By JUDITH UFFORD
They stood at the entrance of the Institute. Fierce looking, battle ready soldiers took their position at the gate of the Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research on Victoria Island.
This can’t be venue of the post amnesty programme I whispered aloud as I put the car in reverse heading back towards the Mint building. As one drove along making inquiries, it was obvious not many knew Harbour Point. Just as I was beginning to give up, two young adults directed me back to the Institute’s gate.
Within seconds, I was back at the gate where a vulcaniser,(no I didn’t have enough courage to approach the soldiers still standing at alert) directed me to Harbour Point. As I approached the gate, there they were like a swarm of bees, soldiers every where. Why soldiers at this event I pondered still.
The answer was not long in coming. Just as the event was been wrapped up, the 300 delegates were getting all worked up and agitated about numerous unanswered questions.
It took the intervention of the soldiers to bring the situation under control. But, if the truth be told, the programme for the post training empowerment/Start-up business showcase at Harbour Point in Lagos last week Thursday began on a warm note. The 300 delegates all male were regale in their green and white T-shirts and face caps.
In a charge to the delegates, Mr. Joel Bisina (head, post training and peace building dept) who stood in for Hon. Kingsley Kuku told them to ensure the pieces of equipment and wares they were given are used to grow their businesses.
Delegates were cautioned not to sell the equipment as well as eat monies made from engaging their business. Prior to the day’s event, delegates had been given a year’s rent to enable them acquire space for their business. As part of the business Start-up package, each delegate had the business name, bank account, complimentary card as well as email address all put together for effective take off.
According to Mr. Binisa, 8000 ex-militants are done with training and the 300 been commissioned to start of their business is the beginning of another phase of the programme.
Said he:”Following the closure of disarmament, demobilisation of the 26,358 young men and women enlisted in the 1st and 2nd phases of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta has been grappling with the ever challenging Re-integration component.”.
Highlighting the various aspects of training delegates were involved in, he noted that over 4,608 are currently under-going various forms of skills acquistion training in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
The skills range from marine, heavy duty operations, welding, diving, agriculture, boat building, Oil and gas technicians, entrepreneurship, automobile technology, aviation, amongst others. Continuing, Mr. Bisina said the Amnesty Office was particularly grateful to their implementation partners for their doggedness and ability to provide managerial and leadership skill. He informed delegates that they would enter an agreement with the Amnesty Office to put to good use all the items released to them.
He emphatically drew their attention to the fact on no condition must the items be sold. Delegates were also give the option to refrain from entering into any agreement if they were not interested thus forfeiting the Start-up business item For the purpose of the day’s business, about five businesses were commissioned: building materials, super market, fishery, welding,and electronics. Items for these businesses would be moved to the various locations of the delegates.
As the Amnesty Office gave itself a pat on the back for a job well done, delegates grumbling and complaints almost wipe off the smiles from officials faces. The complaints ranged from allowance matters to rents that about to expire and the big question of employment. On the issue of employment for instance, some delegates said they were promised employment after the training but from every indication, they can’t see any job insight. Elvis Ibe from Rivers State is one of such delegates.
According to him, about 90 of them who went to South Africa for training in welding are now be asked to start a business. Hear him: “About 90 of us wenr to South Africa. Some opted out and asked to be brought back to Nigeria because of the weather- it was very cold. The place where we had our training didn’t have sufficient equipment, so while some trained, others just watched.
We complained to the Amnesty officials, they said they would do something about it, but nothing was done. When we were going for the training (pipeline welding), we were told that after the training, we would be offered employment in oil companies. Now we are back, they say there’s no job, that we should go and start our own business.
This is a bit challenging for me because I was not trained to do other types of welding. But given the present situation, I’ve no choice but to accept what is offered. On my own, I’ll go and learn the other aspects of welding so that I can make use of the eqipment given to me.” Elvis’ training was for six months.
But Progress Orli also from Rivers State had a better tale to tell. “My training was in Obirako, Delta State.
The training was for nine months and three weeks. There were about 40 of us. The training went well. In fact, looking at what has happened today, I didn’t expect the whole exercise would be on this large scale.
So, if I’m to score the programme, I would say they’ve done well.”. And this was exactly what he did as he was called upon to give a vote of thanks on behalf of the delegates.
The delegates were equally concerned about their allowances as they asked if this would be stopped when they take delivery of their Start-up package. They were also concerned about rent for office space that was able to expire. For every question, there was a ready answer.
According to Mr. Bisina, the N60,000 monthly allowance would be paid for the next three after with it would be stopped. He was also quick to remind those agitating for more funds for rents that rents would not expire until three months time.
And those clamouring for employment opportunities instead of owning their businesses should go in search of jobs if they so desire. One thing was clear, as far as the Amnesty office was concerned, they had done their bit and expects delegates to put to good use the opportunities they’ve been given.
Mr. Bisina sound a note of warning to delegates that from now on they either choose to be of good behaviour or face the long arm of the law. Said he: “Since this programme began, we’ve been begging you. We begged you to lay down arms. We begged you to go to school or training. When things are not as we expect them to be, we begged you to be patient. But from today we’re through with begging. We’re not going to beg anyone to accept these items.
If you don’t accept them, fine. You’ve been trained, you can go look for work. But be warned that government would not take it kindly with anyone who after this programme disrupts public peace. If you’re caught, you would be charged to court. Please don’t call us in the Amnesty Office.”