Nigeria’s plan to give Niger Delta residents a slice of its national energy company could be a major deterrent to militancy in the oil-producing region, the governor of Rivers state said.
President Umaru Yar’Adua has asked parliament to approve legislation that would provide 10% of the country’s oil joint ventures to the Niger Delta, his latest effort to halt years of unrest in the area.
Many details still need to be worked out and it is unclear whether Yar’Adua will get enough political support from non-oil states to pass it through parliament.
“The 10% equity for oil-bearing communities is the best thing that has ever happened to the country,” Rivers state Governor Rotimi Amaechi told Reuters.
“What this has done is to kill militancy because no community will allow you to come and disrupt oil activities in their area because they need the 10% every month.”
Rivers is one of nine oil-producing states in Africa’s most populous country. Nigeria has a total of 36 states.
Amaechi said any community located within 20 kilometres of an oilfield would be eligible to receive a stake in the national oil company, potentially providing hundreds of millions of dollars each year to its impoverished residents.
Decades of neglect and frustration in the Niger Delta led to the rise in militancy and criminal activity in recent years.
Attacks by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), the main militant group, has prevented Africa’s biggest energy sector from pumping above two thirds of its installed capacity.
Violence has subsided over the past three months after thousands of gunmen accepted Yar’Adua’s unconditional pardon and disarmed. Mend on Sunday reinstated an indefinite ceasefire to allow for peace talks with the government.
“Once the (equity bill) becomes law, any man who is carrying a gun is carrying it on his own because the communities will resist them,” Amaechi said.
Activists and sceptics fear the former militants could easily return to the creeks and resume attacks if the government fails to quickly find them work and a new way of life.
The governor said more than 3000 ex-gunmen have signed up for its state-run rehabilitation programme, which includes a 20,000 naira ($134) per month stipend.
This is separate from a federal amnesty programme, which officials estimate up to 15,000 ex-gunmen have registered for.
“The state government will also assist them with funds to start their own business, trade or further their education,” Amaechi said.
The governor said Rivers needed more money to help fund all of its projects, but had no plans to issue state bonds to finance them.
Shell has offered to provide some financial assistance to the rehabilitation of former militants, the presidency said last week.