By Kenneth Ehigiator
When Lucky Ambamowei (not real name) was called out of the Federal Government’s post-amnesty’s non-violence training at Obubra, Cross Rivers State, to be told in hushed tones that he had been picked for an undergraduate training in a Russian university, he didn’t quite believe the information he was being fed with.
He just wished it happened, but brushed aside both the message and messenger and concentrated on his training. However, he still had hopes that the dream could come through, after all same level of cynicism trailed the post-amnesty programme before the reality dawned on everyone that it would be a reality.
This information was confirmed to him a few days later by the post-amnesty’s office in the Presidency that he had been selected, alongside over 70 others to take an undergraduate programme in a Russia university. Of course, his joy knew no bound. Ambamowei had, after completing his secondary education, seen the creek and militancy as an escape valve as there was neither job to do nor money to pursue higher education.
Ambamowei’s experience replicates those of several young Niger Delta youths who were pulled out of the creeks of the Niger Delta after accepting government’s amnesty programme by dropping their arms and ammunition.
In the past three months, since the new Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, took over the reins of power from his predecessor, Mr. Timi Alaibe, no fewer than 621 of the youths, who the post-amnesty’s office would prefer to describe as Niger Delta youths and not ex-militants, have been sent to different vocational training centres and universities across the world.
While those with no basic educational qualification have been sent to such countries as South Africa, Ghana and United States for vocational training in undersea welding, diving and marine technology, amongst others, that would take them a minimum of six months to acquire internationally accepted certification, those with minimum educational qualification of the West African Examination Certificate are currently undergoing undergraduate programmes in oil and gas, and administration in universities in Malaysia and Russia.
At least 20 of the former agitators are also in South Africa for training that would prepare them as helicopter pilots, while 38 left for Florida, U.S.A,. last week for training in marine technology for the next six months, and there are indications that another set would leave.
In one of the pre-departure sessions for some of the ex-militants in Lagos, former Bayelsa State governor and prominent Ijaw leader, Mr. Diepriye Alamieseigha, was particularly happy that emphasis was being given the development of the minds of Niger Delta youths.
According to him, the kind of training they are being given will not only prepare them for challenges of developing the region, but also make it possible for them to take over management of the oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta in future.
To him, the next phase of regional competition in the country would be intellectually driven and not by bearing of arms, explaining that, that made the post-amnesty programme unique.
“I am particularly happy that our brothers are being sent not just for vocational training in and out of the country, but also to universities to prepare them for management positions. The oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta have always argued that you are not qualified and that is why they are not employing you. But by the time you acquire your degrees and return to the country, these people will have no excuse not to employ you,” he charged the out-bound youths on their way to Russia.
The former Bayelsa governor advised them to be good ambassadors to the country and not do things that would not justify government’s investments in them.
Human rights activist and former President of West Africa bar Association, WABA, Mr. Femi Falana, was not different in his thinking. He did not only laud the drive with which the present special adviser to the president was driving the post-amnesty programme, especially with regards to western to education, but particularly extolled the training and education of the youths in oil and gas-related programmes.
Falana contended that the only way Niger Delta youths could break the dominance of the industry by the Yoruba and other non-Niger Delta people was through education, which he believed the government was doing rightly, but also emphasised the need to integrate the army of unemployed youths in the region into the post-amnesty programme.
Even the U.S. Consul-General in Nigeria, Joseph Stafford, was enthused about the direction the post-amnesty programme had taken. According to him, the U.S. government’s enthusiasm about the programme informed the speed with which the 38 who traveled to Florida last week were given visas to enter his country.
He noted that there was no way youths in the Niger Delta could partake effectively in the management of resources in the region without education, and pledged that his government would continue to assist the federal government on the post-amnesty project. Stafford noted that training in the Wyotech Training Institute, which he considered one of the best in the world, would afford the trainees the opportunity to acquire a certificate that would give them jobs anywhere in the world.
It should be noted that the exposure of the youths to training in the outside is now paying off, as the level of self-confidence of those who just returned from their ocean diving training is on the high. One of them told Sunday Vanguard that he could compete with anyone anywhere in the world with the kind of certification he brought in from South Africa. In fact, Vanguard gathered that during the training, the Nigerian delegation was rated the best out of the 15 teams that were in South Africa for same training from other parts of the country, including the U.S., Germany, Spain, Angola.
Knowing the huge capital outlay it would cost the government to change the former creek warlords into sound minds, Kuku had appealed to oil majors in the region to assist the government in the training programme.
He, however, said all the major oil and gas firms in the Niger Delta pledged a paltry $30 million towards the project. The presidential adviser implored the firms to appreciate the fact that government’s amnesty programme had created the enabling environment for them to do their oil explorations.
He also noted that oil production in the region, which was at an all-time low of 700,000 barrels per day during the days of restiveness, now hovered around 2.3 million barrels per day. Although government has rejected the amount the oil firms are giving for the youths training, appealing to them to do more, mum has remained the response of the firms.
Observers, however, contend that government must demonstrate sufficient will to pull through the post-amnesty programme, as a lot needed to be done to train and educate the over 23,000 ex-militants who accepted the programme and are undergoing non-violence training at Obubra. The result of those who had gone out on training is already manifesting. Those who returned from Ghana and South Africa have vowed not only to help get upcoming youths in the Niger Delta off the track of militancy, but also contribute to the development of the region.
“There is nothing like education; this training has exposed me to the outside world and changed my thinking. I never ever thought I could travel out of this country, let alone attend school abroad because my parents are poor,” one of the returnees said at the reception organised in their honour in Lagos. Kuku said government would not relent in its efforts until those already trained were absorbed by oil and gas and servicing firms in the country. And since they wield certificates recognised anywhere in the world, the trainees are also poised for international jobs.
Besides, some of the trained Niger Delta youths have also demonstrated their readiness to establish their own workshops and offices and engage hands, if they can muster sufficient finance to set up. This, indeed, is an area government could exploit to get the trained and educated youths empowered.