Nigeria’s amnesty programme for former Niger Delta militants will continue for at least another year contrary to expectations that it was due to be shut down, a programme spokesman said on Thursday.
Since 2009, the programme has provided job training and education to former rebels who wrought havoc on the oil-rich southern region before that by kidnapping foreign workers and attacking oil facilities, crippling the country’s key industry.
Many, particularly in the oil sector, feared an end to the amnesty programme could trigger fresh unrest there. President Muhammadu Buhari indicated in his inaugural speech last May that he would let it expire and replace it with other investments.
Buhari, a northern Muslim, defeated the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, on an anti-corruption platform in the March 2015 presidential election.
His intention to end the programme has caused tensions between his administration and Delta leaders.
Despite being home to Nigeria’s vast oil and gas resources, the Delta states remain underdeveloped and frequent oil spills have devastated the ecosystem and local fishing communities.
Instead of closing it down, the government will streamline the amnesty programme launched to give 30,000 former militants a chance to find productive work.
“We’re in the last phase of the amnesty to reintegrate those who have gone through various programmes and trainings, a gradual wind down,” programme spokesman Owei Lakemfa said.
The programme is helping about 17,000 who have finished training to set up a business or find jobs, out of which 10,000 are expected to go through this process by the end of this year. The rest will stay on until they complete their courses.
The spokesman did not give an end date for the programme.
For those who want to start a business, the programme will budget 2.3 million naira ($11,500) per beneficiary, providing training in running a business, renting premises and getting government permits.
“For fish farming, for instance, there will be provision of a pond,” said Dortimi Kester Tawari, who is running this part of the programme. “For welding, equipment will include materials to be used for the first 3-6 months.”
The programme is also changing how beneficiaries will receive their monthly 65,000 naira ($325) stipends, which were previously distributed through former militant leaders.
That system was prone to abuse, so payments will now be sent directly to individual participants in the programme.