December 17, 2014

From creek warlords to experts in oil & gas: The story of ex-Niger Delta militants

*Nelson Mandela Students in South Africa

They had a background enmeshed and defined by violence and aggression. They were the arrowheads behind the restiveness that took its toll on the Niger Delta region between 2007 – 2009. Today, however, these “bad boys” who terrorized the creeks of the oil-rich Niger Delta region, have turned a new leaf and are now specialists in several fields of human endeavor, thanks to the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP initiated by Late President Umaru Musa YarÁdua.  A foremost Ijaw son, Mr. Kingsley Kuku who was always in and out of the creeks to bring about the needed truce in the course of the arms struggle, was appointed by the government to stand in the gap and join other leaders of the Niger Delta to champion the disarmament programme. He got the youths emotionally involved to appreciate the essence of the amnesty programme and what they stood to gain. They gave him their ears and today, the ex-agitators have a new song to sing. Having undergone proper demobilization, the creek boys who were hitherto seen as never-do-well chaps are today, in large numbers, specialists in different fields of human endeavour. 

By Kingsley Omonobi
SPECIALISTS in oil & gas

Vanguard Features, VF investigations showed that several of them, having acquired ‘first class’ trainings in reputable institutions and facilities particularly outside the country, have become Under-Water Engineers, Commercial Marine Divers, Crane Operators, Aircraft Pilots, Seafarers, Marine Engineers, Marine Mechanics, Auto Mechanics, Boat builders, Safety and Health Officers, Oil and Gas Drillers and ICT Specialists.

Thousands of the beneficiaries of the Amnesty Programme have also been placed in globally renowned schools to pursue formal education. Records available to VF show that the Amnesty Programme currently has about 700 students studying in reputable universities in the United Kingdom, UK alone and about 300 in reputable universities in the United States of America.

Some of the ex-militants are also studying in schools in Canada, Ukraine, Russia, South Africa, Philippines and Malaysia. No fewer than 2,000 of them are currently in studying private universities in Nigeria.

Records at the Amnesty office indicate that out of the 19, 112 ex-agitators that have been placed in either universities or vocational skills acquisition facilities within the country and offshore, 14, 596 of them have successfully completed their training and have received certifications on graduation from these institutions.

A total of 2,072 ex-agitators have since secured gainful employments or have been empowered to set-up their own businesses.

VF learnt that globally renowned energy solutions provider, the French Institute of Petroleum, IFP facilitated the immediate employment of 14 of 40 Niger Delta youths who completed their training at the IFP Training School in Paris, France. IFP offered direct automatic employment to a trainee who emerged as the best graduating Nigerian student. He is slated to take up full time employment at IFP’s headquarters in France.

The French firm also confirmed that it will facilitate the placement in full employment of the other 13 youths who also excelled in character and in learning in two of its partner firms in Nigeria, namely: Total Nigeria and Halliburton.

The French Institute of Petroleum trains high-level professionals who can respond to today and tomorrow’s energy challenges. Out of the 40 trainees deployed to the French school by the Amnesty Office, 20 were given advanced training in Geo Sciences and Reservoir Engineering while the other 20 were trained in Oil & Gas Production Engineering.

Another French firm, Schneider Electric Industries of France also recently facilitated the employment 29 Amnesty Programme’s trainees who completed their training in Power Generation in one of the firm’s training facilities that was named after the late Nigerian nationalist, Major Isaac Adaka Boro, in Grenoble, France.

Of the 29 Niger Delta youths, 15 were offered direct employment by Schneider Electric to work in their facilities in Nigeria while six of them were placed in gainful employment in firms currently partnering with Schneider to execute projects in Nigeria.

 *Nelson Mandela Students in South Africa

*Nelson Mandela Students in South Africa

The remaining eight who voluntarily chose to become entrepreneurs, are being assisted by Schneider through the firm’s internal micro-credit scheme to become contractors and services providers in the critical power sub-sector.

In the same vein, Proclad Academy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, over a year ago, facilitated the placement of 30 Amnesty Programme beneficiaries in gainful employments in the Middle East. The 30 beneficiaries were trained by Proclad Academy in such fields as Welding, Fabrication and Building Construction.

Overriding objective

Speaking on the feat achieved so far, Kingsley Kuku said the overriding objective of the amnesty program is to train an army of middle and high calibre manpower who will provide services in the various oil, gas and agro-allied industries.

He posited that when these people are fortified with skills especially as it concerns the economic realities of their environment, the region would not depend on crude oil alone as a source of foreign exchange.

