The United Nations has offered to take a lead role in educating hundreds of former Nigerian rebels and providing graduates with job opportunities in the Niger Delta, a UN official said.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP), along with Royal Dutch Shell and Nigeria’s Delta State government, is expected in the next few months to begin a $5 million pilot project in Delta’s city of Egbokodo to rehabilitate and reintegrate former gunmen back into society.
UN involvement could help revive President Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme, which has stalled since he left Nigeria for a Saudi Arabian hospital more than two months ago.
“The initiative was conceived as a result of research carried out in the region which recommended that job creation and youth employment would largely provide solutions to restiveness and militancy,” said Wirba Alidu, project coordinator for the UN Office for Project Services in Nigeria.
“We are investing very much in the mindset change and re-orientation programmes for the youths,” he said.
Thousands of militants last year handed over weapons in return for Yar’Adua’s promise for clemency, monthly stipends, vocational training, jobs and investment.
But the federal government has yet to roll out its full education and training programmes, leading to frustration among some ex-fighters who believe Abuja has reneged on its promises.
Security sources say this frustration could lead to renewed attacks in the heartland of Africa’s biggest oil and gas sector.
The main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), called off a three-month old ceasefire a week ago and threatened to unleash an all-out assault on the energy industry.
Nigerian authorities have long been resistant to outside help resolving the conflict in the Niger Delta, insisting that they are a purely domestic issue.
Under the pilot project, former militants and unemployed youths will receive vocational training in areas including welding, security and marine engineering.
“We will create a database that will help the trainees to be attached to different industries. We’ve started negotiations with some companies to reserve space for some of these trainees that will be graduating,” Alidu said.
Years of unrest in the delta have prevented Nigeria from producing much above 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil, two thirds of its installed capacity, costing it an estimated $1 billion a month in lost revenues.
The amnesty programme is the most comprehensive effort yet to bring peace to the region but critics say the post-amnesty planning has been poorly thought through, with a lack of funding and capacity to reintegrate former gunmen.
The pilot project will be limited to 150 trainees at a time, a fraction of the 15 000 militants the government says accepted the amnesty offer.
The UN wants to expand the programme to Bayelsa and Rivers states, but must first receive state government approval.
Pic: MEND rebels