or stir up the crotchety and crusty when scientific/creative stupor sets in.
Moreover, a good editorial is contemporary without being populist. It tackles recent events and issues, and attempts to formulate viewpoints based on an objective analysis of happenings and conflicting/contrary opinions.
An editorial is predominantly about balance. But that does not prevent it from occasionally stirring things up, when such is the need.