The challenge of economic reintegration of ex-militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta


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    Reintegration of ex-combatants in the economy can be a key driver for stability. The experience in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region suggests however that reintegration and training of ex-militants must target sectors with high employment potential, such as agriculture, and not mainly the oil industry.
    The Post-Amnesty Programme (PAP), an initiative of Nigeria’s Federal Government, which facilitates economic, social and political reintegration of ex-militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region is in its last year of implementation. A key concern for Nigerian policymakers and the international community is to ensure that ex-militants do not return to violence after this. This concern stems from the fact that, in spite of the various training opportunities offered by PAP to ex-militants, opportunities for economic reintegration remain limited. This challenge is not limited to the ex-militants in the Niger Delta. Reintegration of ex-combatants that have undergone disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) has been a topical issue among policy makers and academics across the continent (e.g. EU Social and Economic Reintegration Programme, International Alert). The PAP in Nigeria recognises the challenges of economic reintegration for ex-militants and has focused on funding educational and vocational training. In total, the PAP claims to have registered 30,000 ex-militants and have enrolled at least 12,000 of them in different vocational or educational training. Training has been undertaken both in Nigeria and institutions overseas (such as the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Ghana, South Africa, United States, Malaysia, Germany, and France).

    Field findings

    An ethnographic fieldwork was conducted to understand and explain the reintegration trajectory of ex-militants in rural communities in the Niger Delta. Ex-militants who were affiliated with different armed groups were identified and interviewed during the fieldwork. The majority of the ex-militants interviewed have undergone different trainings through the Federal Government PAP initiative that prepares them for reintegration. On economic reintegration, ex-militants who have returned to their communities of origin after their training have been unable to find work, while those who received entrepreneurship seed capital to start trading have managed to keep their business open. This finding provoked further engagement with ex-militants to understand this discrepancy. As one ex-militant who had undergone training in crane and heavy duty operation in South Africa said, “I learnt how to drive heavy duty equipments, but the equipments in South Africa are different from the ones in Nigeria. But actually, there is no work here. I have tried to get work, but they are not employing”. On the other hand, an ex-militant who owns a shop in Ologbobiri community said, “It is my business, my children will not go to school if I fail”. These statements suggest that those who received entrepreneurship support tend to be more independent. This independence is mainly because they received training in entrepreneurship, which could be applied in different sectors. The number of ex-combatants receiving entrepreneurship support is low compared to those who had received other skills training to make them employable. In a practical sense, not everyone can be an entrepreneur. As such, the relative success of ex-militants who are involved in small-scale entrepreneurship does not provide sufficient explanation to the challenges of reintegration experienced by other ex-militants. Instead, the lack of opportunities in the sectors that ex-militants have been trained in explains the challenges they experienced.

    Current government initiatives

    Recognising the challenge of actual employment for ex-militants after their training, the PAP introduced targeted initiatives to facilitate employment in the Nigerian oil industry. Many ex-militants selected training in areas in the hope that this would enable them to gain employment in the oil industry. The PAP administration equally expects the oil industry to employ some of these ex-militants. However, this has not been forthcoming. The former Chairman of the PAP, Kingsley Kuku, described the oil industry as being “uncooperative”. The current Chairman of the PAP, General Paul Boroh (rtd), has made sustainable reintegration his focus and has called on different state and private sector institutions to employ ex-militants that have undergone training. But his focus has also been on the oil industry. The challenge is that employment in the oil industry is limited. In spite of significant economic potential, oil exploration in the Niger Delta region has undermined other economic activities such as agriculture due to large scale environmental pollution. Violent conflicts have also impacted negatively on the business climate in communities.  Yet, despite the frustration and aggression towards oil companies, there are still expectations and aspirations among young people, including ex-militants, to benefit from the oil companies. Clearly, there is a need to find new means of providing employment opportunities for ex-militants in communities in the Niger Delta.

    Business for peace in the Niger Delta

    The current problem in the Niger Delta is that the majority of ex-militants having undergone training have not been able to find employment. The approach of the government has not yielded results. Lately, ex-militants have been arrested for being involved in sea piracy, kidnapping, election violence, and illegal refining of crude oil. These activities threaten the peace in the Niger Delta and have raised concerns over the stability of the region. The use of financial capital may have enhanced the capacity of (a limited number of) ex-militants to gain a sustainable means of income through small-scale entrepreneurship. But a sustainable means of income for the majority of ex-militants seeking employment will come from investing in economies that create employment for local communities of the Niger Delta. A focus on the ex-militants alone will not increase their opportunities for employment, nor will a focus on the oil industry alone. Other opportunities for investing in local economies in the Niger Delta have already been identified. In a 2011 report, the Partnership Initiative for Niger Delta (PIND), an initiative of the Chevron Corporation, identified agriculture as a viable economic activity that may enhance local economies of communities. The potential of agriculture as an economic activity to empower local economies is not merely about farming itself, but it is more embedded in the value chain of the agricultural sector. Opportunities for investments in agriculture in the Niger Delta already exist, for example in aquaculture, palm plantation, cassava, vegetables, plantains, amongst others. These activities could be scaled up to further serve as a means of employment for the communities where these agricultural activities already exist, and create new pilot projects in communities where they do not exist. Instead of focusing on the oil sector and public sector, the Federal Government PAP initiative should orient communities and investors towards business opportunities in sectors such as agriculture. While individual grants may help individual small-scale enterprises, investment in businesses will enhance employment opportunities for ex-militants and other community members seeking employment. Agriculture could provide jobs if it is industrialised and provides the needs of the global market for processed agricultural products. The Nigerian government has often expressed interests in promoting agriculture as an industry for revenue generation and employment. However the government at both federal and state levels needs to ensure policy coherence that takes research findings of non-governmental initiatives such as PIND into account. As part of policy coherence, initiatives such as the industrialisation of agriculture in the Niger Delta should be clearly linked to the Post Amnesty Programme. The international community and donor agencies can also support this process. What is needed in these communities are investments in large scale economic activities. The role of the government, through the PAP, should be providing the legal and organisational framework for such targeted investment in the communities to work. For example, the abandoned Peremabiri Rice Farm in Bayelsa State could create an entire economy for Peremabiri and neighbouring communities. An abandoned palm plantation exists in the Korokorosei community in Bayelsa State. The PAP should identify these existing opportunities and collaborate with the international community to attract investors who can help revive these existing infrastructures to create local community employment. This will go a long way in changing the economies in communities that have experienced violent conflicts in the Niger Delta. About the author Tarila Marclint Ebiede is a Young International Professional at ECDPM. He is finalising his PhD at the Centre for Research on Peace and Development (CRPD), University of Leuven, Belgium. His PhD research focuses on the reintegration of ex-militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. Tarila has conducted extensive fieldwork on this topic in rural communities in the Niger Delta.
    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 1 (February 2016).

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