The resulting Niger Delta Job Creation and Conflict Prevention Initiative was aimed at improving peace and security in the country by empowering youths with skills applicable to local exigencies. The first three-year phase of the programme entailed the training of 300 youths, at a cost of $2.4 million, for direct private sector jobs or self employment opportunities. Although restricted in terms of initial scope and outlay, the arrangement offered a desperately needed win-win situation for the Nigerian economy at large and for youths and the private sector in particular.
The volatile Niger Delta vicinity – a network of shallow creeks leading to the Gulf of Guinea – is both the greatest boon and bane for the national economy, and the undisputed hotbed of militant activity in all of Western Africa. The discovery of great hydrocarbon reserves in the area and the later oil expansion of the 1970s resulted in extensive destruction of agriculture, together with extensive displacement of rural communities from high lands without adequate compensation.
The genesis of conflict and militancy in the Niger Delta goes back to youth restiveness in the early years of the country’s independence, which precipitated a perception of injustices surrounding the dispensing of oil wealth. A secondary cause was harsh environmental pollution from oil explorations that devastated the local ecology and rendered great swathes of territory along the Gulf of Guinea uncultivable. Together, these causes transformed fledgling community conflicts in the Delta vicinity (rife throughout military rule between 1983 and 1999) into hardcore criminal activities by the turn of the last century. Against all expectations, the return of democratic governance only served to further grow in number and deepen the crisis.
While Nigeria’s aptly termed “petro-violence” is read by many as a just fight against repressive practices of the federal government and western oil companies, there is little argue over the extent of its impact on national fortunes. Bombings, kidnappings and oilfield raids continue to cause an estimated $1 billion in monthly oil revenue losses, according to the Nigerian Central Bank1. Mounting attacks on the oil infrastructure over the past few years have restricted production to 66% of the installed capacity of 3 million barrels per day. In fact, international observers point out a direct link between these developments and the record high of $150 a barrel that oil prices touched last year.
Understandably consequently, there are important global and regional implications surrounding Abuja’s attempts to stop the violence by state intervention and peace initiatives. The most recent and exceptional of such efforts has been the unconditional amnesty for all Niger Delta militants offered by President UM Yar’Adua last year. Unfortunately, just days after the announcement, rebels loyal to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) brazenly seized and destroyed a major oil dispensing centre in the first ever assault of its kind on Lagos, the country’s economic capital.
The clear message emanating out of this and similar incidents hence is that an amnesty offer, however well intended, is not enough to resolve a long-standing crisis of huge complexity. already though some militia commanders have signalled their intent to surrender, the stakes for Abuja are much higher than a breakdown of the law-and-order situation alone. The country’s Central Bank is unequivocally direct in its opinion that growth in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy is critically dependent on containing unrest in the Niger Delta.
already so, well over 40 million Nigerians continue to be jobless2 despite the recently announced figure of 29%. Unemployment, however, is only one of many reasons behind youth unrest across the country and in the Delta vicinity in particular. Others include:
* without of economic sustain activities and training programmes.
* Marginal youth participation in community decision making.
* Administrative failure, official negligence and corruption.
* Insufficient humanitarian and social welfare initiatives.
* High cost of living and failure to meet basic needs.
* without of education, socio-political empowerment and self esteem.
* Drug abuse and violence; inadequate as a hobby facilities.
* Problems of good governance in the Niger Delta
* Over exposure to negative western cultures
* Over exposure to the culture of greed
* Ethnicity and without of National consciousness
Over the past decade, militants have abducted hundreds of foreign workers employed in the Niger Delta, forcing oil, telecom and construction companies to declare force majeure on multiple current contracts and withdraw non-basic staff from vital installations. The security situation growing out of area is now a major deterrent to new investment, and not just in the oil sector or in the Delta. The larger repercussion of the Delta crisis has been on Abuja’s efforts to unprotected to rapid and sustainable development by enterprise dramatical change. Clearly, that effort faces its biggest challenge in the escalating petro-violence.
Past initiatives in this regard, like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), could only accomplish limited success in the areas of youth development and conflict resolution, largely due to bureaucratic inefficiency, inconsistent policies and the absence of regulatory frameworks. Because of its complicate geopolitical and economic history, youth empowerment in Nigeria demands a holistic approach focussed on certain meaningful issues:
* Overhaul of the education system with specific emphasis on skills development and vocational training.
* Provision of meaningful employment and occupational avenues that are consistent with local realities.
* Administrative reforms that focus on transparency and accountability in youth policy implementation.
* Rehabilitation programmes that successfully wean away militants from violence and into economically productive endeavours.
* Instilling attitudes of national pride among the youth by creatively designed outreach programmes.
* Promoting extensive youth entrepreneurship by method of financial concessions, technical assistance and grants-in-aid.
* Safety-net social policies that persuade the coming generation of Nigerian youth away from crime and violence.
* In the contest of Nigeria’s troubled past, maintaining political stability and authority of democratic institutions are basic to the success of any worthwhile youth revival initiative
* Effective poverty alleviation programmes that focus on enterprise development as a viable method to authentic wealth. Mobilization of the youth workforce to promote rapid entrepreneurial development in rural and urban areas alike.
* Improvement in per capita income, standard of living and related human development indices by implementation of informed social and economic policy changes
Much as entrepreneurial development is central to the theme of national revival, so is peace in the Niger Delta vicinity. President Yaradua’s amnesty offer in fact expressly cites that many Niger Delta militants are “able-bodied youths whose energies could be harnessed for the development of the nation at large.” To develop a nation of entrepreneurs, there must be a multi-sectoral, multi-level and multi-phase undertaking that begins with a collective resolve to get out of the old mould of doing things. We need passionate promoters of the entrepreneurial spirit that can inspire an entrepreneurial dramatical change in Nigeria and already Africa in totality. Hence, a extreme and coordinated attempt to accelerate wealth creation by the promotion of inventive business practices. This acknowledgement is a standing testament of the fact that Nigeria’s long-term goals are unachievable without the whole-hearted participation of its large youth population, already those who insist on holding on to their guns for now!