The Nigerian oil sector has been the bread winner of the Nigerian national economy following the abysmal decline in the agricultural sector and near extinction of the manufacturing sector. It contributes more than half of the total amount of Nigerians’ national income. Other sectors of the economy are either undeveloped, underdeveloped or ‘confused’ due to total ignorance, abandonment, negligence and declining investments thus contributing little or nothing to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Operating a mono-economy, with little but failing efforts at diversification has created a rift between the oil producing states and the non-oil producing states of the country. Agitations for resource ownership and control by the oil-producing states have heightened tensions and its consequences over some decades now.
The increasing activities of multi-national and trans-national oil companies in the oil-rich region have left it with severe social, economic and environmental challenges. Most of the communities and people living within areas of oil exploration, extraction and refining have lost their means of livelihood with little or no alternatives. And this has given birth to many group of activists and militants in the region. The activities of MEND, a supposed umbrella body of all forms of activism in the region, are widely heard and known; and the presence of militia groups across the Niger Delta Region is well recognized.
The social, economic and infrastructural development of the oil-rich region is being on the decline despite its huge contributions to national economic growth and development. These do not mean that there were no attempts to invest in the development of the region. It may be that such attempts at developing the region were not well conceived, coordinated and articulated and were fraught with corruption.
Being faced with a declining oil production and loss of oil revenues due to oil theft, kidnapping, militancy and youth restiveness in the region, both the oil companies and the federal government, made concerted efforts to address the critical issues of environmental degradation, loss of economic opportunities, poor and inadequate infrastructures, etc being faced by the communities, people and the entire region. These led to the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta by the present democratic government. Shells, Chevron and other multi-national oil companies in the country also took steps to engage the services of experts through their corporate social responsibility plans to increase their social investment in communities affected by their activities.
Today, the present government is investing a substantial amount of money in an on-going Amnesty Programme which includes capacity building through education and training in various skills for “ex-militants” coupled with a sort of social welfare payment after an initial disarmament exercise. Over 30,000 men and women are expected to undergo various trainings of their own choices under the proposed plan.
Since the introduction of the Amnesty programme, there has been a decline in the level of militancy and a return of relative peace in the region.
Besides the Amnesty programme is an Infrastructural Development Road Map Plan for the entire oil-rich region. But none seems to be happening with regards to the “Development Road Map”.
We should remember that the rise of activism, militancy and youth restiveness in the Niger Delta region were the results of the gross underdevelopment experienced by the communities and people since the commencement of oil exploration and extraction in the region. Activism and militancy in this oil-rich region were only symptoms of the problem mentioned above. Addressing the symptoms in expense of the actual problem of underdevelopment suffered by the communities and people will amount to a waste of precious time and scarce resources. Equal or more attention and resources—human and materials—should be committed to the infrastructural and economic development of the region to avoid a possible recurrence of militancy and youth restiveness in the region at the end of the programe in 2015. Treading the development of the region for the Amnesty programme (that is, “tokenism”) will spell doom in the nearest future.
But, my concern is the fact that we now have a growing army of “graduates” from the various skills acquisition centers and educational institutions within and outside the country. Recently, over 200 youths have been trained and certified as pilots from reputable training institutions outside the country. And there are many others that have acquired professional skills and qualifications in different trades and disciplines since the beginning of the Amnesty programme. But what modality is in place to absorb this growing army of young graduates?
What is the state of the economies of the oil-rich states? What is the level of economic activities in the individual states? Are the states prepared to accommodate these young graduates? This is a concern that must be shared by the federal government and the states given the increasing number of youth unemployment in the country especially among young graduates. The recent protest by unemployed youths in Bayelsa State is an indication that the Niger Delta states may experience a new dimension of youth restiveness if the issue of youth unemployment is not taken seriously given the surge in the supply of graduates from the Amnesty programme.
I am convinced that most of the education and training offered to youths under the Amnesty programme are to make them ‘wage-takers’ rather than ‘wage-providers’: a welfare kind of education and training which support passive rather than active approach to potential or actual unemployment. For those that are expected to become self-employed by reason of their education and training, there is a possibility that less than 20 percent of these individuals will become self-employed, and less than 10 percent will remain self-employed three years after graduation. The simple reason is because they are being pushed into self-employment instead of being pulled. And any supposed entrepreneurship training with self-employment as an outcome will only lead to “necessity entrepreneurship”.
In order to stimulate and create economic activities and opportunities in the oil-rich Niger Delta states and the country at large, I would like to suggest that a National Entrepreneurship Policy and Strategy be initiated by the governments. And this should be followed by a National Entrepreneurship Education Strategy. A National Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship should be created to coordinate and promote the development of entrepreneurship in the country. This will drive economic growth, job creation and the development of a vibrant formal small- and medium-sized (SME) business sector. It may also improve and strengthen the nation’s global competitiveness. A Presidential Taskforce on Entrepreneurship Education should be constituted to promote entrepreneurship education in all types/levels of education in the country. Both the National and State Assemblies should enact laws to cater to the development of high-growth small businesses, and to encourage innovations in medium and large local enterprises. The state governments should set up offices of entrepreneurship policies to make and coordinate policies that will create a conducive business environment for micro-, small- and large-scale enterprises (MSMEs) to thrive.
In conclusion, the Amnesty Programme is being so far very successful given the increase in the production of oil and the return of relative peace to the region. There has also been an increase in revenue accruing to the government from the sales of oil in the oil-rich states. However, it is important for the governments to initiate strategies and policies capable of generating the much needed economic opportunities thus creating more jobs for young graduates from the Amnesty Programme and higher-education institutions in the region and the country at large. The integration of entrepreneurship education into all types/levels of school programmes in the country will provide graduates with job options.
The federal, state and local governments should not forget to address the various and peculiar challenges faced by the communities and people. Neglecting the issues of development faced by the communities and the people which have far reaching impacts on the entire region than the Amnesty Programme will erase the gains realized so far since the commencement of the Amnesty programme.