About one hundred and fifty repentant gangsters from Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo local government councils in Akwa Ibom, have left the State to undergo skills acquisition and training in various parts of the country.
The movement of the former fraternity members took place from the Ibom Hall ground, IBB Way, Uyo yesterday.
The training is a collaboration by the European Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Leadership Initiative for Transformation and Empowerment (LITE-Africa), with the support of the Akwa Ibom State government.
Addressing the beneficiaries who were mainly of youthful demographic before their departure, Governor Udom Emmanuel represented by the Secretary to the State government, Emmanuel Ekuwem, commended them for accepting the pardon the State government has granted them and willingly relinquishing their arms to the Police.
Recall that the EU, ECOWAS, LITE-Africa in collaboration with the Akwa Ibom State Government and the relevant Security Agencies, after the disarmament, had conducted arms destruction exercise in Uyo spanning 11th to 19th November 2019. This exercise witnessed the destruction of about 460 small arms and 1000 ammunition recovered under the Civilian Disarmament initiative in the State.
The governor lauded the committee for coming to partner with the Akwa Ibom state government to end youth restiveness, insecurity and other criminal vices in the state in addition to providing sustainable means of livelihood through the intervention programme for the hitherto illegal arms carriers.
He charged the trainees to accord seriousness to the skills acquisition training and announced robust financial support for their upkeep.
Also speaking, the Executive Director of LITE Africa Mr Joel Bisina, who spoke on behalf of EU-ECOWAS, said in a bid to promote peace, reduce armed conflicts, and small arms proliferation in the Country, the Leadership Initiative for Transformation and Empowerment (LITE-Africa) and the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) with support from the European Union (EU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are working to strengthen efforts aimed at preventing further proliferation and trafficking of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Nigeria.
Bisina disclosed as well that over 41 training institutions have been engaged across the country waiting to receive the 150 youths from Akwa Ibom and same number from Cross River, bringing the total number to 300.
He explained that the training which have various duration of completion would be intensive, appealing to the beneficiaries to show commitment and discipline throughout the period of the programme for the sake of their future and families.
He assured them of adequate provision for their needs throughout the period of training and plans to equip successful trainees with start up parks for them to become self reliant and employers of labour in future.
Addressing the group, the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Security Matters to the Governor, Capt. Iniobong Ekong (Rtd.), thanked the Governor for making adequate provision for payment of the trainees’ weekly allowances within the duration of the programme. He also commended the youths for what he described as ‘choosing life’.
“You chose life, that’s why the government of Akwa Ibom State gave you life. I want to thank you, particularly because it’s not easy to believe in a system you’re not part of.”
He assured them that the training the EU, ECOWAS, LITE-Africa and State government are sending them to, will make them self reliant and employers of labour, urging them to make good use of the opportunity.
On his part, the National Project Coordinator of the Nigerian Component of the ECOWAS-EU Small Arms Project, Dr. Dickson Orji, said the one hundred and fifty youths, being the first batch, will undergo training on the skills of their choices.
According to him, the programme embodies skills acquisition and attitudinal training, vocational training, business development, training career development, agricultural business, greenhouse farming among others.
He said the beneficiaries upon completion would be provided with starter packs and guided to start their own businesses.
Orji who noted that the Nigerian component of the EU-ECOWAS small arms under the current pilot phase focuses on the seven states of Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Cross River and Akwa Ibom. He specifically lauded Governor Udom Emmanuel for providing the enabling environment for the implementation of the project.
Speaking on behalf of the group, one of the repentant brigands, Samuel Udo Akpan, an indigene of Ukanafun council area, expressed gratitude to the State Government and the foreign collaborators and their partners in Nigeria for the opportunity given to them to better their lives and enhance their living standard.
He promised that they will do their best to justify the confidence reposed on them by maximizing the gains of the programme.