Kuku who has been honoured by several institutions both in the country and abroad for his numerous contributions to the growth and development of the Niger Delta region and Nigeria at large, further explained that some Niger Delta youths are undergoing their postgraduate courses in Russia, Ukraine and the United States of America.

“A sizable number of youths have been sent to South Africa while a substantial number were also sent to Israel for agricultural training. Others were sent to India for ICT and to Poland for specialised officer cadre training in seafaring. These are skills that are of strategic economic interest to the nation and the oil-rich Niger Delta Region,” he said.
VF observed however that it is in the area of training young person’s to fill the huge gap in the Nigerian aviation sector that the Amnesty Office under Kuku, has excelled more

Aviation training

Since commencement of aviation training for beneficiaries of the programme in 2011, the Amnesty Office has so far produced 66 commercial pilots and 61 aviation maintenance engineers. The pilots had their initial trainings and earned their Private Pilot Licenses, PPL and Commercial Pilot Licenses, CPL in reputable flight schools in South Africa, United Arab Emirates, UAE, Jordan and Greece.

Nine of the commercial pilots are currently undergoing their jet-type rating at the world famous CAE Oxford Aviation Academy, Kidlington, Oxford, UK, while another batch of 23 commercial pilots are doing their jet-type rating at the Lufthansa Aviation Academy, in Germany.

Jet-type rating is a necessary further training for the already qualified commercial pilots aimed at getting them acquainted with the latest aircraft and international accreditation prior to their entrance into the highly competitive global aviation labour market.

The Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta said it carefully chose CAE Oxford and Lufthansa Aviation Academy for the jet-type rating for the Niger Delta youths given that virtually all the leading airlines across the world pick their commercial pilots from these two Aviation Academies.

Kuku said plans are currently afoot to place another set of 32 already trained commercial pilots in the jet-type rating programmes at both CAE Oxford Aviation Academy in the UK and the Lufthansa Aviation Academy in Frankfurt, Germany. In a related development, VF learnt that 11 ex-militants are currently undergoing trainings as helicopter pilots at the AirsterEllicotteri Flight School in Italy.

Among the many Nigerians who have celebrated Kuku’s achievements is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman.
Abatemi-Usman stated that peace has returned to the restive region, noted that nobody saw this level of success coming.
Senator Usman described Kuku as a courageous, fearless and brave young man who having been deeply involved in the Niger Delta struggle, has turned around to prove his mettle in the discharge of his duty as the Coordinator of PAP.

Why amnesty was initiated

In 2008, it was estimated that
Nigeria lost over three trillion Naira as a result of the restiveness in the Niger Delta arising from the operations of the militants in the creeks of the region.
By early 2009, militancy in the Niger Delta had reached its zenith and had virtually brought Nigeria’s economy to its knees.  Investors looked elsewhere as the inflow to the upstream sub-sector of the oil industry had declined significantly.

The frequency of hostage taking and violation of oil facilities had also threatened the Nigerian state. Foreign investors felt that since Nigeria’s capacity as Africa’s highest crude oil producer had been threatened, Angola, Ghana and South Africa were preferred as investment destinations to Nigeria.

Intense militancy reduced Shell Petroleum Development Company’s production and its output dropped from one million bpd to about 250,000 bpd. Major oil companies like TotalFina, Elf, ExxonMobil and Nigerian Agip Oil Coy were not left out in the violation of their facilities. Illegal oil bunkering rackets and kidnappings of oil workers were the order of the day.

This development compelled Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to grant unconditional amnesty to combatants in the Niger Delta. That was on June 25, 2009.
Sequel to this proclamation, President Goodluck Jonathan who was then the Vice President, had given his principal all the support and encouragement by personally going to the creeks to educate the militants on the need to embrace peace and drop their arms.

He was fully supported in this regard by then Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike (retd), Major General Godwin Abbe (retd), then Minister of Defence and the Coordinator of the disarmament programme, Air Vice Marshal Clement Ararile (retd).

The principal terms of the amnesty included the willingness and readiness of militants to surrender their arms unconditionally, renounce militancy and sign an undertaking. The government however pledged to institute programmes to assist the disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration of repentant militants.

At the end of the deadline, 20, 192 persons initially came out from the various states and camps in the Niger Delta. They were led by the likes of Chief Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo), Chief Ateke Tom, Ebikabowei Victor-Ben (Boy Loaf), Fara Dagogoand Chief Bibopre Ajube (Shoot-At-Sight).