"The five Super Puma helicopters will be deployed in the areas of air support for Nigerian troops in peacekeeping operations as well as air support for surveillance and reconnaissance in the Niger Delta," Information Minister Dora Akunyili said.
Attacks by militants and criminal gangs in the impoverished Niger Delta have battered Africa’s biggest energy industry over the past three years, preventing Nigeria from pumping much above two-thirds of its oil production capacity.
But strikes against oil facilities have subsided after thousands of former gunmen disarmed and accepted President Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty offer, which expired in early October.
Security experts warn the peace is fragile and that the gunmen may return to violence if they are not quickly retrained and found work.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main militant group behind attacks on the oil industry in recent years, has called for a demilitarisation of the region as the next step but has accused the military of instead rearming.
A military spokesperson last week denied the security forces were building up arms or increasing troop numbers, saying they were simply in the region to maintain law and order.
Pic: Super Puma helicopter